The Happy Garden, Interdisciplinary Learning results in beautiful growth

Our tour of “The Happy Garden,” began with K-4th grade students performing a song titled, Let Your Garden Grow.  Our kindergarten tour guide then walked a group of 8 adults through the garden gate and over to a triangular area planted with herbs and other aromatic flowers.  She straightened the note cards in her little hands and launched into a polished presentation explaining the design elements she and her classmates had chosen including plant and ground cover selection, the construction of mosaic stepping stones and a beautiful wooden bench.  She explained that they wanted this section of the garden to be a peaceful place for people to sit and relax.  She talked about the science of planting and caring for the garden, the importance of including flowers to attract pollinators and building up healthy soil through composting and mulching.  From there, she then led us through a series of stations and presented with the same poise on a variety of topics ranging from books she had read on gardening to measurement and time, to vegetables and nutrition.  It was an amazing demonstration of the depth of learning our kindergarten tour guide was able to demonstrate as a result of applying her learning in an interdisciplinary, high interest project.

 

Interdisciplinary, project-based learning gives a purpose to study far beyond the traditional memorization and evaluation information narrowly confined to one subject area.  Interdisciplinary projects that matter to students naturally propel them toward deeper thinking and the ability to make comparisons that bridge disciplines, and encourage the application of knowledge.

I have often referenced Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind, in my writing.  In this work, Pink argues that we are transitioning from an economy and a society built on the logical, linear, computer-like capabilities of the Information Age to an economy and a society built on the inventive, empathic, big picture capabilities of what’s rising in its place, the Conceptual Age. One important skill people will need to have in this new economy, pink suggests, is the ability to exercise “Symphony.”  According to Pink, symphony “is the capacity to synthesize rather than to analyze; to see relationships between seemingly unrelated fields; to detect broad patterns rather than to deliver specific answers; and to invent something new by combining elements nobody else thought to pair.”

Real-world problems are complex, so no single discipline can adequately describe and resolve these issues.  We serve our students best when we help them discover the connections between disciplines and guide them to the synthesis Daniel Pink suggests is so important.  It’s not that we completely do away with targeted instruction in any given subject, but that targeted instruction becomes more powerful when it is then connected to a real-world project where students can readily observe the relationships of their learning to the bigger picture and must develop the capacity to synthesize.  Humans are meaning-making beings.  We naturally seek out patterns and connections. Being able to recognize patterns is what gave humans their evolutionary edge over animals.  Developing instructional units like our “Happy Garden project” taps into this pattern seeking nature and gives students the opportunity to apply their learning across disciplines in patterns that are meaningful, and this helps the learning stick.

ES Project expo

We could have asked our kindergarten students to present their math worksheets on time and measurement, and how plants grow.  We could have asked our kindergarten students to tell us about the lessons they went through in class on nutrition and how vegetables are a part of a healthy diet.  I imagine they still would have been able to tell me something about their learning, but I am convinced that the depth of understanding and the long-term impact of this learning would pale in comparison to what we observed on our garden tour.  This is the power of connected learning through interdisciplinary, projects.

Garden Project Authors: Madison Enos, Christine Kuhl, Grace Martinelli, Victoria Vierstra                                                                           Grades: K, 1, 2, 3, 4,  Subjects: Science, Social Studies, Language Arts, Writing, Timeline: 10 Weeks

Learn more about this and other amazing projects at: http://apishawaii.wix.com/projects

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