This summer through the Barnard Noyce Teacher Scholars program I am completing an internship at Harlem Grown, an organization that runs urban farms across Harlem and teaches farming and sustainability within the community. Each summer, Harlem Grown runs a summer camp for children that live in nearby neighborhoods from ages 7-14 (roughly entering 2nd-9th grade). On a day to day basis, I work as a counselor for the youngest group, ages 7-9, and teach lessons in farming and growing plants, as well as doing art, cooking, journaling, and other indoor/outdoor activities. In addition to the regular activities of the camp, this summer students are also getting an additional lesson in STEM, which is the focus of my internship.
As a part of our STEM curriculum, we perform experiments, complete projects, and have discussions relating to the different lessons. Our program director gave us the freedom to decide what types of experiments and lessons we wanted to organize for the campers and allowed us to have as much creativity as we wanted in designing our lessons. We have come up with a long list of fun ideas that we plan to use to incorporate scientific knowledge in ways that campers will enjoy.
Our first week, we had a discussion with each group about what specific things plants need to grow. Our campers came up with a long list: nutrients, soil, air, water, sunlight, heat. We also had the opportunity to tie this in with the Harlem Grown curriculum which taught the campers the different parts of the seed. With our list of plant growth requirements in mind, we had each camper plant their own potted plant in a biodegradable pot using compost as soil and lettuce or bean seeds. We then had each camper change one aspect of how the plant was cared for from the standard (the standard being, in sunlight, watered once a day, outside). Campers added different changes, like the frequency with which the plant was watered, whether they wanted it to grow inside, in the greenhouse, or outside, in the sunlight or in the shade. Some campers even added a song they wished for their plant to listen to each day to have it grow!
With the oldest group, we performed the same experiment but added an extra aspect to make things a little more complicated and engaging for them. We had these campers create their pots from origami newspaper boxes, that are able to be planted straight into the ground. All three groups are going to be able to watch the conditions of their plants change throughout the entirety of camp, and we will have a discussion at the end about which conditions helped plants grow and which conditions lessened their growth.
For the second week, we had a discussion with the youngest group about the parts of the plant and the function of each part. We then allowed them to color and fill in worksheets that had them label each part and allowed them to creatively design their own flowers!
For the middle group, we talked about leaves and had a lesson on the functions of photosynthesis and the parts of plant cells responsible for photosynthesis. We finished the lesson with a better understanding of the function of CO2 and oxygen and how they function on a cellular level. We allowed campers to complete leaf rubbing drawings after the lesson.
Going forward, we have a lot more projects to look forward to. We hope to incorporate a video project for the oldest group. We have a lot more work planned in different aspects of biology and chemistry. I am looking forward to learning and experimenting more for the rest of the summer!