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Kathy Lineberger


"I was prompted to incorporate gardening and landscaping into the curriculum when I spent a year in a trailer classroom," recalls third grade teacher Kathy Lineberger. "The grounds near our classroom were not inviting, and we started small with container gardening. The students were so engaged and involved with the process that I decided to write specific math problems for them to solve while working in the containers."

As her students at Marvin Ward Elementary in Winston-Salem, North Carolina, calculated the number of cups in a gallon to water the garden and found the perimeters and areas of square containers and the distance between them, Lineberger realized that there was a great deal of growth in the students' ability to estimate length and volume. She decided to pursue the activity on a larger scale, and a "math garden," funded by a Toyota TIME grant, took root!

"We planted a variety of flowers and shrubs and wrote questions for visitors to answer: What is the distance between the daffodils and the pansies? How tall are the butterfly bushes? How many flowers are on one cluster of the butterfly bush? How many do you estimate are on the whole plant?" Lineberger explained. "We created a human sundial and placed bird feeders in the garden. We counted and graphed various bird and butterfly visitors to the garden."

A peace pavilion also was created when the entire school system adopted an anti-bullying curriculum and each school was asked to create a plan to implement a "peaceful school scenario." As a multicultural school, Marvin Ward chose to construct a "peace pole" on campus and a gazebo with benches for peer mediation. Flowers and strawberries (the Cherokee fruit of peace) were planted around the gazebo.

"My students each year look forward to their time in the garden," observed Lineberger. "They really seem to enjoy being outside and being active while solving specific math or science problems. One aspect of the area is a bocce ball court. We have gotten really, really good at estimating and measuring feet, inches, meters, and centimeters after a few games of bocce!"

Part of the gardening activity that has been a pleasant surprise for Lineberger is the detail that her students have put into their science/math journals. She reports that her students take time to do accurate sketches and meticulous drawings. In one activity, student groups were given twelve bulbs to plant, and they created six different arrays. The planning in their notebooks was excellent, and discussion about the best array to use was a great way for them to master the concept.

Most surprising of all is the degree to which the students genuinely enjoy the experience of gardening and embrace it, as evidenced by the comments of one student after a week of working outside during math time.

"We measured the specific garden area, determined the perimeter for wood borders, found the area, planned an array of plants, prepared a budget, and watched the Weather Channel for the right temperature to plant," said Lineberger. "At the end of it all, a student told me he really loved that week because we hadn't done math in a long time! That made me chuckle."

Lineberger invites parents to get involved with the garden early on. They help with the hard work, make purchases, and find the best deals, but ultimately, the students are in charge. The garden is a growing place not just for plants, but for kids, Lineberger believes. When it comes to gardening, she advises, "Let the children make mistakes and learn from them."

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If you're a teacher who has completed an interesting or unusual activity with your class -- or if you know of a teacher who has -- please let us know about it. E-mail a brief description of the activity, along with your contact information, to [email protected]

Article by Cara Bafile
Education World®
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