Sunday, July 20, 2014

Mimosa - The Sensitive Plant

I was introduced to this plant for the first time in 2013 by two of my students when we walked along the road at the Chokyi Gyatso Institute in Dewathang, Eastern Bhutan. I was surprised to see the behavior of the plant and how it reacted with a gentle touch on it. It closed up and contracted its leaves. The students asked me what the name of the plant was in English and why the leaves are closed up. I neither knew the name nor the scientific reasons behind the closure of the leaves. I said, “sorry and I don’t know.’’ This plant grows abundantly in and around Chokyi Gyatso Institute.  When we saw this plant, I was warned by those two students that ‘’we will accumulate bad karma if we play with the plant.’’ I asked them, why? And they said, they were told by their parents that the process of closing up is very difficult and hard work for the plant.
Recently, when I saw the same plant displayed for an exhibition at the Exploratorium in San Francisco, I was very excited to learn the scientific reason behind the behavior of this plant. I took time to read the label explanation and the plant is called mimosa.
Now, when I compare the reasons stated by my students and the scientific explanations that ‘’the opening and closing of the leaves take a lot of energy from the mimosa plants’’, it make sense to me logically what my students have explained to me.
The mimosa plants can respond differently to harmful versus non harmful touches through regulation of energy. Because of this, mimosas have evolved the ability to habituate to stimuli that aren’t harmful. This means the plant is learning in many ways i.e. which types of touches will hurt it and which won’t.
What is actually happening with the mimosa when it closes up? The mimosas hold up their stems and leaves from the inside, using balloon like sacs filled with water. Our touch activates tiny receptors on the surface of the leaf, which sends a signal to drain the water from the sacs and it closes up. If the plant doesn’t respond, it may be over stimulated and we can try and play with another plant. In the wild, these plants close up during rain, heavy wind or when touched by an animal.
Now, I have a gift of an answer to my students for their then gift of question to me and we will together explore and experiment the mimosas in Dewathang.  

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Sound Cups

The sound cup activity is an interactive, collaborative and fun activity to pair up and introduce students or large group of students, and experiment with sounds through careful listening and observation.
To make students work in pairs, we will need to make 2 identical sets of a single type of sound cup, e.g. make 2 pairs of cups containing straws, 2 pairs of cups containing a penny, 2 pairs of cups that contain a pencil, and so forth. If we want students to work in groups of 4, we will need to make 4 identical sets of a single type of cup, e.g. make 4 pairs of cups containing straws, etc.
We have to do this activity in silence and pass out one sound cup to each student. Ask students to listen carefully to their cups, and then to find the person who has a cup that sounds the same. Have students listen to each other’s cups, and to sit with their sound cup partner when they think they have a match. If the pair of students do not know each other so well, ask them to introduce each other.
This activity can be replicated with students as a part of an experiment with sounds, providing an opportunity to have hands on activity, and improve on their listening and observation skills. This can be done by making the students work together to try to build an identical sound cup using the materials provided in the class. Ask students to put the items such as paper, paper-clip, gravels, sand, pen, eraser, grains, etc. in one cup, then place another cup upside down on top of it and tape the cups together. Make another cup exactly the same way before you start to make a different type of sound cup. Encourage them to talk as they try to make a sound cup that is identical to their own. They may not open their original cups as they try to make a matching sound cup.
Once students have finished building and taping their new sound cup together, have each group present their work. Each group should demonstrate the sound of the original cups, talk about what they noticed and how they decided to make the sound cup that matched their original pair.
The science behind this simple and fun activity is that the plastic cup makes wonderful resonant chambers inside, allowing simple objects to sound very strange. Only through careful observations will students be able to make accurate matching sound cups.
From this simple activity students can learn and venture into the world of investigation and experimentation in fun and exciting ways.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

