Monday, 18 May 2015

CFE Week 3: Goodbye to the Garden

Beautiful chive flowers at the Food Garden
section of the Botanical Gardens
Lesson planning again! The culmination of this Community Field Experience is the hosting of the Orchard Garden workshop this coming Saturday. Pailin and I had the privilege of working with numerous brains on what is essentially a giant four-hour lesson plan. We will be teaching about herbs, compound butter and culinary math. Collaboration is probably one of my favourite parts of teaching. With so many brains involved, the lesson begins to be more layered and varied; our lesson plan reflects that through its auditory, kinetic and visual elements. 

Freshly harvested herbs from our garden: dill, cilantro and parsley
As I mentioned in my previous blog post, we had direct planted beet seeds into the soil during our first week and had not seen any signs of growth when we visited last week. This past Monday, Pailin and I visited the garden to give the plants some water. As we neared the plant beds, we saw something that caused us utmost shock and delight: little beet seedlings had sprouted over the weekend! As a first-time gardener, I was pretty sure that we had somehow killed our beet seedlings. Maybe we hadn’t given them enough water. I had all but given up hope on seeing them sprouting.
Who knew that little sprouts could elicit so much excitement?
 The surface of the soil did not reveal to us that the seeds were growing and on their way up to the surface. But indeed they were! As we look at the many students in our classrooms, we also cannot tell by appearances what is going on under the surface. Oftentimes when I teach, I wonder, how much are the students really understanding? How interested are they? There is so much variety in our students, making it a challenge (but a valuable one to step up to!) for us when lesson and assessment planning. 
Our beautiful kale seedlings!

“Isn’t it amazing that all the DNA that is needed for a plant is all right there in a tiny little seed?” It’s easy to take kids’ growth for granted – both their intellectual as well as physical. But it is one of the best moments in teaching, when you see the “aha!” moments and watch them become more mature throughout the year. Students can surprise us with how much they do know and how much they want to know. For example, the elementary school aged students I teach on weekends are constantly asking questions and are bubbling with curiosity. I hope to, as a teacher, encourage students to take the path of lifelong learning.

Practicing for our compound butter demo!
A few simple ingredients can automatically
make a meal fancier!

As we prepared for our workshop, Pailin, Toni and I went to the Orchard Garden to collect some herbs for our compound butter demonstration. We collected some parsley, cilantro and dill from the garden to use for our sample compound butter. It was my first time smelling and tasting fresh dill. How different it is from dried dill! The dried dill I have at home is bland and flavourless, good for aesthetic appeal but doing nothing for the taste buds; fresh dill, on the other hand, is tangy and incredibly fragrant. In the Home Economics classroom, we most often use dried herbs in our cooking because of its low price and its longer shelf life, but if we grew fresh herbs in the classroom, we would have the opportunity to use fresh and fragrant herbs in our dishes as well as learn how to plant and take care of herbs.

Because we wanted to learn more about fresh herbs and their traditional uses, Pailin, Kwesi and I visited the UBC Botanical Gardens for more information. The UBC Botanical Gardens is tucked away south of the UBC Campus and is a beautiful garden full of exotic as well as native plants. It is a “very large walking space” with a variety of plants to look at and is well-kept; we did not see a single horsetail weed! Our reason for visiting was the Physic Garden.

The Physic Garden
 The Physic Garden is surrounded by a neat yew hedge with sections of herbs in concentric circles with metallic plates detailing the various uses of this herb throughout ages past. It’s amazing how many ailments simple natural herbs can cure.
 The past three weeks have been a wonderful transition between the 10-week practicum and the summer school session. The variety of activities we did throughout the past weeks gave us gardening skills that we look forward to passing on to others. We also gained confidence in the garden as we learned how to identify weeds, prepare beds, direct seed, water plant beds and uproot old plants. Pailin and I really gained a sense of ownership of the garden and looked forward to tending it every day. The garden, which seemed an onerous task to accomplish on our first day, became a place that we cared about and wanted to see flourish.  Similarly, as we invest time, effort and care into the students that we teach at school, we also grow to care for them and their wellbeing.
Chive flowers growing in a crack

Thursday, 14 May 2015

Final Week of the CFE: Prepping for Orchard Garden Workshop

Walking to the Physic Garden at the UBC Botanical Garden.
We were on a mission to discover medicinal herbs from Medieval times!

