Friday, February 25, 2011

Class: Insecta!

"Raise your hand if you’ve ever stepped on a bug and heard it go CRUNCH.”
All twenty five hands rocket towards the ceiling.

“That’s their exoskeleton. All arthropods have their skeletons on the outside of their bodies. ‘Exo’ means outside.”

This week our Garden Science classes built on what they already knew about bees to learn about the common characteristics of insects. Unlike other arthropods (including insect "cousins" crustaceans, arachnids and centipedes and millipedes), insects all have antennae, wings, six legs, and three main body segments. Our classes were amazed to find out that ants can have wings and insects breathe through slits in their abdomens. The highlight of the classes were definitely our insect cases—extensive collections of butterflies, moths, dragonflies, bees, wasps, hornets, beetles, earwigs, flies, mosquitoes, grasshoppers and crickets. In some classes, students went back to their desks to fetch notebooks so they could write down their observations. One fourth grader complained that she hadn’t had enough time to complete her research!

After looking at the insect cases, the classes learned basic insect anatomy and the vital roles insects play in living systems. They will have a chance to continue their investigations during their class field trip in May: we’ll build on this lesson in the garden, observing insects live and in action.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Rooting DC 2011

Last Saturday, WYG staff and volunteers joined local urban garden enthusiasts at Coolidge HS for DC Field to Fork’s 4th annual urban gardening forum, Rooting DC. We started off the day with some guerrilla gardening, getting DC youth prepared with seed balls packed with wild flower seeds to beautify the city. Seed balls are fun and easy to make by combining nutrient-rich compost with clay and seeds. When the balls dry and the weather warms up, these nuggets of mini-garden potential will be ready to go!

Kacie, Chris and Kaifa all contributed to panels on youth gardening. Kacie and Chris kicked it off, collaborating with City Blossoms staff to give some useful “tips of the trade.” Chris went over the top 10 plants for gardening with youth and Kacie discussed the value of meeting children where they’re at and asking questions to support their natural curiosity. Kaifa presented on the successes and challenges of the WYG school garden installations as part of a panel examining school garden case studies in DC. Along with other panelists, Kaifa discussed the essential steps to establishing and maintaining effective school and community partnerships.

Finally, the info fair was a great opportunity to tell folks about the Washington Youth Garden, connect with potential volunteers, and get the word out about upcoming WYG programs including SPROUTS and Growing Food…Growing Together. Both programs are still accepting applications, so if you know of any school groups or families who may be interested, please pass the word.

Worms, flowers and bees, oh my!

Over the past two weeks in our Garden Science classes we’ve been learning about the birds and the bees (and the worms) that make plant life possible.

We kicked off our fourth week with an in-depth introduction to the newest members of the classroom—the worms! Before passing out a worm to each student, we had to review what sort of living conditions the worms were used to in their homes underground. Because the soil is moist, we decided to have a damp paper towel on our desks to keep our worms happy. Also, because worms are used to how QUIET it is underground, we agreed that we should only whisper to our neighbors (and not screech with excitement) about our observations. EW Stokes’ fourth grade class, at least, were very serious about not upsetting their worms and consistently shushed their classmates during our worm observation period.

After 10 minutes to touch and observe the worms, the classes came together to share their observations and learn worm anatomy. We reviewed the important role worms play in the garden—breaking down scraps of food (organic matter) into nutrients that the plants can use to grow.

Every week a group of students will be responsible for feeding the worms. The worm bins will stay in the classrooms through the spring, providing compost for the school gardens. When the classes come out to visit the Washington Youth Garden in May, the worms will finally return home from their extended field trip.

Last week, we shifted our focus from decomposers to pollinators. Before jumping into the details of flower parts, we reviewed the plant life-cycle and how plants go about making new plants. We learned that in order for the new seed (hidden in the flower) to be ready to make a new plant, it has to be pollinated. This is where trusted pollinator friends (bees, butterflies, bats, flies, etc.) come into play. Only once the pollen goes down to meet the new seed, will the plant get the signal to make a fruit. Most students had no idea that fruits are just a clever way for plants to spread their seeds. Kacie broke it to the students that every time we eat a watermelon and spit out the seeds we are participating in a very tasty trick! To learn more about the process of pollination, students dissected lily flowers and learned all about bees from Toni, the WYG beekeeper. Before closing the lesson, we all said a big “Thank you!” to the bees who pollinate one out of every three bites of food we eat.

Thank you worms! Thank you bees!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Seeding projects

Last week we finally got to plant some seeds. We went into each classroom and set up the shelves that hold all of the grow racks, worm bins, planting trays, and, soon enough, all of the little seedlings.
Each class planted broccoli, lettuce mix, sunflowers, and basil. All of the students had a great time getting their hands in the soil and learning all about what plants we'll be growing.
We also brought out some samples so that everyone could try what we'd be growing. All of the students loved the sunflowers seeds and most came around to liking the lettuce and broccoli. Despite the basil pesto being something new for most students, after one friend tried it and admitted to liking it, so did everyone else. Once they heard that basil is used in spaghetti and on pizza, they were a little more into the idea of eating it.

First we gotta talk about what plants need to grow. A place to grow, some liquid (water) and love, air (carbon dioxide), nutrients, the right temperature, and sunlight.
Here some students at Mary McLeod Bethune are getting their hands in the dirt and planting those seeds.
At Center City, the students are psyched about getting their peat pots onto the shelf and under the grow rack.
Amirah and Myia planting basil.
The lettuce team with Ms. Olivia.
Students on the left side of the table clearly enthralled by amazing facts about broccoli from Mr. Zack.
Ms. Kacie demonstrating the amount of arable land on earth using an apple. Students are always amazed by how small a portion of the planet is suitable for growing plants.
Giving you a peak into composting and worm week with students peaking into a worm bin. Each class gets one of these and a tupperwear container to store food for the worms.