The Exploratorium

The Exploratorium is a museum of science, art, and human perception located at Pier 15 in San Francisco, California. It believes that curiosity and asking questions can lead to amazing moments of discovery, learning and awareness, and can increase our confidence in our abilities to understand how the world works. Being playful and having fun is also an important part of the process for people of all ages.
The Exploratorium makes science visible, touchable, and accessible to a wide variety of people to make them explore the ways of learning and teaching science education worldwide, and supports others in their efforts to transform science teaching and learning.
It also provides learners with opportunities to directly observe and manipulate natural phenomena, and believes by doing that, it will encourage learners to ask and investigate their own questions and to test, modify, or expand their ideas and explanations about how the world works.
The professional development programs in the Exploratorium provide educators with the skills, tools, and support they need to apply inquiry-based learning and teaching in their classes.
The museum creates, experiments, tests, and builds nearly everything at the Exploratorium, and we can see hundreds of exhibits displayed made from the Exploratorium shop.
A community of more than four hundred Exploratorium staff members—scientists, artists, educators, exhibit developers, writers, designers, and more—make up its creative and administrative core. They all work together constantly to brainstorm, evaluate, create, and invent the Exploratorium.
The Exploratorium was the innovation of Frank Oppenheimer. At various times, Frank was a professor, a high school teacher, a cattle rancher, and an experimental physicist. While teaching at a university, Frank developed a “library of experiments” that enabled his students to explore scientific phenomena at their own pace, following their own curiosity. Alarmed by the public’s lack of understanding of science and technology, Frank used this model to create the Exploratorium, believing that visitors could learn about natural phenomena and also gain confidence in their ability to understand the world around them. This was a groundbreaking idea for a science museum in 1969 when the Exploratorium opened.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Kitchen Culture at Edible Schoolyard Berkeley

Vegetables from the garden
The rituals and routines that students and teachers follow create a kitchen classroom culture that fosters positive contributions and community in the kitchen.
In the kitchen, students have to come in line, put their things away in the cupboard, put on an apron, wash their hands, meet at the middle table for the Chef Meeting, choose their kitchen jobs, serve everybody at the table before eating,  wash their dishes and clean the kitchen after every kitchen class.
Kitchen utensils
 To let students know what to expect, the teachers and the kitchen staff  have established a set of routines. Teachers and staff have to greet the students, share leadership of the Chef Meeting, ask check-in questions at the table to allow kitchen teachers to get to know the students, take notes on each class to keep track of behavioral issues, and debrief with the students.
To instill a sense of ownership and love for the kitchen in each student, they have practices such as eat what they make, use real tools, cook in the kitchen what they have grown in the garden, harvest from the garden during kitchen class, bring copies of recipes home, and take leftovers in to go containers.
Chopping vegetables
The teachers also empower students to make decisions and encourage them to be their best selves. The teachers ask for student input whenever possible, engage all of the senses, use random decision making processes (rock/paper/scissor; pick a number), figure out appropriate work for particular student’s need, and praise students.

The kitchen culture creates a very interesting community that teaches skills, senses and responsibilities.
Dinning table with foods


Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Teaching compost

Learning about the compost lab is learning how to build a compost pile, identify organisms and understand the purposes of the compost in the garden. It also means understanding how things work interdependently in a small system and how every individual entity plays an important role in the process.
I have learnt that, to make the lesson fun and more informative to the students, we can discuss the necessary components of the compost pile using compost cake as a visual aid.
Using cards to represent different compost cake ingredients such as C for carbon (sticks, woodchips, hay, straw, ‘’the brown’’), N for nitrogen (living plant matter like leaves and grasses, ‘’the green’’), and M for manure (horse, duck, cattle, chicken manure which are rich in microorganism), we can give our students clear and specific ideas for making the compost pile.
For our students to easily remember the compost components, we can divide it into three main categories of organisms responsible for decomposition, we can use the acronym ‘FBI’ (fungus, bacteria, and invertebrates). While this may seem more of a western acronym, however, we can change and give our version of an acronym that has our own context orientation, e.g.  Bhutan India Friendship for ‘BIF’ (bacteria, invertebrates and fungus).
We can also explain that the decomposers, like all living organisms, have three main basic needs such as food, water and air for survival. So, when creating a compost pile, we are creating an environment suitable for the ‘FBI or BIF’ by providing food, water and air. This will help our students understand why we are watering and turning the piles from time to time.
Through compost lessons, we can also address different subjects such as science where we can discuss habitat and ecosystem, in a math lesson we can record temperature and calculate Celsius to Fahrenheit, and for art lessons, the students may create posters, visual aids and videos for the classroom as visual reminders of what can and cannot be composted.

