MiddleSchoolPortal/Thinking Green: Grow Your Own

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<metadescription content="TThis free, standards-based, online publication, developed for middle school science teachers, explores the history and nature of science through the topic of gardening by linking to and describing inquiry-based lessons and activities." />

Thinking Green? Grow Your Own! Linking Agriculture, Gardening, and Technology - Introduction

"Kids, please, go play in the dirt!" Most of us longed to hear those words when we were young. It's not too late, for you or your students! Here's a chance for you to "play" in the dirt together, and gain valuable knowledge, skills and experiences.

Agriculture is crucial to all societies, yet most middle school students have few opportunities to learn about it, beyond its origin in the Fertile Crescent. Most U. S. students attend urban or suburban schools, isolated from agriculture. Many students have no idea what a potato, tomato, bean or pea plant looks like, let alone what is needed to sustain it. Ironically, many of these students are descendants of immigrants who brought with them and cultivated old country plants, which gave some comfort in a foreign land and have contributed to contemporary America’s menu and landscape.

Student engagement with agriculture and gardening can not only fill a knowledge gap but also tap in to the affective domain regarding enjoyment, fulfillment, ethics and aesthetics. Students can get involved in community gardens, or collaboratively plan, plant, and cultivate a school garden, indoors, or out. Successful school garden coordinators attest collaboration is a key. Parents, administrators, students and other teachers can help in providing both tools and labor when needed.



In school gardening, students will discover relationships between biotic and abiotic factors, the role of cycles such as water, carbon and nitrogen, variables in plant productivity and how best to control them, data collection and dissemination techniques, and uncertainty in scientific investigations. Produce can serve as a springboard for studies in nutrition, cooking, economics, or community service via donation to a soup kitchen, for example. School gardening offers abundant opportunities for authentic learning and assessment.

This e-publication provides ideas and resources for integrating science and technology in studies of agriculture and gardening. Some related careers are also highlighted. It provides guidance regarding questions such as: What, and how, can students learn from gardening? How can gardening be accomplished in urban or suburban sites? What technologies enable agriculture and home gardening? What are the underlying science principles of these technologies? What is the economic impact of agriculture and home gardening? For a reference that integrates gardening with business education, you might be interested in this publication from the National Gardening Association: Growing Ventures: Starting a School Garden Business.

Suggested activities address National Science Education Standards for Science as Inquiry, Teaching, and Content.

Background Information for Teachers

The resources here provide information on several pertinent subjects related to school gardening including where to apply for grants, issues in land use, sustainable agriculture, and organic gardening. Plant misconceptions are highlighted as well, and an online course for you is available too.

Science Digital Library Junior Master Gardener The Junior Master Gardener page contains information on grants for teachers to fund their garden project.

Grants for Schools and Youth Gardens This site contains five opportunities for grants teachers can apply for to help fund their garden project. (This page is found in

AAAS Atlas of Population and Environment This publication analyzes the relationships between human population and the environment. Through text, maps, and diagrams, the Atlas illustrates how population affects the world's ecosystems and natural resources both in the short and long term. The sidebar allows you to choose pertinent sections. We suggest Part Two which has sections on food crops and land use around the world. (These pages are found at

Toward a Sustainable Agriculture In parts A and B of the learning module at this site, the teacher can quickly obtain quality information regarding the concept of sustainable agriculture and how it compares and contrasts with organic gardening. The module is designed for high school students, so you may choose to modify it for use with your students.

Organic Gardening This site covers the gambit of organic gardening, in not too much detail though. Each of the various aspects of organic gardening has its own page. We recommend these three pages to get you started: soil management, pest and disease management, and weed control.

Plant Content in the National Science Education Standards by David R. Hershey Hershey reminds teachers of the influence they have on student learning and their responsibility to address existing student misconceptions while consciously avoiding the creation of new misconceptions. He points out that the National Science Education Standards provide few resources for teaching about plants. Attending to his advice while engaging students in plant studies will help students develop accurate conceptual knowledge and positive attitudes toward the importance of agriculture and gardening. The site contains several links worth looking at. One is inspiring stories of other teachers' success. Another is a narrative of a cooperative group of teachers who built a garden of foods from Africa and the Middle East, and a third is the story of how students and their teacher put together a 3/4-acre garden using only organic techniques out of concern for their environment.

Agriculture often butts heads with society when land use issues arise within a community. According to the AAAS Project 2061 middle grades' students should be considering science and technology issues from a society perspective. The NSDL Strand Map Service provides guidance. These maps illustrate connections between concepts and across grade levels. An image of the middle grades (6-8) only part of Social Decisions map appears below. This is one of eight related maps under the heading Human Society. Below that is the grades 6-8 section of the Agriculture Technology map, one of seven maps under the Designed World heading. Clicking on a concept within the maps will show NSDL resources relevant to the concept, as well as information about related AAAS Project 2061 Benchmarks and National Science Education Standards. Move the pink box in the lower right hand corner of the page to see the grades 6-8 learning goals.

Indoor Gardening Activities

Don't have the time or the resources for a full outdoor garden? No problem. Try any of these indoor gardening ideas to whet your students' appetites.

Fast Plants "To know a plant, grow a plant" is the motto of the Wisconsin Fast Plant Program, a science education outreach program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fast Plants are in the mustard family, are small, easy to grow, and affordable, and have an incredibly short life cycle of about 40 days. From the activities page, we recommend Growth and Development and The Population Explosion.

Growing Classroom Herbs Here, a teacher offers tips on herb gardening as well as specific student activity instructions. (This resource is from National Gardening: Kids Gardening.)

