Science literacy in the school garden

Science literacy is essential for functional citizens, and school gardens can provide the necessary context.

What is science literacy?  It is defined by National Research Council as “the knowledge and understanding of scientific  concepts  and  processe required  for  personal  decision  making, participation in civic and cultural affairs,  and  economic  productivity”.  In terms of a functioning citizen, science literacy is essential.  One of the best places for students to discover science literacy and science’s meaning in their lives is in the garden. 

After all, everybody eats – hopefully, three times a day.  Food is the one element that binds all humans together and connects us to the natural world and gardens are all about food.  Even flower gardens can be the home of the first participants in the food system - pollinators.

Students can see their first examples of a complete life cycle when they plant seeds and harvest fruits a few months later.  Metamorphosis is demonstrated when the butterfly pupates.  The miracle of decomposition is also on display when the leaves and mulch are broken down by insects and microbes into soil. Competition is demonstrated when fast growing weeds overshadow our much wanted flowers and vegetables.  The base of the food chain goes on every day as plants are able to grow and expand by the process of photosynthesis.  Predator-prey relationships are exhibited as the ladybug eats the aphids on our tomato plants.  Physics exhibitions occur regularly as plants transport water from underground through their stems and leaves. 

Science literacy is most easily gained when seen in action.  School gardens are our best and most cost efficient laboratories for students to see science concepts applied on an everyday basis.  As outdoor laboratories, school gardens also encourage better nutrition and food choices.  They make it easy for students to see how they are connected to the natural world and how their actions can impact others.  These wonderful qualities make school gardens a great educational and science literacy tool for all.       

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