By Eve Pranis

Pots, soil, water, seeds, and exuberant young scientists...a stage set for learning or chaos? We talked with a few GrowLab teachers committed to the value of hands-on learning with plants who have found techniques to organize and manage a classroom full of indoor gardeners. Here are their suggestions.

* By setting up a special station (table) for planting and other plant-related activities, Ginger Johnson, second grade teacher form charlotte, VT, keeps planting activities and messes contained. A plastic shower curtain or tablecloth protects the planting area, and wash tubs contain potting mix that is pre-moistened and mixed by a different student every morning.

* "I always model or demonstrate a task first," says Ginger, "then I try to stay out of the action and allow small groups of no more than four students at a time rotate through the station." Meanwhile, the other students work on garden journals or other projects, and the final group is responsible for sweeping and cleaning up the station. I find that students become more independent and discuss things more with one another if I keep a low profile," she reports. She has successfully involved parent volunteers in setting up and keeping an eye on stations when the class is doing more complicated gardening projects.

* "Careful organization and trust in the students are my keys to managing hands-on plant-related activities in the classroom," reports Billie Bell, science resource teacher in Kansas City, Mo. "I make sure that the lessons are well organized, that I have enough materials for each student and that the directions are very clear so that all students can feel successful."

When beginning a new activity, Billie first models it for the students, and then invites each to try it at a station with a peer partner. She adds that pairing students with different reading abilities helps them to support each other, while she works as a facilitator.

* "Matching my fourth and fifth graders up as gardening mentors for kindergarten partners has been a wonderful way of keeping my kids on task and promoting responsibility," reports Pat Pierce of Bristol, VT. Before beginning a salad garden project with their kindergarten partners, Pat's students brain stormed how to work with the young students on planting, thinning, and other tasks, then wrote their plans in their journals. The older students used GrowLab's "Salad Celebration" poster to determine planting distances, then each worked with one or two younger students on a pre-planned planting task. "When students are expected as older 'partners' to help younger ones, there's much less fooling around," reports Pat. "And my students certainly learn more thoroughly when they have to prepare as mentors."

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