Time really flies when you're having fun! We're already in our 3rd and final week of the CFE, working hard to prepare for our capstone project: the UBC Orchard Garden Workshop. The theme of our workshop is "herb, butter and math." We will be talking about traditional uses of herbs, then going to the orchard garden to pick some herbs to make compound butter! Compound butter is a simple and fun project that kids can do if you have some herbs growing in the school, and it also make great gifts so kids can make it as a project for Christmas or Mother's Day.

I will also be leading a segment on culinary math! I've been excited about culinary math ever since I learned it in culinary school, and I have found it to be incredibly useful not only in my career as a chef, but also in my every day life and my practicum as a Home Ec teacher. There is so much math in food, and what better way to teach mathematical concepts than to apply it to real-life situations! Coincidentally, Susan and many of the Orchard Garden team members are math specialists, so they were excited for this project as well.

We weeded, made the bed, planted, and here
are the fruits of our labour: Kale seedlings!

After 3 weeks of being in the garden, I have witnessed significant transformation in myself and my relationship with the garden. I started out being somewhat intimidated by gardening, but just by doing garden work little by little, with support from people who've done it before, it's really not that hard and surprisingly enjoyable. One very obvious change I noticed is how comfortable I feel around dirt. I started out not loving the idea of touching dirt, so I always kept my hands gloved whenever we had to do garden work, but towards the end of the second week, I became so fond of the garden that I no longer felt the "ick" factor, even around bugs and worms, and before I knew it I was weeding the garden with my bare hands!

These beets took a little long to come up, and we were
worried for days that we had killed them somehow.
Oh the joy and excitement when we saw these!
I also grew quite attached to the garden. I finally understand why so many people are so into gardening! When you've put work into prepping the beds, planting the seeds, watering the seeds, watching the seedlings becomes your baby! I found myself worrying about our seedlings over the weekend because it didn't rain, and couldn't wait to take care of them on Monday!

It really goes to show that "action cures fear." Many people may experience the same fear and intimidation about gardening, but getting your hands dirty can really do some magic! After the CFE is over, I will definitely find a way to keep gardening in my life. I love the sense of ownership, accomplishment, nurturing, and the relaxation and enjoyment that I get from gardening. Not to mention gardening as an educational resource for all sorts of subject areas.

Can't wait for the workshop, and I will definitely miss the Orchard Garden when it's all done!

Tuesday, 12 May 2015

Our March workshop run by Community Service students from Tracy Friedel's Place-Based Learning graduate class

Education graduate students Brittany, Tara and Suke planned and ran our March 28 Saturday workshop and sent this great blog post.

Thank you, Pailin and Jan-Lin, and to all the Orchard Garden team involved in this great CFE experience

I want to let everyone know how impressed I am with Pailin and Jan-Lin, the secondary teacher candidates doing their Community Field Experience three-week practicum in the Orchard Garden. They are doing such amazing work, and you can read some of their thoughts and insights in the great blog posts on this site.

I am also so grateful for the awesome work the Orchard Garden student team is doing in completely organizing and leading the CFE. Toni, Ozlem, Kwesi, Myron, Laura, Scott, Chessa, Galen, our new LFS student Bryan -- and I hope I haven't left anybody out, as so many of the team have been involved! Stacy at Landed Learning and the teachers at Tyee Elementary have been so welcoming to our team and CFE students -- much appreciated. Toni certainly deserves huge applause for taking on all the organization and planning of the three weeks.

I find it hard that it is so rare it is to have students run important aspects of teacher education programs. The students at the UBC Orchard Garden are proving how well this can work, and how much we can all learn from each other. Inspiring!

