Category Archives: gardening

Helping Kids to ‘Get It’

Sometimes I wonder about the people who write and edit textbooks. I may not be a math wizard, but I know a heck of a lot about gardening. So when I came across this word-problem in the Saxon math series several days ago, the gardener in me cried out in dismay. Whoever wrote this problem knows nothing about carrots or how to grow them:

Choose an appropriate problem-solving strategy to solve this problem. In his backyard garden, Randall planted three rows of carrots. He planted eight carrots in each row. Altogether, how many carrots did Randall plant? Explain how you arrived at your answer.

Suburban gardeners usually drive to the local plant store, buy a six-pack of tomatoes or bell peppers and then take them home to transplant them. If you want to plant eight tomatoes or eight bell peppers in a row, you can do that (assuming that you’ve bought at least two six-packs). Just dig a hole, put some compost in the bottom, set the plant in the hole (roots at the bottom of the hole, of course), fill in around the roots with soil, and then water generously.

Not so with carrots. You can’t transplant carrots, as the Saxon math word-problem suggests. You have to grow carrots from seeds. And the seeds are so small that unless you use tweezers, you’ll find it impossible to plant only eight seeds per row. The usual practice is to sprinkle the seeds as thinly as possible in a shallow trench, and then cover them with a light layer of soil, well firmed down.

After the seeds germinate (which can take up to two or three weeks, depending on weather and soil conditions), and when they’re about an inch or two tall, you have to thin them. That’s right, you have to yank perfectly healthy plants out of the soil and toss them aside, because if you don’t, you’ll end up with a severe case of carrot-crowding, which will result in no root growth—and nothing edible to show for your labors.

Not only do the Saxon math writers and editors know nothing about how to plant and grow carrots, but they also make erroneous assumptions about the extent of student knowledge. Consider this word problem:

Lucille had 4 marigolds. Lola gave her some more marigolds. Now Lola has 12 marigolds. How many marigolds did Lola give Lucille?

My students had no trouble doing the math. Most of them figured out pretty quickly that Lola gave Lucille 8 marigolds.

But what exactly are marigolds?

Not one of my students could tell me. Not one!

I seized the moment, of course, as any decent teacher would, and explained that marigolds are flowers. Then I moved on.

I should have stopped, gone to Google Images and pulled up some photos of marigolds. (We all know that aphorism comparing one picture to a thousand words.) I’ll do that tomorrow.

There’s nothing wrong with revisiting a lesson or re-teaching a concept. In fact, that’s one of the beauties of Saxon math: As new concepts are introduced, old ones are continually revisited.

I want to do whatever it takes to help my students to “get it.” It’s time to revisit the concept of marigolds as flowers—and show my students, using some online photos, just how captivating these beauties can be.

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I Am a Gardener

Because of excruciating back pain, I’ve been out of my classroom for the past three days. That’s long enough. In fact, it’s too long. I can hardly wait to return on Monday morning—even if I have to hobble. I miss the kids. Terribly.

So much can happen in three days.

According to the biblical story of creation, green growing things appeared on Earth on the third day: “…the earth brought forth grass, and herb yielding seed after his kind, and the tree yielding fruit, whose seed was in itself, after his kind…” (Genesis 1:12).

I think of my students as plants that need to be watered with praise and nourished with kindness so that they will grow and develop.

For three days, I haven’t been in the classroom. For three days, my students have been without water and nutrients. For three days, they have had to fend for themselves.

Plants that have to fend for themselves don’t often thrive. Weeds may creep in and suck away essential moisture and nutrients. Careless passersby may trample delicate plants. Thieves may jump over the garden wall and steal fruit. Untoward things are bound to happen when the gardener absents himself from the garden—even for three days.

That’s why it’s so important for me to return on Monday, even if I’m still experiencing twinges of pain in my lower back. I don’t want my students to wither. I don’t want the weeds of apathy to steal their joy of learning. I don’t want their knowledge to be stolen like ripe fruit.

I am a gardener. I belong in my garden.