Monday, March 20, 2017

11 Reasons You Really Need a School Garden

"If you have a garden and a library, you have everything you need."
-- Cicero, 106 - 43 B.C.
Marcus Tullius Cicero, Roman politician and orator; source: Wikimedia Commons
Today is the first day of Spring so I’d like to discuss school gardens.  I always wanted to have a school garden, and I found the perfect place for it, but it never happened, mainly because I just didn’t have the time to add such an undertaking to my schedule of teaching more than five grade levels every year.  So when I decided this year to volunteer at a local school, I jumped at the chance to work with the teacher who maintained the school garden there.

There are so many benefits to having a school garden!  For ELLs, especially those at lower levels of language proficiency, working in a school garden means they can participate just as much as other students because the tasks are hands-on and visual.  And if you plant some crops that are used in the cultures of your ELLs, it shows that you value those cultures and gives those students and their families a chance to share their knowledge and make them feel a part of the school community.

Read on to find out: a) why a school garden is a good thing, b) resources for creating and maintaining a school garden, and c) where you can obtain funding for your own school garden.

11 reasons you should plant a school garden, with links to info on how to start one and where to obtain funding for a school garden | The ESL Connection
Source: The ESL Nexus
Benefits of School Gardens
1) Students learn where their food comes from – for students in cities who aren’t familiar with farming, this can be very illuminating.
2) Students interact with nature by spending time outdoors and seeing insects and worms in the soil and as the plants grow.
3) Students learn teamwork because they have to work cooperatively to make the garden a success and students who don’t normally work with each other can be grouped together to develop their social skills.
4) Students learn patience because once seeds or seedlings are planted, they have to wait for them to grow and students can’t force the plants to sprout faster than nature intended.
5) Students learn math and science concepts – they are so many tie-ins to curricula for students of all ages it’s impossible to list them all here but recording observations, formulating hypotheses, measuring units, learning about nutrition, graphing results and calculating percentages are a few of them.
6) Students can do writing activities such as writing poetry, writing a description of a plant, writing how-to pieces about creating the garden, writing personal narratives about their experience with the garden, comparing and contrasting two different vegetables, writing about what a vegetable or herb tastes like, creating a recipe book for the foods that were grown, creating timelines about the growing process, and writing letters about their school garden.
7) Students can develop research skills by searching for information about school gardens, by finding out which crops are best suited to their region of the country, and by reading about how particular vegetables and herbs are used in other cultures.
8) Students can learn about geography and other cultures by planting vegetables and herbs cultivated in other countries.
9) Students from different ethnic backgrounds can share their cultures when crops that are common in their cuisines are cultivated, and this can also help foster appreciation for people from those cultures.
10) Students can develop multimedia skills by creating videos, podcasts, photo exhibits, posters, and oral presentations about their school garden.
11) The student-parent (or guardian) connection can be deepened when the families of the students working in the garden are involved – if some families have gardening experience they can help create and maintain the garden, families from immigrant and refugee backgrounds can share their knowledge of gardening and grow “ethnic” foods in part of the garden, families can show how to cook various vegetables and use herbs, and families can be invited to a feast with the students after harvesting the food.

Resources about School Gardens
* U.S. Department of Agriculture: Information an all aspects, from planning through sustaining a school garden program.
* Slow Food USA: Research-based rationale for implementing a school garden.
* KidsGardening: All about designing, starting, and maintaining a school garden.
* Growing Minds: Resources for starting a school garden, related lesson plans based on the Common Core State Standards, and information on applying for a grant if you are working in their region.
* Let's Move: A checklist for getting started with a school garden.
* Western Growers Foundation Collective School Garden Network: Information on the benefits of school gardens, how to plan and fund a school garden, planting a school garden, teaching with a school garden, and harvesting and eating the produce from an edible school garden; also includes grant opportunities for schools in Arizona and California.
* Good, Clean and Fair School Garden Curriculum, from Slow Food USA: Lessons for all elementary and secondary students that align with Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards.
Funding Sources 
Application deadlines for grants from many organizations for funding a spring garden have passed but the following opportunities are still available:
* Bonnie Plants 3rd Grade Cabbage Program: Ongoing, although it's better if you register before February 15th.
* Captain Planet ecoSolution Grants: Deadline September 30, 2017.
* Project Learning Tree Green Works Grants: Deadline Sept 30, 2017.
* Wild Ones Lorrie Otto Seeds for Education Grant: Deadline October 15, 2017.

The resources below include the above organizations as well as many more whose deadlines for 2017 have already passed.  Deadlines for 2018 will be announced at later times.  Some of these organizations are included in more than one of the sources listed below:
* From Community Groundworks: Links to 18 grant opportunities plus links to resources about implementing school gardens. 
* From Slow Food USA: Links to 19 organizations that fund school gardens.
* From KidsGardening: Links to 20 grants that fund school gardens.

