Friday, 6 June 2014

OISE Intern's Notes from the Field: David Mook's time at Elmbank Jr. Middle School


**Every year, we take on teacher candidate students from OISE for the month of May to help them complete their community placement hours. This year, our OISE staff were incredible as always, and we decided to ask some of them to contribute to our blog. Here is a post from David Mook about his time at Emery Collegiate.**

The month of May has been a bustling one for the Elmbank school garden! With the hard work and dedication of school staff and students, as well as PACT staff, the garden has flourished with many flowers, herbs and vegetables: camomile, bergamot, catnip, beets, carrots, kale, radishes, lettuces, peas, berry bushes, and more! Workers in the garden have dug new beds, thereby expanding the garden even more. The garden was even featured as an article in the Etobicoke Guardian !

Hard work of PACT staff and the school community, combined with the miracle of nature, has transformed the garden from a bare patch to a beautiful green space! This is especially refreshing and valuable in an urban area like Toronto.

The garden is such a positive space for students, teachers and members of the community. It encourages children to be active and spend time outdoors. It promotes environmental awareness, sustainability and community stewardship (since some of the food produced is donated to a local food bank). The garden connects to science and mathematics concepts in a hands-on, accessible way, and can be easily linked to other subject areas, such as art. It promotes inquiry and exploration: the garden offers so much to see, taste, smell, and feel, and these are always in flux. 

As an amateur gardener and new teacher, I have had the opportunity to work at Elmbank school garden this past month, and the experience has been invaluable- both personally and professionally. School gardens fit beautifully into education and offer such rich, hands-on learning experiences for children. When you plant a seed, then nurture it until it is ready for harvest, you truly feel like you have witnessed something special. This kind of learning and appreciation cannot be achieved from a textbook alone.      

Another thing to love about the garden is that it is not a place where one must sit still or read quietly but a place to burn off steam by making lots of observations and/or moving around. Last week, we had the grade threes shoveling compost into a wheelbarrow and dumping it into our newly built garden bed so that we could prepare to plant our new blueberry bushes. The students worked in groups together and they all helped each other to lift and wheel the heavy wheelbarrow full of compost over to its new location. Sweat was dripping from their little foreheads but they were having so much fun working together. We planted the blueberry bushes and , when we learned that the soil was too alkaline for the bushes, the students added pine needles to bring some acidity to the dirt.

 The garden fosters a strong sense of learning by doing and provides a great space to explore the relationships between parts of the natural world. The garden also explores the relationships between parts of the community and the teaching world and provides a great space where everyone belongs.

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