I'm posting a few photos from the day at Tyee last week, where I joined Jan-Lin, Pailin, Toni, Scott and Chessa (and left with a bike basket full of garlic greens and lemon balm!)

Friday, 8 May 2015

CFE Week Two: A Real Kindergarten!

Children are like plants and teachers are the gardeners. This idea is not a new one. In fact, this idea was the foundation basis of Friedrich Fröbel's educational approach of a "kindergarten".Working with students and seeing a variety of different gardens this week further illustrated this analogy.

Poster from the Landed Learning Program
at the UBC Farm.
This past week, Pailin and I were given the opportunity to teach at a Montessori elementary school. We taught twelve groups of 5-6 students about various ways that we as gardeners can help plants to flourish. There are so many "plant enemies" in the garden that can kill the plant: weeds, bugs, and disease, to name a few.

Similarly, there are lots of "learning enemies" that can crop up in the classroom that try to prevent children from achieving their full potential. For example, some students may not have the academic or emotional support they need in order to excel. They may not be supported by their peers or family to do well or learn. These problems are like weeds which drain the students' energy. Students may not have enough money or food to give them the sustenance and energy needed to concentrate. They are not getting the "fertilizer" or "water" that they need in order to grow.  As gardeners, we can try our best to help students overcome these problems.

We visited the Greenhouse on campus and saw lush, bountiful plants. The conditions in the greenhouse were ideal for seeds to become seedlings; there was just enough water and sun for the plants to really flourish. Brendan Chan, our guide, expressed shock at how well the kale seedlings were doing in the planters. He said that they were doing so well that they needed to be planted as soon as possible, so they could have more space; at the moment, they were crowding each other and needed thinning.
We thinned out the swiss chard in the greenhouse
 We can see that providing an ideal environment can help the growth of plants. Providing an ideal environment where students are encouraged to grow and learn and given tools to do so helps students to achieve their full potential as well.

Abounding kale in the greenhouse!
Last Tuesday, we direct seeded beets into the Orchard Garden. To our dismay, when we checked on our garden nine days later, there were no beet seedlings that had sprouted. Even though we had not been assigned to go to the Orchard Garden this week, Pailin and I went anyway and weeded and watered our plants. We had grown to care for our garden and cared about how well the seedlings would grow. Oftentimes, in teaching, because we want to help the students out, we may volunteer our time before or after school to give those students the individual help that they need for free. What's free for the receiver always comes at the expense of the giver.
Weeding at the Orchard Garden
It was disheartening to see that the seeds had not sprouted. Had we done something wrong? When we looked on the surface of the soil, we did not see any sprouts. However, looking at the surface does not give us the whole story. The surface is not necessarily indicative of what is undernearth. Perhaps the seed is growing and has taken root. Similarly, as teachers, we do not know what is happening inside our students. Assessment only tells us so much.

The analogy that children are like plants and teachers are like gardeners is an illustruous analogy that helps us to understand the importance of a teacher's guidance in a child's life. However, there is one big difference between children and plants: volition. Plants cannot think or choose to do things. Children, on the other hand, can think and can choose. They can actively choose to grow in knowledge and understanding. They can make their own choices that enable them to grow more. The other side of the coin is that children can also choose not to learn and not to grow. My hope is that we can, as educators, encourage students to choose learning and to choose growth.
The dry and barren beet plant bed. What's going on under the surface?

Bringing Food and Storytelling Together

Food is a powerful storyteller. Food lays hold of all of your senses and takes them captive. Its taste, smell, touch, sight and sound can transport you into a distant memory. Food can guide you through the discovery of your culture or history.

Surprisingly, it was through vegetables (of all foods!) that I learned more about my own culture and history. Growing up, I did not eat much salad. When I did have salad, it would always be when my family and I went to Swiss Chalet, my favourite restaurant as a child. Going to Swiss Chalet was a special treat and I looked forward to ordering caesar salad with ribs whenever we went. At home, we very rarely had salad; 95% of the time, vegetables were cooked. On Monday, at Susan Gerofsky’s lecture, I learned why. 