11 reasons you should plant a school garden, with links to info on how to start one and where to obtain funding for a school garden | The ESL Connection
Source: The ESL Nexus
Having worked as an agricultural extension agent in the Peace Corps, I know well the joys of planting something and watching it grow.  And although a school garden involves a lot of initial work, the benefits it brings to ELLs and all students is, as Helen Mirren affirms, certainly worth it.

Do you have a school garden?  Please share how you utilize it in the Comment section below.

Monday, March 13, 2017

March #ELLEdTech Twitter Chat Topic: Favorite Tech Tools

"There was a time when nails were high-tech. There was a time when people had to be told how to use a telephone. Technology is just a tool. People use tools to improve their lives."
-- Tom Clancy, writer; 1947 - 2013
Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on March 19, 2017 at 7pm EDT to discuss favorite tech tools | The ESL Connection
Source: Pixabay
What are your Favorite Technology Tools that you use with English Language Learners?  That's the topic of the next #ELLEdTech Twitter chat with Laurah and me on Sunday, March 19th, at 7:00pm Eastern.  We’d love to hear which tech tools -- for any subject and for any skill -- you enjoy using and find most beneficial for your students!

Schedule and Questions
7:00 = Introductions: Tell us your name, location, level and subject taught #ELLEdTech
7:05 = Q1: What are your favorite technology tools for ELLs? #ELLEdTech
7:13 = Q2: What are the pros or benefits to using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:21 = Q3: What are the cons or difficulties to using these tools? #ELLEdTech
7:29 = Q4: What do educators need to know before using these tools for the 1st time? #ELLEdTech
7:37 = Q5: Where/how do you find out about new tech tools for ELLs? #ELLEdTech

Join the #ELLEdTech Twitter chat on March 19, 2017 at 7pm EDT to discuss favorite tech tools | The ESL Connection
Join us to discuss favorite tech tools!
 Directions for Joining the Chat
1. Log into Twitter on Sunday; the chat runs from 7:00 - 7:45pm Eastern.

2. Search for tweets with the hashtag #ELLEdTech in the search bar.  Make sure to click “All tweets.”

3. The first five minutes will be spent introducing ourselves.

4. Starting at 7:05 @ESOL_Odyssey or @The_ESL_Nexus will post questions every 8 minutes using Q1, Q2, Q3, etc. to identify the questions and the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

5.  Answer the questions by prefacing them with A1, A2, A3, etc. and use the hashtag #ELLEdTech.

6.  Follow any teachers who respond and are also using #ELLEdTech.

7.  Like (click the heart icon) and post responses to other teachers' tweets.

You can schedule your answers to the questions in advance by using an online scheduler such as TweetDeck or HootSuite (and remember to use A1, A2, etc. and #ELLEdTech).  Links are encouraged, but use tinyurl, bitly, or to shorten your link so it can be included in your tweet.  Just click one of those links, paste the longer link in the app's box to shorten it for Twitter, then paste the shortened link into your tweet . If you have relevant images, we encourage you to post them, too.

Is this your first Twitter chat?  Here are our rules:

1. Please stay on topic.

2. Please do not post about paid products unless explicitly asked. 

3. If you arrive after the chat has started, please try to read the previous tweets before joining in.

4. Feel free to just read, like, and/or retweet if you prefer -- we know the first time can be a little overwhelming!

5. Always use the hashtag #ELLEdTech when tweeting.

6. Make sure your twitter feed is set to "public." (And do remember that Twitter is completely public; that means anyone--students, parents, administrators--may see what you tweet.) 

You are welcome to let any of your teacher friends who might be interested in joining us as well know about it. We look forward to chatting with you on Sunday evening!

Monday, March 6, 2017

How to Help Your Muslim Students in the School Cafeteria

"My family moved from California to New Jersey in the beginning
of my sophomore year of high school. I will never forget the first day
in a new school, walking into the cafeteria during lunch and not
knowing a single soul. I didn't feel confident enough
to share a seat at just anyone's table."
-- Camille Guaty, 1976 - 
Food quotation & how to help your newly-arrived Muslim ELLs know what they can and cannot eat in the school cafeteria | The ESL Connection
Camille Guaty, actress; source: © Glenn Francis,
Just as English Language Learners in general don’t fit into one neat package, ELLs who are Muslim come from a variety of cultural and religious backgrounds.  Two Turkish 8th grade boys that I had my first year observed Ramadan but were not otherwise especially religious.  Two elementary Kurdish siblings I had some years later, though, were.  Neither they nor their parents spoke any English when they arrived at my school but through an interpreter who became a tutor for the kids, I learned that the parents had concerns about the children eating lunch at school -- they needed to be sure that all the food their kids ate was halal.

