Math class heads to the garden at West Elementary

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CUTLINE: Third grade students at West Elementary put their math skills to use while planting flowers at the school’s outdoor classroom. (Photo courtesy of Cullman City Schools)

CULLMAN, Ala.The outdoor classroom at West Elementary already serves as an innovative green space to learn more about nature and science, but with a bit of creativity, it can also be a massive, plant-filled fraction work sheet! 

Third grade teacher Sharyn Hollingsworth and her class adopted one of the nine plant beds in the outdoor classroom, while Rachel Dawsey and North Alabama Agriplex volunteers prepared the soil and provided seeds. Hollingsworth’s class wanted to grow a flower garden, and second grade teacher Kelly Hayes recommended they plant zinnia seeds, with four seeds per square foot. With that suggestion, a math lesson was born. 

“We just happened to be studying perimeter and area, and this was a perfect opportunity for a realworld math lesson,” she said. “We measured the length and width of the raised plant bed so that we could find the area. We knew we had 32 square feet of soil to work with and 16 eager third graders ready to plant.” 

The students then used their newfound knowledge of division and fractions to plant approximately eight seeds in their own two square feet of soil and used tape to mark the fractional parts on the raised plant bed. To mark their zones, each student made a Popsicle stick marker for their own garden space. 

“We watched educational videos on planting wildflowers and then they were off to plant their seeds. Each student carefully planted and watered their seeds,” Hollingsworth explained. “Now, we water and wait! We are hoping to have zinnia plants this spring and look forward to returning to a beautiful flower garden of brightly colored zinnias in the fall.” 

Hollingsworth said she was delighted to find a way to incorporate their math lessons into the outdoor classroom activities, and the students were thrilled to use their math skills to literally get their hands dirty. 

“I think they were surprised by the math needed to prepare for our planting project, but they worked together to problem solve and get the job done,” she said. “I was really impressed with the students excitement to maintain their own flower garden, but more than just a math or science lesson, this gardening project has really given the students a newfound sense of pride in the West Elementary Outdoor Classroom and their school.”