Teachers learn agricultural lessons to use in the classroom
EASTHAMPTON — Students at The Williston Northampton School have been creating and working in vegetable gardens on the school grounds since 2008. Under the guidance of grade seven science teacher Jane Lucia, they’ve been growing food while also experimenting with science projects from comparing different kinds of composters to building structures to extend the growing season.
For years Lucia has been using agriculture in her classroom, so it makes sense that she will partner with the nonprofit Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom on July 30 to teach other educators how they can integrate lessons like those into their curriculum.
The Seekonk nonprofit that works to promote learning about food and agricultural industries as a valuable part of curriculums is hosting 11 workshops for teachers across the state this summer. In Hampshire and Franklin counties, teachers can attend two workshops, one at Williston and the other at a South Deerfield apiary, to see how projects involving gardening and beekeeping can be engaging ways to teach students about science, math and other subjects.
At each workshop, which costs $40, teachers will get a farm or facility tour and learn about the type of agriculture practiced there. They will also be presented with examples of activities based on agriculture that are ready to be used in the classroom as well as educational materials. Each workshop runs from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. and includes lunch.
Lucia said that sharing her agricultural lessons with other teachers is something she’s passionate about. At Williston, she’s seen that the gardens are great for teaching “STEM” topics — science, technology, engineering and mathematics.
Gardening, she said, “is something students can really get their minds and hands around.”
“There are a lot of initiatives around the country and state to start school gardens,” said Lucia. “What I’m trying to share with teachers is that planting and harvesting is good, but having students ask, ‘how can we grow this better?’ is really what’s important.”
Asking questions leads to students experimenting and being inventive to try to find the answer, she said. “STEM means different things to different people, but for me, its about allowing students to be innovative and solve problems,” she said.
Problems Williston students have experimented with solving include building “low tunnels” of hoops and seeing how much later in season they can grow food in them, creating a solar heater using soda cans to dry food.
In addition to sharing the topics she’s covered in her life sciences classes, Lucia will talk to teachers about how to create gardens anywhere, even if their schools don’t have fertile land available. By building raised beds and filling them with compost the class prepared, the Williston class transformed an area that used to be a tennis court into a garden laboratory, she said.
At another Agriculture in the Classroom workshop July 25, teachers will spend the day at Warm Colors Apiary in South Deerfield learning about honeybees. Massachusetts Beekeepers Association President Dan Conlon, the apiary co-owner, will give the teachers a tour of the honeybee haven before educating them about the life of the average honeybee, how beekeepers manage a hive and collect honey, how the bees pollinate plants, and how honey and beeswax can be made into various products.
To register for a workshop, visit www.aginclassroom.org or contact Debi Hogan at Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom, firstname.lastname@example.org or (508) 336-4426. Teachers can also write to Massachusetts Agriculture in the Classroom, P.O. Box 345, Seekonk, MA 02771.
Rebecca Everett can be reached at email@example.com.