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Voice: November 2017
When creative teachers have students eager to learn, something as simple as a donation of seeds can grow into a community-building event.
Shannon Squire and Sommer Dongilli, elementary teachers in the Bentworth School District, Washington County, did just that during the 2016-17 school year.
After receiving an email from the district’s assistant superintendent noting that there was a seed donation from the local Agway store, they brainstormed how they could use them in their third-grade classes.
“Our third-graders already do a planting unit, so we felt this was a natural expansion,’’ Squire said. “The variety of seeds available sparked the idea for a project that also contained variety, allowing students to create a project unique to their individual styles and personalities.”
The cross-curricular nature of the project allowed students to tie lessons together from Squire’s and Dongilli’s classes.
“Students worked on this project for two weeks,” Dongilli said. “We had them complete most of the project during my science class. Students planted the seeds, grew the plants, and cared for the plants in my class under growth lights.”
The project continued in Squire’s class, where students created books, stories, and poems about their seeds.
“We noticed our students’ engagement level and overall understanding of a topic is further enhanced when receiving instruction in all subject areas,” Squire said. “They’re not just learning about plants in science class, they’re also researching and writing about it in my class, again allowing students to broaden their knowledge of a topic with repeated exposure.”
Squire and Dongilli also incorporated technology learning, working with students to create QR codes where they included Google Slides presentations that could be viewed to complement their projects.
“By incorporating so many different learning aspects, we were able to make our lesson more interactive and engaging,” Dongilli said. “We were able to collaborate and provide multiple learning opportunities, which in turn provided a higher-quality learning environment.”
No two projects were alike – students created everything from essays, fiction and nonfiction stories, and poems to T-shirt designs, plays, and even a message in a bottle.
The culmination of the projects was an Earth Day celebration at the community’s Mingo Park. Families were invited to view students’ projects and interact with them, learning about the process and gaining additional information through the QR codes.
Student work was laminated and displayed with a photo of the students, their plants, and project information.
“We wanted to create a museum-like feel,” Dongilli said. “We didn’t want students to have to present their project or stand by it.”
Families were encouraged to look around, play games, eat a packed lunch, and enjoy being outside on Earth Day.
“The Earth Day celebration at Mingo Park was the ‘icing on the cake’ so to speak,” Squire said. “We have a very supportive group of parents that we are extremely thankful for, and this project allowed us to thank them in a way, by providing them with a day to come out and celebrate their children’s work, while enjoying social time with fellow families and teachers.”