Posts tagged ‘Education’
We are kicking off the start of the new school year with a guest blog post by Michael Torguson, a teacher in Medford, Oregon who spent the summer teaching school at a juvenile detention facility. He used soil as a jumping off point for his students to study the science, history and geography of locations across the globe, widening their world.
Teaching is a challenge under the best of circumstances. Teaching summer school at a juvenile detention facility, the challenge gets kicked up a notch (or two!).
When I asked the kids what they wanted to learn over the summer, they said they wanted to learn botany. So we did the usual: planted an herb garden, studied water ecology and how pollution affects the land (and by extension, plants), and the properties of soil. In a regular school setting, the usual procedure would be for students to scatter around the school grounds, locate their patch of soil, mark it on a school map, and do their analysis.
But how do you teach soil and plant biology when students cannot leave the building? Answer: bring the soil from outside . . . in. I was originally going to take a weekend, drive around town, and collect soil from different areas. Then I had an idea: why not collect soil from all over the country? I reached out to various “famous places” and requested soil from their grounds for the kids to analyze. I got some very interesting responses, from “This is unprecedented!” to “You just want … dirt?”
I also got some happily unexpected responses, from “Soil from the Trinity Nuclear Test Site will always be radioactive” to the one from my new friend, Smithsonian Gardens’ own Supervisory Horticulturist Brett McNish. McNish said he did a similar project a while back and offered to send some soil that he was able to collect from overseas. So Brett sent me soil from the U. S. Embassy Grounds in Kabul, a Forward Operating Base in Iraq, sand from Omaha Beach, as well as from the garden near the National Museum of the American Indian.
In all, we received and tested soils from:
- Arecibo Observatory, Puerto Rico
- Central Park, New York
- Dodger Stadium, California
- Forks, Washington (We had a Twilight fan in class!)
- Haleakala, Hawaii
- Harvard Yard, Massachusetts
- Los Angeles Coliseum, California
- Monticello, Virginia
- Mt. Vernon, Virginia
- Old North Church, Massachusetts
- Pike’s Peak, Colorado
- The Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C.
- Trinity Nuclear Test Site, New Mexico
- Very Large Antenna Array, New Mexico
- White Sands Missile Testing Range, New Mexico
A Social Studies teacher by training (and excitable by nature), I decided not to limit the science project just to science; I decided to add geography and history to the mix. The project was getting really interesting!
The project evolved, and ultimately each student:
- Learned the Scientific Method and proper observation and documentation methods;
- Performed Soil Properties Classification (all students classified all soils);
- Conducted Nitrogen, Phosphorous, Potassium (NPK) and pH testing;
- Researched what each of the above tests mean in terms of soil health;
- Researched the climate and geography of the region;
- Researched the history of the location where they received the soil;
- Created and presented their report to the class.
Best of all, the students rose to the challenge! Not only did they follow correct analysis procedures, but they also wrote very good historical and scientific summaries. As a bonus, they got to keep their dirt as a souvenir. (Except for the Trinity Soil – I didn’t want to have to answer questions about why I was giving radioactive material to students!)
In the end, the students had fun, learned a few things, and got to “visit” places they otherwise would not have been able to go. I also learned an important lesson about creatively teaching across the curriculum.
Oh, and in case you are wondering, the student who analyzed the Smithsonian soil reports that:
“The soil was dark brown, with lots of small roots. It was rich and healthy. The Phosphorous level was low (0-50lb/acre), there were trace amounts of Nitrogen and Potassium, and the pH level is 7.0.”
-Michael Torguson. During school year Michael is a substitute teacher at Central Medford High School in Medford, Oregon.
As parents, teachers, and students wrap up the first couple of months of the new school year. Smithsonian Gardens horticulturist Christine Price-Abelow thought it would be fun to highlight a few plants with names linked to education. Keep an eye out for these plants growing in the museum gardens on your next class field trip!
1. Chinese Scholar-tree (Sophora japonica)
Chinese Scholar-tree is also known as the Japanese Pagodatree. In its native country of China the Scholar–tree was often planted near Buddhist shrines, hence the name. However it is commonly used as a city or street tree in the United States. It has a moderate to fast growth rate and usually reaches a height of 40-60’ with a nice rounded crown. Sophora trees have a compound leaf which casts a light shade and they are very tolerant to heat, drought and pollution. They produce creamy white flowers in mid-July followed by a pod type fruit. This “educational” tree can be found on the west side of the National Air and Space Museum near the McDonald’s trailer and seating area.
2. Princeton Elm (Ulmus americana ‘Princeton’)
The next time you visit Smithsonian Gardens and the National Mall, be sure to look up at the large towering trees shading the walkways. A large percentage of this tree canopy is made up of American elms, specifically the ‘Princeton’ American Elm. As you know, most plant cultivars are named for people and places and the ever popular Princeton elm is no exception. The Princeton elm was first introduced in 1922 by William Flemer of Princeton Nurseries located near Princeton, New Jersey. The Princeton elm was originally selected for its resistance to Dutch elm disease and aesthetic beauty. There are many examples of the Princeton elm planted throughout the U.S. and they can be genetically linked to a 200+ year old American elm tree formerly growing at Princeton Cemetery near Princeton University.
