Experiential Learning in School Gardens and Other Outdoor Environments: A Survey of Needs for Supplemental Programs
The purpose of this study was to determine how the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Virginia Tech can best focus their outreach efforts to benefit the local public school community. The study assessed the needs of local science teachers and how their needs can be met through educational outreach programs. A self-administered online survey was used to inquire about the use of experiential teaching methods using school gardens and other outdoor environments. The survey was also intended to determine interest in incorporating supplemental programs into the K-5 Montgomery County Public School curriculum to enhance the Virginia Standards of Learning related to plants and environmental science. The survey was sent to 273 K-5 teachers in the Montgomery County Public School System in Virginia. Because of the small number of responses, the results from the survey were not representative of the population, but were satisfactory to gain practical information for this study.
Data analysis indicated existing programs, the need for programs, and how programs can best be implemented. Existing programs consisted of hands-on activities in the classroom including growing plants from seeds and dissecting and observing plant parts. Experiential learning opportunities outside of the classroom included school gardening, observations on the school grounds, and outdoor field trips. Survey respondents indicated a need for supplemental programs related to plants and environmental science. Teachers reported interest in a school gardening program, having a guest speaker in the classroom, receiving curriculum support, and taking their class on a field trip to the Hahn Horticulture Garden at Virginia Tech. Most teachers also showed interest in receiving in-service training to strengthen their knowledge of plants and environmental science.
Based on the results of the study, there is a need for supplemental programs related to plants and environmental science. Engaging lessons should be developed to assist teachers with school gardening programs. Experiential learning opportunities such as meaningful field trips should also be developed. Other methods to supplement school curriculum include providing teachers with curriculum materials and lesson kits. All programs developed should correlate to the state-mandated standards.