Friday, 16 November 2012

A day in the sun...

We spent the morning class in the garden planting seeds.  A fantastic morning.  Let me stop there and explain a little.  It’s been awhile since last I blogged about some of the happenings at my school.  This term our theme is science, a topic I much enjoy teaching, and that covers far too many areas for the time we allot to it.

One of the things we are doing as a part of our theme, aside from the more general joys of making light bulbs shine, balloons pop and volcanoes bubble, is planting vegetables, fruit and herbs in the school’s kitchen garden.

This pleasant little hide-away seems a world away from the typically poorly lit and stuffy classroom (and don’t get me wrong – I love my stuffy classroom).  It’s a small garden, with room for several large garden beds, many more smaller ones, fruit trees, a work shed, a chicken pen (currently on the lookout for tenants) and a nice bit of lawn.  It had spent a little while overgrown, but with the advent of our science theme, myself and the teachers in the middle section of the school were intent on getting our students out of the rooms and into the garden.

On the face of it this may not seem an academic pursuit, if your concept of education or the purpose of school is all about spelling patterns, phonographic knowledge, syntax, place value and renaming numbers you may well ask what the point of such a diversion is.  For me, the point is rather simple: it’s real.

That’s not to say that verb conjugation or decimal/fraction equivalencies aren’t real, or to slight or malign the importance of such things in the general scheme of education.  But there is a visceral, tactile, physical, and invigorating reality to burying your hands in soil to plant a seed, or watching a plant grow that you have tended that is immediate and apparent: it is directly experienced, not a thought experiment or conceptual framework.

Burying your hands in the garden is an experience that can be used as a basis for writing, or maths, or drawing or science, or any other subject for that matter.  It’s an experience that speaks to the kids about the nature of nature, about the science that describes the beautiful machinery of this world in which we live.  It’s an experience you can lay your hands on, you can succeed at and fail at and watch the results play out as a consequence.  It’s an experience that pours information to the brain through all our senses, the sights, smells, sensations and sounds.

I find gardens and such places cathartic, that’s not to say I’m an avid gardener; I avoid weeding wherever possible and can kill the hardiest of plants with seemingly little effort.  But I find the experience of nature, well, nature that isn’t trying to eat me, pleasant and refreshing.  Sitting in the warm shade while the leaves twitch in the breeze, suddenly starting, and then easing to calm as the breeze dies away, where insects crawl, fly, buzz, drone and wander about going on with their business oblivious of us idly observing, is a great environment for learning.

Yesterday we watched the moon occlude the disk of the sun, today we caught a gecko, and planted pumpkins and beans, basil and lettuce.  These are the moments I love as a teacher.

A poor photo of the eclipse - taken on my phone through protective glasses.

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