Service Learning: Real-Life Applications for Learning (Transcript)
Tom: When we're producing food, there's that purpose and that brings relevance. It's all about student engagement and by engagement, I'm not talking about just paying attention. I'm talking about like an emotional, psychological commitment to their learning.
Anne: We're always studying these things in the context of this classroom or in a textbook, and that's not necessarily authentic. Service learning is any kind of project or unit that takes the required curriculum and finds applications in the community. So it's going to end up having a real life product or meaning. You have a third party right in front of you. The school definitely has needs. How can your class meet them? The greenhouse is a really great example of a way that service learning can actually benefit the same group that is doing studying.
Tom: Every kid is part of the food system, so the relevance is there. The original vision for the greenhouse was that biology students were going to grow salad greens. Using biology students guaranteed that every kid in the school was going to get exposure. The daily operations of salad green production involves them tending their plants on a daily basis. Each student has two of those trays. They plant them, they water them, they monitor them for pests, they thin them out.
William: We learned all about soil, fertilization, what the plants need and taking care of the plants in general, which was great.
Sam: We harvest them Mondays and Wednesday mornings. Those are taken to the cafeteria and distributed throughout the entire district. The greens are not only eaten here within the school, but they're also eaten at the middle school and the elementary school.
Betty: We can use everything that they grow. I pay for the greens, that's why we document it. They are more apt to take greens from the salad bar if it's something that they've seen and grown. They're a little bit proud of that.
William: Having so much effect on what we're eating in school, it feels really nice. It feels like you've accomplished something.
Tom: We don't necessarily want to get things planted as soon as they can. We want to kind of work backwards from the school year in the fall so that what you're planting, what you're growing, will be ready when the kids are back in school.
In my environmental applications class, service learning is a key piece. They get the outdoor gardens started. They'll set up management and harvest plans for the next year's class to come in. Within that structure of the service learning projects, these different initiatives and projects come about. For example, we add different crops, the hoop house, the irrigation system, and aquaponics.
William: The fishes' waste is toxic to us, but when the plants get a hold of it, they take the nitrogen and other helpful things in it and turn it into food for us.
Tom: They have action plans that they have to develop. They have different rubrics that they assess themselves, and I assess them every other week to see if they're sticking to those plans. They blog about it at least every other week.
William: There's lots of opportunities to apply our learning and make it relevant to the real world, because why learn it if it doesn't mean anything?
Anne: When I think about how I'm going to incorporate service learning into my curriculum, I first look at, what are my objectives? What do I want kids to walk away with by the time this unit is over? How are the kids going to get from not knowing anything to a final product that is useful and helpful? As part of teaching physics, one of the ways that heat transfer can be talked about is through the process of making bio char, which is charcoal used like fertilizer.
We're looking at the efficiency of--
Student: How fast it will burn water.
Anne: How fast it will heat up water. We need the mass of the wood beforehand and we need the mass of the unburned wood afterwards.
Kids are designing their own systems that will create this bio char. We'll inoculate it with some bacteria and probably see how much does it increase crop yields and do some experiments with that. Service learning projects take ballpark three or four weeks, which is a substantial commitment, but it's going to be relevant. The kids are going to remember it forever, so it's totally worth it because engagement is so much higher.
What do you think, is it going to change it a lot?
Student: Yeah, I think so.
Tom: There really is also this work component to it. It's tied into their grades in different ways, but the level responsibility, salad greens in the greenhouse. You skip it for a day and they could die. That level of responsibility, we didn't realize how big that was going to be.
Anne: They have an external reason to care; it's not just about the grades for them. I've often seen kids who are not really that engaged in school come alive when they get to project that's going to mean something to someone else.
Tom: Former students come back and talk about how that, you know, really transformed them.