Tuesday, March 12, 2013


It’s just about time to start planting our spring garden. Unfortunately for me, weeds have proliferated to such an extent that I’m afraid to even lift the frost cloth to see really just how much needs to be done. “One step at a time” is the mantra that saves me from hiding in my closet of an office all spring…

Nitrogen fixing cover crop at Holt.
Garden Club was slow this winter, but I have high hopes that students will be scrambling to get involved once it gets warm enough to go outside again. It’s amazing what a 10-year-old boy will accomplish when you give him a hoe and a pile of dirt. Students have been starting seeds indoors and learning to prune blueberry bushes, blackberry bushes, and apple trees. We’ve been trying wild new things like tofu, eggplant, and sweet potato fries with the skins on! This week, we’ll create an enlarged map of the garden to plan out where we will transplant all of our seedlings in the coming months. Soon, our pile of weeds, cover crop, and old lettuce will be transformed into the productive garden we’ve been dreaming about.

In the classroom, I’ve worked with math classes to map the garden to practice proportions, ratios, and scale. In science classes, we’ve discovered the caloric content of Cheetos and walnuts by burning them using a homemade calorimeter. The calorimeter lesson was part of the 6th grade energy unit and gave the students a better understanding of what calories are and how they act as an energy source for our bodies. Students were able to observe that a walnut burns for about four times as long as a Cheeto, and connect that observation with the understanding that eating a walnut will give you energy for longer than eating a Cheeto. We then had an economics debate, coming up with arguments for why one might prefer to buy Cheetos over walnuts as a snack and vice versa.

Teaching this lesson made it obvious how little most students know about energy balance and nutrition. Many students were surprised to learn that our bodies are burning calories constantly, not only when we “exercise.” Although many 6th graders maintained their loyalty to junk food on the grounds of taste, there were several students who showed a level of curiosity about nutrition and health that should be nurtured. Unfortunately, these topics are not given their due in schools these days when there’s not even enough time to fit in the number of minutes of physical activity mandated by the federal government each week, so the more we can sneak them into core subjects, the better.

Last but not least, our very own Arkansas Fellow, Rachel Spencer, was head chef at my last hands-on cooking class for Holt Families. Thank you Rachel for showing our lovely families that Southerners can eat vegetarian, and without giving up the BBQ sauce!

- by Sophia Gill

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