30 SES 09 B, School gardens and environments
Profound socio-environmental changes taking place at a planetary scale are threatening future food security (Godfray et al., 2011). A ‘new competition for land’ is arising from a growing demand for food combined with energy security, declining availability of fossil fuels and the urgent need to reduce emissions (Harvey & Pilgrim, 2011). However, while debates on environmental change proliferate in the scientific literature, policy discussions continue to focus on technical solutions or ‘knowledge transfer’ without seriously engaging with the content and practices of education (Bangay & Blum, 2010).
Increasingly, curricular reforms in science education, as well as other areas, are seeking ways of encouraging learners to make informed and ethical responses to current unsustainable lifestyles and on-going environmental challenges (Wals and Corcoran, 2012). In this context, discussion-based pedagogies and action-orientated projects have acquired increasing prominence. However, alongside the pedagogical opportunities for practicing active citizenship, there are also increasing concerns related to poverty and access to basic nutrition across both developed and developing countries (Bencze, 2017)), and a growing preoccupation with the lack of first-hand experiences in local real, outdoor environments for many youngsters living in urban environments. Evidence gathered over the last two decades also shows that disadvantaged social circumstances are associated with increased health risks (Currie et al., 2009). Hence growing international attention is given to the need to develop ‘innovative learning environments’ in areas with the highest deprivation levels (OECD, 2015). It can be argued that such innovative environments should be started in primary schools and followed through into secondary schools. School gardens, we suggest, offer such an opportunity, as well as providing a context for introducing key ideas to help young children understand issues around sustainability. Expanding on current initiatives of educational reform, featuring inquiry/project-based and action-oriented learning (Stevenson, Nicholls, & Whitehouse, 2017; Beach, Share and Webb, 2017), the project presented here developed as a partnership between a teacher education institution, a non-governmental organisation, the city council planning and infrastructure department, and three primary schools in three regeneration areas of the city.
The theoretical insights offered by socio-materiality provide a means to explore the importance of gardens in the process of learning. Epistemologically, these ideas resonate with post-humanist accounts (Barad, 2006) according to which all organisms (including the learners) are viewed as nexuses of ongoing relationships and transformations of energy and materials. This results in a move away from representational views of knowledge to a more performative understanding. This, as Barad states, shifts “the focus from questions of correspondence between descriptions and reality (e.g., do they mirror nature or culture?) to matters of practices/ doings/actions” (Barad, 2003) In this view, two important considerations will follow; firstly, cognition is embodied, and extending across the continuum of mind, body and nature; hence there is no separation between cognition and action. Secondly, any learning processes will be identified as a set of ‘contextual interactions’ mediated by language as reflective of the particular view and bio-physical positioning of the learner at any given time.
Within this framework, two research questions guided the study:
- In what way are school gardens perceived as ‘active agents’ in allowing opportunities for children’s bodies to be fully engaged in learning?
- How does children’s embodied engagement help them ‘make sense’ of the growing processes occurring in the gardens by integrating practical, sensorial, and cognitive stimulations?
