Elementary students are learning math skills in the garden in one Tucson School. While Kindergartners use a long wooden stick with inch-spaced marks to make sure carrot seeds are space right and third graders log start and stop times for churning compost bins, students are learning age appropriate practical math skills at Manzo Elementary School. .
When produce, eggs and fish raised by students are ready to sell at a twice-monthly farmers’ market, fifth-graders work the register, learning to make change.
At this school serving an underserved area, students learn math concepts by working with one greenhouse, two tilapia fish tanks, two soil gardens, eight compost bins, 14 chickens and 17,000 gallons of rainwater collected in 15 tanks – all part of an ecology project teaching sustainability principles.
Real World Math Skills
Mark Alvarez, Manzo’s principal, said linking classroom math with ecology has been key to increasing the school’s standardized math test pass rate from 18 percent to almost 50 percent in the past two and a half years.
“The hardest part of learning math is making a connection to something real and practical, so that over time a deeper, sustained understanding of math happens instead of just memorizing multiplication tables that are forgotten,” he said.
Alvarez said he anticipates even better scores over the next few years when today’s kindergartners become fifth-graders who’ve had six years of ecology-based math lessons.
Teachers at the Barrio Hollywood school, 855 N. Melrose Ave., said that while many schools have gardens or other ecology projects to teach sustainability lessons, theirs is different because its many components, which also includes a desert tortoise habitat and bird sanctuary, allow math lessons for all grade levels.
“Instead of closing our math books at the end of counting-problem exercises, we go and count how many seeds have germinated or how many new leaves a plant has, and that makes the lessons stick,” said Angela Moore, a first-grade and English language development teacher.
Wes Oswald, a third-grade teacher, said he has seen the farmers’ market make math more meaningful to students.
“When they are struggling to make change and see the long line with some impatient faces, they suddenly realize why math is important,” he said.