Mathematics Instruction Developed from a Garden Theme

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Date: Mar. 2001
From: Teaching Children Mathematics(Vol. 7, Issue 7)
Publisher: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Inc.
Document Type: Article
Length: 3,285 words

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Can rigorous mathematics be developed from everyday experiences?" This question brought together an intermediate-grades teacher and a university researcher to collaborate on a project that incorporated students' and families' knowledge and experiences. The importance of designing culturally relevant instruction is well documented (Lipka, Mohatt, and the Ciulistet Group 1998; Zaslavsky 1996, 1997). (For more general information, see also the newsletter from the International Study Group on Ethnomathematics.) For us, culturally relevant instruction refers to instruction that links home and school by building on experiences shared by most students in the class. It includes creating a learning environment that captures the flavor of the apprenticeship style that often characterizes how children acquire knowledge outside of school, alongside their family members. The teacher, Leslie Khan, had developed a relationship with many of her students' families and knew that gardening was a commonly shared family activity. We developed a garden theme to explore the interplay between everyday knowledge and school mathematics.

Creating the Environment

The garden theme in Khan's classroom began with a "Curriculum Night and Open House," during which she presented the gardening idea to her students' parents. Later that night, she wrote in her journal of her excitement at the parents' response:

As the parents were milling about the room, they came up to me and offered these things to help: advice that geraniums will sprout in soil, offers of donations for pots, chicken wire, and tubing for irrigation. What I am saying is that every parent that was there supported the project and can be counted on to help when I ask for it.

By involving the families in the project's development, the teacher validated their knowledge and expertise. Although in a different context, our work shares many similarities with the work of Lipka and his colleagues (1998) on connecting local knowledge and school knowledge through their collaboration with the Yup'ik elders in the joint construction of curricula. (See "Elastic Geometry and Storyknifing: A Yup'ik Eskimo Example" in the February 2001 issue.) In particular, we want to engage our students in the social construction of mathematics through meaningful activities and tasks. This approach reflects the kind of mathematical learning envisioned by van Oers (1996), who stresses the importance of students' participation in sociocultural activities that are both personally meaningful and "recognized as 'real' by the mathematical community" (p. 106).

The students' participation in the garden project immediately became personal and meaningful. They nurtured their plants, kept careful garden journals, and brought information and resources from home to share with classmates. We connected the gardening experiences with the school mathematics curriculum in grades 4-5 through the activities described here.

What about the Mathematics?

Experiences related to the garden theme stretched over five months. The students were given many opportunities to explore mathematics and, in particular, measurement. In this article, we focus on some aspects of our work on garden measurement. Throughout the project, we coupled the work presented here with other lessons on, and experiences involving, measurement.

As the children developed...

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Gale Document Number: GALE|A72294501