American elms have a beautiful yellow fall color and make excellent shade trees. They are fast growing and reach a height of about 80’ with a spread of 50-60’. The Princeton cultivar is known for its disease resistance and large dark green leaves. They are also a great choice for urban landscapes. Plant your own piece of history!
Smithsonian Gardens is using Ulmus Americana ‘Princeton’ as a street tree and in the tree box planters surrounding the museums.
3. Pencil Cactus (Euphorbia tirucalli)
In keeping with our “Back to School” theme, our next featured plant is the pencil cactus. Though often referred to as a cactus, this plant is actually a succulent and a member of the Euphorbia family. The pencil cactus is native to Africa and India, therefore it is grown as a seasonal tropical plant or a houseplant in the Washington, D.C. area. This euphorbia’s distinctive round, rod-shaped branches that resemble the familiar school implement give the plant its nickname. They are very easy to grow and can be propagated by cuttings.
*A note of caution, you should always wear gloves when working around this plant; it exudes a milky, latex-type sap that can cause an allergic skin reaction for some people.
This plant can be found growing in a large container in the Ripley Garden.
-Christine Abelow-Price, Smithsonian Gardens Horticulturist
This summer Smithsonian Gardens (SG) joined the National Museum of Natural History and the National Zoo in an outreach program designed for high school students. Youth Engagement through Science (YES!) connected students to Smithsonian collections, experts, and training in an effort to provide them with practical experience, inspiration and encouragement to pursue science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) careers. The program also equipped the students with resources to help them in their next step of attending college to pursue their career interests.
Students who participated in YES! worked side by side with SG horticulturists and educators in the Smithsonian Gardens’ Greenhouse, Victory Garden and Heirloom Garden. The mentors, Tom Mirenda, Joe Brunetti and Erin Clark, worked with three students, Damani Eubanks, Kumar Madhav and Dion Anderson, from various high schools in the D.C. metropolitan area. Each mentor designed a project highlighting subjects in their area of expertise. The students worked with the mentors to complete the projects, keep a field journal and produce a poster for a special open-session presentation at National Museum of Natural History.
A special tour of the SG Greenhouse gave SG YES! students, Kumar and Damani, a chance to share their project with all 25 YES! students. Kumar and Damani demonstrated their newly gained knowledge when they explained how they measured and recorded various parts of blooming orchids.
This fall, when the students return to school, they are required to take a leadership role among their peers and promote the YES! program in a community outreach project. The students will be ombudsmen for Smithsonian Gardens!
YES! was a positive experience for both the mentors and the students. Smithsonian Gardens is looking forward to participating in next year’s programs with the new projects for new students.
Funded by the Pearson Foundation, the Smithsonian’s Mobile Learning Institute seeks to find new ways for teachers and students to create, explore, and learn. Mobile Learning Institute educators at the Smithsonian EdLab encourage “interest-driven learning,” facilitating collaboration between teachers and students within informal settings, sharing ideas in person and online utilizing social networks. Earlier this week, teachers were assigned an important task: to share a story about our Heirloom and Victory Gardens as well as our Medal of Honor Tree.
On Tuesday, teachers met at the Hirshhorn Museum to share their projects. Many of the groups created innovative multimedia presentations, using Voice Thread, Animoto, and Prezi to produce animated, narrated stories. The subjects of these tales ranged from a short film illustrating the medicinal properties of Echinacea (found at the Heirloom Garden) to a monologue sourced from informal interviews that teachers had with visitors to the Medal of Honor Tree. Through sharing not only their presentations, but also their digital resources and their research process, visiting teachers will be able to take new learning methods and tools back to their own classrooms.
To view the group’s facebook page, see http://www.facebook.com/groups/381035355276704/
To learn more about the Smithsonian EdLab, visit http://www.edlab.si.edu/about.html
Kristina Borrman, Katzenberger Art History Intern
Spring has sprung! The sun is shining, birds are singing and our gardens have begun to bloom. Spring is also the perfect time to kick off our newest educational program, Let’s Move! with Smithsonian Gardens. Part of First Lady Michelle Obama’s national initiative to promote physical fitness and healthy diet choices, our program encourages visitors to our gardens to get active!
Last week we debuted our Let’s Move! interpretative panels in our gardens near the National Mall. Each panel provides some interesting facts about the garden and a fun way to be active. We also want to know how you’re moving in the gardens, so we’ve included some fun texting polls to keep track of how many steps you take as part of Let’s Move! Keep an eye out and see if you can spot all the panels as you explore Smithsonian Gardens.
We’ve also been working on our Let’s Move! Healthy Hunt Guide. The guide includes a scavenger hunt through our gardens with tips on how to be active in nature. It is currently available on our website and we just sent it to the printer, so you will be able to pick it up at any Smithsonian information desk soon.
We hope to see you moving in the gardens soon!
Bridget Sullivan, Education Intern