Years ago, people in certain parts of China would collect “nightsoil” (human waste) and use it as fertilizer on their farm crops. It was an effective and economic choice, but the problem was that the plants would be contaminated and unfit for consumption in its raw form. In order to kill the toxins and bacteria, the harvested vegetables were cooked. This affected the cuisine that developed in these countries that used nightsoil; if you take a look around, most vegetables in Chinese cuisine are cooked in some way, be it steamed, pan-fried or boiled. You’ll be hard pressed to find salads in traditional Chinese cuisine.

A picture of soil from the Orchard Garden.
It should be noted that this is not nightsoil.
I was born in Canada and am twice removed from China where some of my ancestors are from. The vegetables we buy in the grocery store have not grown in nightsoil. Regardless, today, my family still mostly eats cooked vegetables at home. The kind of food my mom grew up eating is commonly the kind of food she prepares for us at home. Recently, we have begun to incorporate salads into our meals, but it really depends on who is preparing dinner and we as a family are still partial to cooked greens.

Asking “why” and "how" questions are an essential part of learning. Why do we eat the food we do? Why do we go to one grocery store and not another? Why do some of us eat vegetables cooked and not raw at home? How does one changed practice affect everything around it? 
A snapshot of Susan's lecture powerpoint
One way we can encourage students to ask more why questions is to get students to research one particular dish at home and explain why they eat this particular food. How does the student's culture affect the food they eat? What kind of story does this food tell about its own history? What kind of story does this food tell about the student's history and life? Students will be amazed at how much they learn about different cultures and histories by asking these simple questions!

Community Field Experience at the Orchard Garden Week 2

Landed Learning Program at UBC Farm

Our second week has been a a fun week of working with elementary school students. On Wednesday we visited Tyee Montessori Elementary where we had the opportunity to put what we’ve learned about garden-based education to use! We were given the task of teaching garden-based lessons for children from kindergarten to grade 3. After 10 weeks of practicum with high school students, it was wonderful to experience working with much younger children.

Prepping for our lesson at Tyee Montessori Elementary
Our short lessons included identifying plants in the school garden and learning about garden activities that we need to do in order to keep plants healthy: watering, thinning, pruning, staking, composting and weeding. After our lesson, the children got their hands dirty by weeding a garden bed to prepare it for planting. Since we discussed the importance and purpose of weeding, the children were excited to know that they were getting rid of “plant enemies!” It was a tiring but rewarding day, and refreshing to see how excited kids are to be outside and to see the bond that they have developed with the plants they have helped grow in the garden. 

Watering our seeds at the greenhouse.
We also got a chance to visit the greenhouse at UBC which I found rather fascinating. There were many different groups that used the greenhouse, and I hadn’t realized that UBC had so many people who were doing plant-related research. My biggest surprise was to see a papaya tree in Canada! I grew up in Thailand with papaya trees in my backyard, so it was amazing to see a tropical plant thriving on the other side of the world. Brendan Chan, who is working for the SUB Rooftop Garden, showed us around the greenhouse and gave us the opportunity to plant some vegetable seeds and thin some chard seedlings. I was happy to get to do some thinning because up until that point we had talked about it a few times, so it was great to actually put it into practice.

Fresh herbal tea station at Landed Learning
Thursday was another visit to the Landed Learning program at the UBC Farm, this time with grades 3-4 students from Waverly Elementary, which is a different experience compared to the grade 7 from last week. We were tasked with the fresh herbal tea activity where we picked various herbs from the garden and set up a “sampling station” for the students. The kids came to smell the teas and got to choose which type of herbal tea they wanted to make. They then had to go pick their own herbs, put them in a tea bag, and bring it home to their moms for Mother’s Day. It was heart-warming to see kids getting so excited to harvest their own herbs and talking to their friends about what tea they think their mothers would like. 

Through my experience with elementary school children, I have learned that young children are full of energy, excitement, and internal motivation, which seem to decline as they become teenage high school students. The question I am walking away with this week is: What can teachers do to preserve and prolong this motivation and excitement so that our teenagers stay just as excited to learn and be at school.