The Garden Jigsaw: Cooperative Learning Stations

By Eve Pranis

An effective way to manage a classroom of active students when teaching indoor gardening tasks is to organize a cooperative learning "jigsaw" in which each cooperative group becomes "expert" at a particular technique or gardening skill. Each expert can later teach his or her skill to another group of students or work with other expert group members to present a short demonstration to teach the skill to the whole class.

Designing Stations

Jigsaws work best when each expert group works at a station to complete a different task or variation of the same task (e.g., transplanting different types of plants). Stations might include: planting seeds, planting bulbs, thinning seedlings, transplanting seedlings, taking and rooting cuttings, planting different fruit and vegetable parts (e.g., citrus seeds, potato eyes, carrot tops).

Setting Up Stations

1. Decide which tasks will be performed at each station and what information, directions, and materials students will need. Consider copying or excerpting "how-to" information from GrowLab: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom for students who can read at that level. For non-readers, consider providing a simple visual chart or preliminary demonstration.

2. Have materials readily available. A centrally located materials table is easier than preparing for each station individually. It should contain general supplies (newspapers, reference books, soil mix) and specific station supplies (scissors, bulbs, seeds). The groups should decide, based on the directions, which materials they'll need. The materials monitor in each group (see Cooperative Group Roles, below) is responsible for getting materials.

3. Decide which questions the experts should be able to answer or infer as a result of completing the task. Write these on a "Q-Card."

4. Prepare a folder for each station including the task definition, how-to information and instructions, Q-Card, and "role cards" (see Cooperative Group Roles, below).

Sample Student Information at Thinning Station:

"Thinning" is removing some plants from groups growing close together to let the remaining plants have more room and better conditions for growth. To thin a group of seedlings:

A. Look for the healthiest looking plants and remove the rest. Check the Planting Chart (pages 86 - 87 of GrowLab: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom) to see how many plants to leave in each container.

B. Remove the unwanted plants with your fingernail just at the top of the soil or very gently pull them out.

C. If you have thinned plants whose roots we eat (e.g., radishes or carrots), add a bit more potting mix to the pot.

D. Water the plants gently.

Sample Q-Card Questions on Thinning:

  • How did your team decide which plants were healthiest?
  • Are there any plants in the room that you think should have been thinned already? What makes you think so?
  • Why do you think you sometimes add more soil after thinning?
  • Which method did you choose for thinning and why?
  • What do you think we should do with seedlings that have been removed?
  • What do you think would have happened in the container if you hadn't thinned?

Procedure for Working at Stations

1. Teacher assigns or allows students to form "expert" groups of four or five.

2. Teacher assigns or allows students to choose cooperative group "roles" as described below. (You may want to keep track on a wall chart or job wheel so students can rotate roles for different activities.)

Cooperative Group Roles:

captain: reads directions orally and keeps track of time.

materials monitor: gets materials and supervises cleanup.

checker: double agreed upon before materials monitor gets them and questions group members to see that all directions are followed.

recorder: after listening to all group members, writes important information and illustrations on charts or worksheets.

presenter: is the main speaker and works with the recorder to clearly represent the group.

3. Materials monitor gets folder/information and returns to team.

4. Captain reads the instructions orally.

5. Team discusses what each member will do and what materials are needed.

6. Materials monitor gets the materials and work begins.

7. When each team's task is complete (after a set time allotment), team takes a few minutes to discuss how they will "teach" the rest of the class what they've learned by answering questions on the Q-Card.

8. Finally, teams collaboratively complete a feedback sheet and/or discuss how they worked together to become experts and solve problems. They discuss such questions as: What was different about working as a team as opposed to individually? How did it feel to have the different team roles? What did our team do well? What could we have done better?

Ask Three Before Me

To encourage discussion and problem solving and to free up your own time, consider requiring students to follow the "ask 3 before me" rule: Before coming to the teacher with a question, a student must first try to answer the question by consulting and discussing it with three other students.

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