Five primary 5/6 classes (9/10 year olds), 140 pupils, across three schools in three regeneration areas in the city were involved in the project. All ethical protocols were followed. The team comprised two PhD students; two university staff and one external partner responsible for the garden installations and liaisons with the city council departments. Data were collected through a semi-ethnographic approach incorporating basic quantitative measures of children’s well-being, at the start and at the end of the project along with qualitative data obtained through observation schedules; visual data and interviews with teachers and pupils over the course of the project. At the end of the school year, prior to the summer break, all the teachers were interviewed and all the children took part in small focus groups with the researchers. Interviews were transcribed and analysed. Drawing on the insight of socio-material approaches (Barad, 2007), the project was conceived of as a process of description of an ontological reversal (Dahlin, 2003); beyond the acquisition of language and principles associated with knowledge of sustainability, tending to the gardens and growing food was seen to contribute to the formulation of a learning aesthetics which re-connected learners with their own bodies; acknowledged the living state of materials and re-view action as a way of being and becoming into the world. The process of children’s engagement in all the activities of the garden from preparation to planting and harvesting was documented during and following each of the site visits by the research team. The visits to each of the classes took place for an hour every two weeks over several months, with teachers using materials provided by the research team to follow up each session and prepare for the next. This approach enabled the team to engage the classes, documenting the activities during the course of a school year, over several months excluding school holidays. Analysis focussed on capturing key moments of ‘ontological’ reversal, defined as turning attention away from formal texts and inscriptions as the given reality from which we are separate, to sensorial, affective and tactile engagements with the garden space. Over the course of the observations and with the analysis that follows, we focussed on capturing the emergence of new assemblages such as ‘arms-holding-watering-cans’ as actions stemming from ‘learning to tend’ as well as ‘attending to’ real-life, dynamic processes led by the children themselves.
The school gardens initiative was a small-scale study using a few schools in regeneration areas of a medium sized city. While the analysis is ongoing and the study to date indicates there are potentially very significant impacts that the development of school gardens can have in schools, potentially impacting on curriculum learning, health and wellbeing, healthy eating and sustainability. Using a relational materialist approach in the analysis, our findings concur with Green & Duhn, (2015) suggestion “that garden learning is enabled through planned and spontaneous interactions and partnerships with non-human materialities. Children’s intra-action with the non-human entities of a garden is a vital dimension of gardening practices” (p69) Our findings cast light on the need to get clear about the meaning of ‘educational innovation’. At first, the garden as an innovation was indeed something new - and possibly alien – to the lives of teachers and children in the school. In the context of a primary classroom, the project was embraced as a means to make connections with the curriculum and thus to adopt a context for teaching subject content. What the process and the data analysis uncovered however, was much less of linear process of learning content to apply in real life and much more a recognition that the garden space is action-space and thus calling for responses in real time. For example, ‘watering plants’ was neither knowledge or behaviour; rather it was an affective response triggered by the recognition that the absence of one (the child tending to the garden) was equivalent to the wiling of the other. Children expressed this state of affairs in relational terms as ‘being responsible’ for the garden and recognising that their well-being was linked to the well-being of the garden and its inhabitants. The full paper will elaborate on the findings and conclusions.
Bangay, C., & Blum, N. (2010). Education responses to climate change and quality: Two parts of the same agenda? International Journal of Educational Development, 30(4), 359–368. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijedudev.2009.11.011 Barad, K. (2003). Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society, 28(3). Bencze, L. (2017). STEPWISE: A Framework Prioritizing Altruistic Actions to Address Socioscientific Issues (pp. 19–45). http://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-55505-8_2 Dahlin, B. (2003). The Ontological Reversal: A figure of thought of importance for science education. Scandinavian Journal of Educational ResearchOnline) Journal Bo Dahlin Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research, 47(1), 31–3831. http://doi.org/10.1080/00313830308606 Godfray, H.C., Pretty, J., Thomas, S.M., Warham, E. J., Beddington, J. R. (2011). Linking Policy on Climate and Food. Science, 331, 1013–1014. Green, M. (2012). Place, Sustainability and Literacy in Environmental Education : Frameworks for Teaching and Learning. Review of International Geographical Education Online, 2(3). Green, M., & Duhn, I. (2015). The Force of Gardening: Investigating Children’s Learning in a Food Garden. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 31(1), 60–73. http://doi.org/10.1017/aee.2014.45 Harvey, M., & Pilgrim, S. (2011). The new competition for land: Food, energy, and climate change. Food Policy, 36(SUPPL. 1), S40–S51. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.foodpol.2010.11.009 OECD. (2015). Improving Schools in Scotland: An OECD Perspective. Wals, A. & Corcoran, P. (eds) (2012) Learning for Sustainability in Times of Accelerating Change, Netherlands: Wageningen.
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