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Students Win Grant -- Butterflies Just Plain Win!

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A student-designed butterfly garden won a $500 grant that benefits the environment and beautifies the school grounds. The project ties together a host of education goals and develops students' skills in problem solving, research, persuasive writing, math, and Earth science.

About 130 sixth graders from East Middle School of Westminster, Maryland, left their school a nicer place -- for people and for butterflies -- when the school year ended earlier this month. The students won a $500 grant that funded their design and construction of a 5- by 30-foot butterfly garden along the side of their school.

The students spent a week at the Carroll County Outdoor School at Hashawha, a 380-acre residential facility, where county students learn about wildlife habitats and the watershed. The experience energized them, and they determined to make a difference in their school environment. They were so excited about establishing a butterfly garden at their school that they planned and wrote a grant proposal. They earned one of six grants awarded by the outdoor school this year!

The grants are awarded to elementary, middle, and high school students who identify a problem within their school environment and develop a solution to improve it, said Mary Hoy, an outdoor teacher at the Carroll County Outdoor School who helped the students develop their plan to create the butterfly garden. The school also offers a three-day teacher workshop during the summer for teachers who want to learn to guide student-run outdoor projects.

"We thought it would be a great opportunity for the students to apply what they had learned at the camp," said Andrea Dodge, who, along with East Middle School teachers Heather Goodhart and Joanne Lawson, guided the students.

Student enthusiasm kept the project alive, said Goodhart, a reading specialist at East Middle School. "Seeing the kids light up and grab it [the project] really renewed my faith in education," she told Education World.

"I've been teaching for nine years, getting a little bit in a rut and experiencing some burn-out," Goodhart acknowledged. "The best part of what I received from the project was that it reminded me of why I went into teaching." The students inspired her for many reasons: They tackled tough research, found solutions to timing plant blooming cycles to coincide with butterfly and caterpillar food needs, and compromised with one another to create the best design for the garden.

"The kids really loved it because they could make a difference in their community and environment," Goodhart said. "They could beautify their world and they felt empowered. When my faith in the project waned, they never let me stop. Even when I thought it might be too hard, their enthusiasm kept it going."

REAL-LIFE LESSONS

"This is real life," Hoy told Education World, noting that writing the grant required students to employ skills in problem solving, research, consensus building, persuasion, and more. The outdoor program bases its success on how well it motivates students to go home and make changes in their own yards, she added.

"These projects are not reports or test papers that will get lost somewhere," Hoy continued. "The best part is that the students will have something to stand back and look at when they're done."

The students learned that not just any plants would sustain butterflies. They had the soil tested and researched the amounts of sunlight, moisture, and soil nutrients needed to sustain the type of plants that create a butterfly habitat. They also had to figure out how much the garden would cost, write press releases for local newspapers, and make posters.

BEAUTIFYING THE SCHOOL

"I thought it was a wonderful project to help kids take ownership in beautifying the school grounds," said Bronson Jones, principal of East Middle School. "It helps them appreciate more of what they have while they help make their school beautiful."

Dodge, one of the sixth-grade teachers, agrees. "We feel the project was very successful in getting students motivated about their environment, " she said. The project took two weeks and required several steps. Initially, the students were taught how to use magazines, the Internet, and books as research tools. They used those resources to research butterfly gardens.

After learning about the life cycle of butterflies, the students tackled the problem of designing a garden that would include the eight items needed to sustain the butterflies and plants, including a damp space, rocks, and food for caterpillars.

The students worked in groups of three and four to create posters outlining their garden designs. Each group used its poster to convince the rest of the class that it had the best design. Students also made oral presentations to persuade their peers to vote for their designs. Each group's poster was displayed and the students voted, using what they had learned about butterfly garden requirements as their guide. The garden was modeled on the design that received the most votes.

As the design phase was underway, a smaller group of students organized the information for the grant. They figured out the cost of building the butterfly garden. The students used www.garden.com Garden.com to research prices so they could create a budget for their garden. After the teachers checked their work on the grant application, it was sent to the Carroll County Outdoor School.

Late last month, the students stayed after school and planted the garden with the help of parent volunteers who helped arrange the plants and till the soil.

CROSS-CURRICULUM PROJECT

The grant-writing project stands as a model of a cross-curriculum project. The project made use of students' skills in reading, research, data collection and organization, and letter writing and editing. They also learned about science, including the water cycle and the life cycle of animals. Math skills were used too, as students developed a budget for the garden, measured the garden area, and drafted a planting design using graphs.

"It was a wonderful project. We plan on building another one next year," Dodge said.

Diane Weaver Dunne
Education World®
Copyright © 2000 Education World

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06/27/2000