The School Gardeners' Southwest Desert Almanac: A Conference for Supporting, Sustaining, and Spreading Garden-Based Science Teaching

Focusing on the Southwest Desert ecoregion, this conference addresses the need for research on effective instructional methods that can be used to support students' science learning in school gardens. The conference will lead to the development of an ecoregional model for garden-based science teaching (GBST) that builds on regional ecological and cultural resources to engage teachers and students in richer and more relevant science learning experiences.

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Garden-based science teaching (GBST) integrates formal and informal learning, provides teaching opportunities in a wide range of science topics (e.g., soil science, ecology, botany), and creates a place for those topics to be locally and culturally relevant. A proliferation of school gardens nationwide reveals a significant increase (42%) in the creation of school gardens between 2013-2015 (USDA, 2015). As students increasingly engage in science learning in school gardens, the demand for high-quality instruction also grows. However, much of the available research on school gardens emphasizes health and nutrition interventions, without also characterizing the instructional practices of science. This conference addresses the need for research on effective instructional methods that can be used to support students' science learning in school gardens. The conference will focus on the Southwest Desert ecoregion. The ecoregion focus is driven by the longstanding challenges of coordinating a national model of GBST across ecoregion differences, by concentrating on states and sites whose problems and opportunities reflect common ecoregion conditions. This conference will lead to development of an ecoregional model for GBST that builds on regional ecological and cultural resources to engage teachers and students in richer and more relevant science learning experiences.

This conference will organize and implement collaborative activities during and after a 2-1/2 day meeting in Arizona. It will involve 35 participants comprised of teachers (grades K-5), teacher educators, educational researchers, and science content specialists who collectively bring experience with science teaching in school gardens, culturally relevant pedagogy, traditional agricultural practices, and science practices. Conference activities will draw upon participatory design research methods to understand how, when, and why educational innovations work in practice. A key product of the conference and post-conference activities will be an ecoregion model of GBST as instantiated by The School Gardeners' Southwest Desert Almanac. The Almanac will be an online resource for information on GBST, collaboratively produced by practitioners and researchers during- and post-conference activity. This website will feature curated resources such as a multi-media set of case studies illustrating GBST instructional practices.

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