Gardening, a new subject to fill the wasteland of schools with life and unite students

To learn, nothing better than generating an emotion. We all fondly remember those lessons at school that came forcefully down the path of the heart, from which we still draw knowledge. The very nature in which the school unfolds is a complete microcosm of learning, by way of the purest enthusiasm. Between its different buildings we find pieces of land, often uncultivated, that are conducive to becoming an extension of the classrooms, those shoeboxes with windows in which students are locked up. The integration of these vacant lots, as another educational resource, is what was thought of with the Sustainable School Gardens project, developed by the Royal Botanical Garden with the collaboration of the Spanish Foundation for Science and Technology – Ministry of Science and Innovation. Clara Vignolo, Technician in Education of the Botanical Garden and coordinator of the project, makes its purpose clear: “Our purpose has been to improve the quality of life and the school landscape in the centers where it has been carried out.” For this, five primary and secondary schools in the south of Madrid were chosen, in which comprehensive planning work was undertaken to transform barren areas into small green spaces.

Vignolo reviews how this regenerative process has been tackled: “The first step has been to observe and reflect, asking ourselves what we could do to improve the environment. Normally, a small plot was chosen within the school, and then we began the task of analyzing all its parameters, such as the type of soil that existed or the orientation, to know the number of hours of sunlight it would have, as well as the possible use What would the students give him? Sustainability was one of the premises to be applied, “for which plants adapted to our climate have been used,” emphasizes Vignolo. To complete the project and to serve as a basis for other future and desirable actions, a guide (forthcoming) has been published where all the activities, results or supporting bibliography are collected.

Ana Lázaro Nogal, professor of biology and educational innovation and STEM coordinator at IES Vallecas I, talks about her experience with the project: “It has been a way in which students have learned without realizing it, through a practical task and pleasant. By building a garden you already have them motivated.” Emotion in learning makes an appearance, as Lázaro continues: “Thanks to this project they have discovered species in their environment and have acquired environmental awareness, among other things. Subjects from different subjects are touched upon and they are worked on without memorizing them mechanically. What they have done is not going to be forgotten so easily, as it happens when preparing some knowledge for an exam”. Aday, 14, recounts her experience: “I loved it, because I’ve seen how, thanks to my work and effort, a dead space has evolved into a beautiful garden.”

Garden design planning begins in the classroom.
Garden design planning begins in the classroom.

In addition, it has been a very valuable educational resource for those students who may have learning difficulties, “because with this project they get out of those self-destructive processes of ‘I’m not worth anything’. With these tasks they discover that they also have a gift, which does not have to be the same as that of the other classmates”, says Ana Lázaro. Apart from the fact that “they develop other types of skills, such as group work, and even break gender barriers”, by only caring about gardening.

Not everything has remained in the plants, since a garden is a complex ecosystem, as Allyson, a 13-year-old student, has interpreted very well: “I found it fascinating to understand how in such a small and close space there are so many interactions between species, especially symbiosis, and these are responsible for everything to work”. For this reason, this connection has been sought in the project, and trips to the immediate environment have been organized to educational centers, to those parks and wastelands that embrace them. Javier Rico and María Luisa Pinedo, environmental educators specialized in urban biodiversity, have been responsible for preparing these walks to observe all this wealth, with their Aver Aves project. Rico warns that “it is not necessary to take a bus to see amazing fauna”: “Students are impressed by the enormous variety at the foot of their schools. The parks are one more classroom in which to learn”.

As we can see, mathematics, physics and chemistry, biology or different skills that will be very useful in the future can be taught in nature, the best teacher. And gardening, inside and outside the classroom, can become a new subject that integrates everything.

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