Tulipmania – Growing Flowers to Share In this activity, students cultivate bulbs, and then practice philanthropy by giving the blooming plants to a community organization or persons of their choice. (This resource of part of the Learning to Give collection.)

Eco-Containers In this recycling activity students make pots out of newspaper for their planting. (This resource is from National Gardening: Kids Gardening.)

What. . . No Soil? This page gives the teacher valuable information on the basics of hydroponics, as well as some suggestions for classroom activities. (This resource is from National Gardening: Kids Gardening.)

Outdoor Gardening Activities

Ready for the great outdoors? In this section, you’ll find resources on how to plan and construct a garden, soil science and composting, recording observations and what to do with the harvest.

Starting a School Garden This page contains focus questions you and your students can address together to help you get started on a school garden project. (This resource is from National Gardening: Kids Gardening.)

Weatherwise Gardeners In this activity, students record abiotic observations, such as sunlight and shadows over time, relevant to garden planning. (This resource is from National Gardening: Kids Gardening.)

Soil as Living Skin In this two-minute radio program, a soil scientist introduces listeners to reasons why soil is crucial to the planet. The scientist lists functions of soil that include nutrient cycling and water filtration, and he also uses living skin as an analogy for soil. The program, part of the Pulse of the Planet radio show, is available here in text and audio formats.

Composting in Schools This site contains information about the environmental and academic benefits of composting in schools. There are several lessons to choose from; we recommend Composting Outdoors and Weird and Unusual Composting.

NGA and Gardener's Supply Company Recognize Youth Gardeners for Nutrition Education and Hunger Awareness What to do with your bounty? Build a partnership with a local food bank, make needed donations, and sense the gratitude in both your students and the food bank. Then apply for this award to obtain additional funding for your project. (This article is available through the National Gardening Association home page.)

Careers in Agriculture and Gardening

Now that your students are hooked on plants, let them explore some related careers. The careers highlighted here offer some idea of the variety of work available dealing with plants, gardening and agriculture.

The FunWorks Visit the FunWorks STEM career website for youth to learn more about a career in Forestry. Browse the rest of the website for information on a variety of science- and math-related careers.

American Society of Landscape Architects This page familiarizes students with the work of landscape architects as well as the needed education. It includes a section on how to choose a school and how to get licensed. This site is linked to America’s Career InfoNet.

Agricultural Scientists What are agricultural scientists, and what do they actually do? This is the introductory page for a set of materials about agricultural science as a career. Through short narratives, students can examine two specialized job titles associated with agricultural scientists: organic specialist/assistant professor and senior research associate. In addition, the senior research associate poses a challenge to students that calls on them to investigate corn's resistance to insects.

Senior Research Associate This brief narrative profiles an agricultural scientist whose specialty is entomology. His research for a seed company concerns genetically modified, insect-resistant corn. A challenge activity written by the scientist asks students to develop an experimental plan to determine if certain plants are effectively resistant to specific insects.

Agronomist This is the introductory page for a set of materials about agronomy as a career. A general description of the work done by agronomists is provided. There are also links to narratives about a field sales agronomist and a crop production specialist. Each agronomist provides a challenge activity for students. In one activity, students make a brochure suggesting reasons why their sales company is better than a competitor's. Another activity asks students to research specific questions about the variety of seed types available and their benefits to farmers.

Latest Science News from the New York Times

NYT > Soil

News about Soil, including commentary and archival articles published in The New York Times.

SMARTR: Virtual Learning Experiences for Students

Visit our student site SMARTR to find related science-focused virtual learning experiences for your students! The SMARTR learning experiences were designed both for and by middle school aged students. Students from around the country participated in every stage of SMARTR’s development and each of the learning experiences includes multimedia content including videos, simulations, games and virtual activities.

National Science Education Standards

These excerpts from the National Science Education Standards address topics and experiences students should have in the middle school.

Content Standard C: Life Science

Regulation and Behavior

  • All organisms must be able to obtain and use resources, grow, reproduce, and maintain stable internal conditions while living in a constantly changing external environment.
  • Regulation of an organism's internal environment involves sensing the internal environment and changing physiological activities to keep conditions within the range required to survive.

Population and Ecosystems

  • For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs.

Content Standard E: Science and Technology

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop

  • Abilities of technological design
  • Understandings about science and technology

Developing Student Abilities and Understanding

One basis for understanding the similarities, differences, and relationships between science and technology should be experiences with design and problem solving in which students can further develop some of the abilities introduced in grades K-4. The understanding of technology can be developed by tasks in which students have to design something and also by studying technological products and systems.

In the middle-school years, students' work with scientific investigations can be complemented by activities in which the purpose is to meet a human need, solve a human problem, or develop a product rather than to explore ideas about the natural world. The tasks chosen should involve the use of science concepts already familiar to students or should motivate them to learn new concepts needed to use or understand the technology. Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives

As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understanding of

  • Personal health
  • Populations, resources, and environments
  • Natural hazards

Read the entire National Science Education Standards online for free or register to download the free PDF. The content standards are found in Chapter 6.

Author and Copyright

Mary LeFever is a resource specialist for the Middle School Portal 2: Math & Science Pathways project, a doctoral candidate in science education at Ohio State University, and presently teaches introductory biology at a Columbus, Ohio local high school. She has taught middle school and high school science and is an adjunct instructor of biology and natural sciences at Columbus State Community College.

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Copyright May 2007 - The Ohio State University. Last updated August 22, 2010. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0424671 and since September 1, 2009 Grant No. 0840824. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.