The Factors Affecting Elementary School Teachers' Integration of School Gardening into the Curriculum
The purpose of this research was to identify the logistical, conceptual, educational, and attitudinal factors that affect elementary school teachers’ implementation of school gardening in the curriculum. This research also sought to qualitatively describe the current application of school gardening by the study population in the elementary school curriculum, and to identify avenues in which the horticultural community can assist teachers in implementing the use of this teaching strategy.
The target population consisted of elementary school teachers who taught at schools that had received a Youth Gardening Grant from the National Gardening Association in either the 1994/95 or 1995/96 academic years. Data were collected using a School Gardening Survey which was sent to an accessible population of 315 elementary schools. From this mailing, 236 usable responses were received for analysis. The results of the survey were confirmed, and expanded upon, by personal interviews conducted with 28 teachers from the test population who used school gardening in their curriculum and taught in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
Survey and interview responses provided data for statistical analysis using the computer statistic package, Statistical Analysis System (SAS). Chi-square correlations did not provide significant relationships between factors; however, frequencies, averages and mean and mode information provided insight into the use of school gardening and the needs of teachers who are using this teaching strategy.
Survey data indicated that the most important factors that need to be present for the successful use of school gardening were logistical factors. The most essential factors were a person, or persons, who take on the responsibility for the gardening program, the availability of a site to grow plants, and adequate funding for gardening materials. In addition, the availability of gardening equipment and the support of the principal were stated to be very important to school gardening success.
Interview data indicated that the most crucial factors that need to be present for the successful use of school gardening were educational factors. Student ownership of the gardens and the integration of school gardening into the curriculum were seen as more important to school gardening success than the logistical features of school gardening. There was survey and interview consensus, however, that the lack of preparation time for school gardening activities and the lack of instructional time for learning using school gardening were factors that influence the use of this teaching strategy. There was also agreement that the logistical factors of a growing site, a water source, the availability of gardening equipment, adequate funding, and a person who is responsible for school gardening were important to the successful use of school gardening.
Essentially all of the interviewed and surveyed teachers (99%) use school gardening as an interdisciplinary teaching method. It is the interdisciplinary nature of gardening and growing plants that allows school gardening to be used successfully within the elementary school curriculum. Study results also indicated that school gardening is used to teach students in all grade levels found in an elementary school including students in prekindergarten, special education, and 3English as a Second Language2 classes.
School gardening is often used to benefit students beyond standard academic achievement. Teachers use school gardening for such goals as social development, therapy, recreation, environmental awareness, community relationships, exploring diversity, and the arts. School gardening is also seen as a teaching strategy that can occur both indoors and outdoors. Teachers are not limiting their concept of gardening to an activity that must occur in the out-of-doors.
Teachers indicated that they depend primarily on their own knowledge of gardening when gardening with their students. They also rely more on their gardening knowledge than on their knowledge of science when using school gardening within the curriculum. However, these same teachers expressed a need for further education and information on the integration of gardening into the curriculum, and the horticultural aspects of gardening that can be implemented within the educational, time, facility, funding, and legal limits placed on a school situation. Teachers also requested that this education be provided as in-service training, Master Gardener training, or graduate and/or continuing education classes provided through the local institution of higher education.
The survey and interview respondents indicated that school gardening is a very effective, interdisciplinary teaching method. These teachers find that use of school gardening assists students in learning and understanding new ideas, and that student learning improves when using school gardening in the curriculum. In addition, interviewed teachers indicated that students obtain a more positive environmental ethic when gardening is used in the curriculum.
Elementary school teachers may use school gardening to improve student academic and social achievement, to provide a hands-on learning experience that reaches across the curriculum, to furnish a forum that provides opportunities to learn such positive social qualities as nurturing life and responsibility, and to encourage students to expand their appreciation for the living world around them. The interdisciplinary nature of school gardening shows promise as a teaching strategy that can be used to enhance student learning, and to expose students to the expanse of learning available through the process of growing plants.