Fort Mill Times

Springfield garden helps teach 7th-graders math and engineering

York County Master Gardener Rolf Mischker shows seventh-graders, from left, Aaron Spearman, Petey Tuipulotu and Westin Alps at Springfield Middle School the best technique to shovel topsoil. The students are part of a group building three large raised garden beds to plant produce to study science, as well as learn where their food comes from.
York County Master Gardener Rolf Mischker shows seventh-graders, from left, Aaron Spearman, Petey Tuipulotu and Westin Alps at Springfield Middle School the best technique to shovel topsoil. The students are part of a group building three large raised garden beds to plant produce to study science, as well as learn where their food comes from. KATIE RUTLAND

Springfield Middle School students took on a big project in the waning days of the spring semester.

Gail Vawter, a seventh grade science teacher, organized 74 students who constructed three large raised garden beds in a courtyard at the school. Thanks to a $750 grant from the Foundation for Fort Mill Schools, the students are learning what Vawter called the epitome of project-based learning.

“We had to come up with the measurements of how big they were going to be. What they’re doing in math right now is computing the cubic yards of soil for how much we’ll need to fill them up; So, they’re combining math in there with the engineering – the actual construction of them,” Vawter said.

There’s a lot of teamwork involved. From six teachers who wrote the grant, to the students who are building it and then others in the coming years who will plant and harvest what is grown.

Vawter said it’s a unique experience for the students. They’ll learn the entire growing process and will get to eat what they grow.

“A lot of these kids are urban and don’t even know where their food comes from,” she said, “They think it comes from Harris Teeter. They need to understand what goes into gardening.”

That’s where science will come in. Students in seventh grade study the environment, earthworms and soil composition. These garden beds will play into all of those lessons.

The project is overseen by York County Master Gardener Rolf Mischker. His passion is vegetable gardening, and he’s helped countless groups build garden boxes and fill them with the right combination of material to help plants thrive.

“I give them some general lessons or advice, then I watch as they work. Some of them don’t know what a carpenter square is,” he said.

But that’s where he steps in and teaches. Helping the students understand engineering, geometry and basic carpentry skills that they can use on this project, and countless others in their years ahead.

Kate Welch, 12, said she doesn’t have much experience building and shoveling dirt, but now that she’s done it, things make a little more sense.

“I think this is really cool because we actually get to see what we talk about in school,” she said. “We get to see how it really works out and how we really use what we learn to do these kind of things.”

The project can best be described as controlled chaos. Students scurried around like ants with shovels full of topsoil. Mischker said watching them learn new skills is half the fun.

“Most of them have never been allowed to hold an (electric) screwdriver,” he said. “They’ve been told they can’t do it. But they can go home and say ‘Yes, I can.’”

Vawter said she’ll be looking for additional grant funding to sustain the project and keep future classes involved. She hopes it’s a project that spreads and has a far-reaching effect.

“We’re hoping they’ll go home and teach their parents how to do this and hopefully do this at home,” she said.

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