SF schools bring science class outside 

click to enlarge Students at San Francisco Community School participate in science activities outdoors Wednesday. The class is made possible through Education Outside, which sends teachers to schools. - MIKE KOOZMIN/THE S.F. EXAMINER
  • mike koozmin/the s.f. examiner
  • Students at San Francisco Community School participate in science activities outdoors Wednesday. The class is made possible through Education Outside, which sends teachers to schools.

Eighteen kindergarten and first-grade students sat quietly in a circle outside San Francisco Community School with their eyes closed, listening to plants in the garden.

"Let's count on our fingers to see how many sounds we can hear," Ingrid Lassleben, the school's outdoor classroom corps member, said as children flicked their fingers in the air to tally plant sounds such as leaves rustling or insects crawling.

The students were then handed blank pieces of paper and instructed to draw "big, detailed, colorful, accurate and labeled" trees in the garden.

"The way they interact with nature, they have such wonder," Lassleben said of the students who delightfully discovered a caterpillar in one part of the garden. Another student inspected a fallen apple.

First-grade student Manuel Cuentos, 6, held up his drawing of a tree.

"I started with the roots and then I did that little leaf that I'm about to color in," he explained.

Wednesday morning's outdoor science class is part of a schoolwide, student-initiated program that began in 1999 to incorporate gardening into science curriculums.

This year, 26 San Francisco Unified School District campuses are taking science classes into gardens through San Francisco-based nonprofit Education Outside more than ever before since the district teamed up with the organization in 2011.

"We see the school garden as a place where science comes naturally," said Rachel Fudge, a spokeswoman for Education Outside. "Each corps member is at a school for two years, [where] they teach four days a week in the garden."

Originally run by an independent garden educator, Community School last year partnered with Education Outside to bring a dedicated corps member to teach outdoor science to the school's 289 kindergarten through eighth-grade students.

Lessons include standards-based science, cooking, harvesting of food and sustainability work.

Lassleben works with Community School's teachers to align outdoor lessons with classroom curriculums. She holds cooking lessons once a month using food students harvest from the garden, and teaches them plant-life cycles. Last year, students built ecosystems of various habitats, such as the jungle or savannah.

"It's really bolstered learning in the classroom," Nora Houseman, the school's principal, said of outdoor science education. "It's helped our students develop green consciousness, and become stewards of our school and the environment."

As he continued to sketch the tree, first-grader Manuel said he loves gardening because it lets him be creative. He has even tasted a flower, but couldn't recall what kind.

"It tasted a tiny bit like honey," Manuel said.

Community School paid $6,000 to Education Outside for its first year with a corps member, and the cost is $7,000 this school year. Education Outside charges schools up to $12,000 annually on a sliding scale.

About The Author

Laura Dudnick

Bio:
Laura Dudnick, a Bay Area native, covers education and planning for The San Francisco Examiner. She previously worked as a senior local editor for Patch.com, and as the San Mateo County bureau reporter and weekend editor for Bay City News Service.
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