Frequently asked, Answers from North Elementary : Lessons from the Garden Based Learning Workshop

On the last day of the Garden Based Learning (GBL) Workshop, there was time for Questions and Answers. Here's a selection of questions we hear a lot (and SPOILER: a favorite activity at the end because what's better than a homemade, fresh from the garden pizza party?).

From Natalie Webb, Principal of North Elementary: Text books are resources, library books are resources, Garden Based Learning is a resource. The textbook is not curriculum. Which resources teachers use should be up to the teacher, as long as the teacher is able to develop curriculum that meets standards with their chosen resources.

Further, what Webb and Assistant Principal, Anne Lupo, have seen at North Elementary is advancement in student learning, increased parent involvement, and additional community support as a result of incorporating gardening into their school environment. (And what's happening at North Elementary is not unusual: more on the benefits of incorporating school gardening from the National Farm to School Network, Cornell University, and the Collective School Garden Network, to name a few...)

How have administrators at North Elementary encouraged teachers to incorporate GBL in their classrooms?

  • Administrators should feature training or workshops in staff development or in service days, or share with teachers opportunities outside of school hours for continuing education credits.

  • Develop staff support or mentorship programs: Kevin Kieffer, recently joined North Elementary's team, he said "don't start alone," having a mentor and partner helped him overcome his anxiety about incorporating gardening into the classroom.

  • Reach out to University faculty and staff, WVU or WVSU Extension services, community gardening groups, for gardening expertise. These people can help teachers who have yet to develop a green thumb.

  • If teachers are not interested; don't force them, their negative attitude will spread like wildfire.

What are the pros and cons of creating spaces for gardening in the classroom? (For example: worm-composting, grow boxes or other small container gardening)

Answers compliments of Melissa Forinash:

The pros:

  • Kids get excited about GBL activities,

  • It's easy to work into daily or weekly plans,

  • GBL develops opportunities for collaboration and team teaching,

  • GBL activities lead students to think about the bigger picture and about how systems work together.

  • It's a fantastic opportunity to develop relationships with parents and community members; students share their excitement about what they're doing in class or in the garden with parents and neighbors, who then want to learn more about what's going on in school.

The con: Bugs. (But there's always ways to combat those; carnivorous plants, wondersoil, and with worm bins: bury the food scraps deep to prevent flies from finding food.)

As a teacher, what's your favorite Garden Based Learning activity?

Sara Pennington said that the Pizza Activity is her favorite: It brings math into cooking while students learn to read and follow a recipe. Students work in groups to make pizza dough but they are not given all of the measuring cups; they are forced to practice adding or subtracting fractions. Once the students have made their dough and topped it with fresh produce from the school's garden, the cooks bake the pizzas. After baking they have a pizza party to celebrate. (Following, Pennington's students write Thank You letters to the cooks, which brings letter writing into the mix.)

Any more burning questions out there? We'd love to help. Just give us a holler here, on Facebook, or send an email to

#NorthElementary #StandardsofLearning #curriculum #gardenbasedlearning #workshop

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