When it comes to Chris Tower’s gardening, big things from little things grow.
Tower, a fifth-grade teacher at Concord Elementary School, recently earned national recognition for his work establishing a garden at the school. Tower received the National Science Teacher Association Sylvia Shugrue Award for Elementary Teachers.
The association recognizes one elementary school teacher for the creation and delivery of an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based lesson plan. The award also includes a $1,000 prize and up to $500 to attend the NSTA National Conference on Science Education in San Antonio in April.
Elementary Curriculum Coordinator Isabelle Punchard nominated Tower for the award.
“Chris is a passionate, dedicated and selfless educator who has tirelessly worked to make science meaningful for students,” she said. “In the process of creating a community garden, he collaborated with colleagues and community members to make science come to life for all his students, while embedding key learning goals from across disciplines. His passion for science is only matched by his passion for children. He has the rare gift of motivating students of all backgrounds because he cares about them and he engages them with innovative and authentic lessons.”
Tower’s winning lesson had key science standards, literacy and math concepts and a service-learning component to teach students using the garden.
Last summer, 150 pounds of the garden’s produce were donated to a local food shelf. The remaining produce was sold to the community, which netted $500 to help sustain the community garden project.
“The lesson plan was a natural process to rewrite the curriculum to meet the standards and have the kids see the actual results of seeing their fruit and vegetables grow in the garden,” Tower said. “I’m honored to have been recognized for the work I’ve done with the kids, but the award is not so much for me as it is for the kids’ commitment throughout the year to have the garden thrive.”
His lesson plan for fourth- and fifth-grade students evolved from a need to connect the district’s science curriculum with the world and help students realize what a difference they could make in their own community, he said.
Tower’s students wrote letters to their neighbors informing them of the community garden and how they could support it by purchasing fruits and vegetables they grew at the local farmers market. Students also built their math and marketing skills by selling the products and handling money at the market. Students and their families adopted the garden each week to keep it going, inspiring many of them to start their own gardens at home.
Previous environmental lessons didn’t have a personal impact on students or the community, Tower said.
Neighboring schools and districts have looked at Tower’s community garden as a model of what they would like to implement in their own communities.
“Chris does a great job of creating community in his classroom and does a superior job of getting his students excited about learning,” Concord Principal Rick Sanstead said. “His work on the Concord community produce garden is a great example of how his work as a science educator has positively contributed to the Edina community.”
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