Monday, July 7, 2014

The Edible Schoolyard Infrastructure and System

In the Edible Schoolyard, gardens are created in systems and structured in such a way that provides students and teachers well to explorative learning.
Functioning as a gathering place and an outdoor classroom, the circular, web link wooden structure provides a central place for starting and ending of each garden class. Beautiful and well compressed hay stalks around the circumference provide a natural and easy access to over 30 seats. Approximately 3 meters in diameters and laced with deciduous kiwis that climb up the sides of the structure and canopy over the top, this provides shade during sunny days. The circular open space allows for all group discussions, demonstrations, tastings and games.
The green house allows garden teachers and students to propagate plants for the school garden. Students learn how to sow seeds, division, cutting and grafting.
A compost row of free standing compost piles at different stages of decomposition is in the back end. The compost piles are turned down in the direction of least to most decomposed pile. The free standing system of piles allow students to comfortably stand around the compost and turn the piles together as a group while they are also able to observe the different stages of decomposition from pile to pile.
The drop off zone located before the least decomposed pile in the compost row provides a place for students to drop off garden scraps and empty the food scraps from the kitchen classroom.
With a capacity of 20 birds, the chicken coop in the Edible Schoolyard integrates chicken time into garden classes as much as possible to practice appropriate chicken handling.  The students are encouraged to check for eggs before school, after school and during the garden classes. The hanging baskets to collect eggs are made available and students collect eggs and deliver to the Kitchen with the date of collection. Kitchen classes incorporate the eggs into recipes whenever possible.
The Edible Schoolyard has a well developed tool shed. With prominent markings of yellow tape and red tape on the tools, the students can easily distinguish which tools are used for what purposes.  They learn how to use tools from the tool shed and also safety measures before they start using the tools in the garden. The tool cleaning station is located adjacent to the toolshed and after every garden class, students clean their tools in the sand.


Monday, June 30, 2014

Edible Schoolyard Academy, Berkeley, CA. USA

Starting from June 22nd to 26th, 2014  I took part in the Edible Schoolyard Academy training and enrichment program along with more than 90 other educators and coordinators across United State and other international participants. The program was tried and true around the Edible Schoolyard lessons, new ideas for community outreach programs, and wisdom garnered from almost 20 years of teaching in the garden and kitchen classroom in Berkeley.
The Edible Schoolyard (ESY Berkeley) is one of the organic garden and kitchen classrooms for urban public school students at Martin Luther King, Jr. Middle School. At ESYB, students participate in all aspects of growing, harvesting, and preparing nutritious and seasonal produce during the academic day and after-school classes. Students’ hands-on experiences in the kitchen and garden foster deeper appreciation of how the natural world sustains us and promotes the environmental and social well-being of the community.
Twenty years ago in the spring, an abandoned land adjacent to the school was designated as the garden site. Educators, chefs, and gardeners came together to share their vision of a garden where students would participate in hands-on learning. Seventeen years later, the acre of land is turned into a lush garden with seasonal vegetables, herbs, vines, berries, flowers, and fruit trees. MLK Middle School teachers and the garden staff work together to link garden experiences with students’ science and humanities lessons for truly integrated experiential learning.
The Edible Schoolyard kitchen is an experiential learning classroom where students accompany their science and humanities teachers to experience culture, history, language, chemistry, and geography through the preparation of food. 
Students cook together with produce just harvested from the garden and eat a freshly prepared dish, sharing the fruits of their labor around a communal table. As they harvest, cook, and eat their way through the school year, students experience lessons that support academic learning in the classroom.

The Edible Schoolyard Berkeley engages the wider community of MLK Middle School by extending programming to evenings and weekends. Families participate in three Saturday workdays, helping to maintain the garden and sharing lunch together. Parents and families also participate in evening classes held in the kitchen classroom. These classes give students an opportunity to share lessons learned with their families and provide tools for families to cook fresh meals.