More and more ELLs who are Muslim are registering for school in communities where people may not know a lot about Islam.  If the school staff is not familiar with Islamic dietary regulations, problems may arise due to language and cultural misunderstandings.  I hope this blog post gives you some suggestions for dealing with this issue if you work with Muslim ELLs who have recently arrived in this country and know little if any English.
How to help your newly-arrived Muslim ELLs know what they can and cannot eat in the school cafeteria | The ESL Connection
School cafeterias are often unfamiliar places for ELLs; source: The ESL Nexus
The word halal means permissible in Arabic.  Halal food is similar to kosher food in the Jewish tradition, in that it tells you what you can and cannot eat.  You may already know that it is forbidden to eat pork or drink alcohol.  It’s also forbidden to eat dogs, snakes, frogs, and several other animals.  In addition, animals whose meat will be consumed have to killed according to Islamic law and only certain parts of the animal can be eaten.  The Food and Agriculture Organization of the U.N. has a definition of what halal food is and you can read the specifics here.  Food that is halal will say so on the packaging so it’s easy to tell if it's permitted or not.

I didn’t want the Kurdish family to spend their limited funds on food when the kids could eat for free in the school cafeteria, since they were eligible for free breakfast and lunch.  (Click on this link to find the USDA’s application forms for free and reduced meals in Arabic and 48 other languages.)  But how would the students know what they could and could not eat?  That’s where I came in.  If you have Muslim ELLs at lower levels of language proficiency and who are unfamiliar with the food that is typically offered in school cafeterias, here's an easy way to help them figure out what they can and cannot eat for breakfast and lunch.
How to help your newly-arrived Muslim ELLs know what they can and cannot eat in the school cafeteria | The ESL Connection
These symbols certify that food is halal; source: DepositPhotos
The first thing I did was get a copy of the breakfast and lunch menus, which were distributed at the end of one month for the next month.  Looking them over, I circled all the items that I knew my students could have, such as vegetables, fruit, pasta, and most desserts.  For the items I wasn’t sure of, like hot dogs and pepperoni pizza, I went to the cafeteria and after explaining what I needed to know, the lunch ladies were very helpful.  They pulled out several packages of food from cabinets and the refrigerator to look for the halal label.  For the few items that we couldn’t find a label for, we called the director of food services and asked him.  If he didn’t know whether or not a food was halal, I left the item uncircled. 

During one of my planning periods before the new month began, I spent 5 - 10 minutes going through all the items offered on the breakfast and lunch menus.  Sometimes I wasn't sure about some things and had to go to the cafeteria to ask the lunch ladies.  But that took only an extra 15 minutes or so.

Once I had the menus straightened out, I gave them to the older child; he was in 4th grade and his sister was in kindergarten.  I explained that the circles meant Yes, it was okay to eat it and everything else meant No, it wasn’t okay.  That was easy for him to understand.  I photocopied the menus and sent one set home with him and kept another set in my classroom for reference.  When the tutor saw the children, she translated or explained what the foods were and reiterated which ones were halal and which weren’t.  That way, the children knew what to get when they went to breakfast and lunch.  (If a native-language tutor isn't available, you can try Google Translate to search for the names of foods.)
How to help your newly-arrived Muslim ELLs know what they can and cannot eat in the school cafeteria | The ESL Connection
How you can help your Muslim ELLs know what they can eat in school; source: The ESL Nexus
If you can take your new ELLs to the school cafeteria and show them the procedure for getting their meals, that would be helpful because it’s very likely the whole experience will be unfamiliar to them.  Everything was new for my 4th grader and, fortunately, I was able to go with him the first few times to make sure he got the right things to eat.  As we went through the lunch line together, with him pointing to the items he wanted, I explained to the lunch ladies that the boy was a new student who didn’t know English and I asked them to please be understanding and patient when interacting with him, and of course they were.  (Since I wasn’t free at the kindergartner's lunch time, I asked her homeroom teacher to help her.)

The other major food issue for Muslim students is what to do during Ramadan.  Having worked in Muslim countries, I thought it would be difficult for my Turkish 8th graders to go to the cafeteria at lunchtime and watch their classmates eat while they just sat there.  (The Kurdish kids were no longer at my school.)  So I talked to the principal, explained what I wanted to do and why, and arranged for the students to go to my classroom and spend their 15-minute lunch period there.  Another possibility, if it can be arranged, is for students to go to the school library.  As it turned out, my ELLs actually didn’t mind staying in the caf so after a few days, they just went there and waited until lunch was over, then went outside for recess with their friends.

These are just a couple simple suggestions for helping your newly-arrived Muslim students with limited English language skills navigate the school cafeteria.  They are quick and easy to implement and they will go a long way towards meeting the needs of your ELLs.  How have you helped your Muslim ELLs adjust to their new school?