Teacher Award

State Teacher Award 2016

Jennifer Chipman
Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning
7th - 8th Grades, Art

Jennifer Chipman

Using the curriculum 'If You Build It, They Will Grow!', my seventh and eighth grade students are addressing all five of the National Agricultural Literacy Outcomes (NALOs) themes of Agriculture and the Environment; Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber, & Energy; Food, Health, and Lifestyle;Science,Technology, Engineering, & Math; and Culture,Society, Economy & Geography.Students are designing a permaculture garden that will encourage the growth of pollinating insects and provide opportunities for students in all grades to grow plants and vegetables. Students are learning what is necessary to produce successful gardens and encourage growth population among pollinating insects, as well as using their math and engineering skills to measure and map a site and estimate the amount of materials needed to create a permaculture garden.

The entire school will use the pollination garden for learning experiences; however, the younger grades have specific expeditions tied to grade-level state core standards that will use the pollination garden (grades are combined into two-year learning communities). Kindergarteners explore Backyard Biologists and become insect experts; 1st and 2nd grade communities participate in the Farming expedition and gain first-hand knowledge of farming, crops, and livestock; and the 3rd and 4th grade communities take part in the Bees expedition and study melittology in depth.

The "If You Build It, They Will Grow!" curriculum all began with five acres of unutilized land owned by the school in which I teach. (At Promontory School of Expeditionary Learning students participate in project-based expeditions, where they engage in interdisciplinary, in-depth studies that facilitate a deeper understanding of a subject.) As teachers pondered what to do with the land, the idea developed that a large portion of this land should be made into an area where students can be scientists, agriculturists, horticulturists, and explorers.Consequently, the idea for The Promontory Outdoor Learning and Adventure Park—a permaculture garden—was formed.

The five acres of land are divided into outdoor learning and/or adventure areas: Desert Ecosystem, Forest Ecosystem, Amphitheater, and Permaculture Garden. This park will become the hub for students to engage in exploratory activities where they can become scientists by studying flora and fauna, agriculturists by growing plants and raising bees, and horticulturists by learning hands-on knowledge of plant life.

I was introduced to permaculture gardens during my studies at Utah State University while I worked on my Landscape Architecture and Environmental Planning degree. A permaculture garden is formally defined as a system of cultivation intended to maintain permanent agriculture or horticulture by using renewable resources and a self-sustaining ecosystem. As a landscape architect I designed several permaculture gardens, falling more in love with them with each design. So, when talk began about how best to use the five acres of unutilized land owned by the school, an area for a permaculture garden was high on my list of areas to incorporate.

But, I did not want to design and implement the area on my own. I thought to myself: what an exciting, authentic learning opportunity for my students! Therefore, my students are creating every aspect of the garden design.

After watching videos and researching permaculture gardens and the decline of pollinating insects such as bees and butterflies, students mapped out their ideas for the garden layout through conceptual designs. Following revisions and finalization of conceptual designs, students created professional, hand-drawn landscape plans and architectural models of their designs. We are currently in the process of analyzing these designs—a critical thinking process in which students are evaluating their designs in regards to feasibility, safety, and functionality. For example, one of the students is very excited about the pond she designed for the center of the garden. This component will be a focal point of discussion as we analyze the safety aspect of having a water source on the school grounds that is frequented by young children. Once a master plan is determined, students will create a hardscape plan to use during implementation. Then, following extensive research about garden plants, native plants, and plants needed to help with pollinating insect populations, students will create a professional planting plan.

The potential of this project for increasing students’ agricultural literacy is limitless! As aforementioned, the authentic, hands-on learning experiences address all five of the NALOs. The measurable outcomes are easily identified. For example, students: 

  • Identify the ecosystems in their garden; explain the impacts of the interaction of the sun, soil, water, and weather in plant and animal growth; and discover how natural resources are used and conserved in agriculture. (Agriculture and the Environment)
  • Explain how farmers/ranchers work with the lifecycle of plants and animals, identify the importance of natural resources, and understand the concept of stewardship. (Plants and Animals for Food, Fiber & Energy)
  • Recognize that agriculture provides our most basic needs, identify sources of agricultural products. (Food, Health, & Lifestyle)
  • Identify [and use] examples of simple tools and machines used in agricultural settings; describe how technology helps farmers/ranchers increase their outputs. (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics)
  • Trace the sources of agricultural products used daily; and identify plants and animals grown or raised locally that are used for food, clothing, shelter, and landscapes. (Culture, Society, Economy & Geography)

The Promontory Outdoor Learning and Adventure Park is in its beginning phases, but the “buzz” can already be heard around the school. The park and garden have the support of the administration, the faculty and staff, and most of all—the students. They have taken ownership of this beautiful piece of land, and their footprints will have lasting impacts.

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