Written by: NSU University School Sophomore Enoch Wong
Completing work in a classroom is a common and traditional mode of learning, but Lower School science teacher Michele Garren at NSU University School (USchool) utilizes the school’s Lichtenfeld Family Butterfly Garden and Vivarium to help educate her students in a hands-on way about butterflies and the plants that attract them. The garden itself was designed and planted by senior Duncan Jurman and is now maintained by Upper School students. The purpose of the garden is to provide hands-on learning experiences for students. This mode of learning has enhanced students’ interest in environmental science. Recently, I had an opportunity to interview Ms. Garren and talk about how she uses the garden to enhance student learning.
Q&A with Ms. Michele Garren:
What inspired you to utilize the garden as part of your curriculum?
Well, I like how the garden is such a beautiful, natural space, and I think that it's important that kids be exposed to nature. Children are innate scientists. They want to find out about the world, they want to explore nature, and they want to touch things. The garden has a lot of beautiful, flowering plants that attract butterflies. This allows students to learn about the life cycle of a butterfly in an interactive way that is different from reading about the process from a textbook.
Another thing is that students can see real examples of the different phases of the life cycle of different butterfly species. They can find all the parts of the life cycle - eggs, caterpillar, chrysalis, and butterfly - right in that small space. For them to be able to see and experience nature hands-on, with tools such as magnifying glasses, is highly interesting. The opportunity for adventure that the garden allows kids to have is hard to pass up.
How have you used the garden in your teaching curriculum?
The third grade is currently learning about the life cycle of butterflies, so it fits right into their curriculum. For other grades, I just want students to encounter and better understand nature, like how plants grow from seeds, and experience the full life cycle of a plant. I also want them to understand the big picture, learning that the habitat has to have certain conditions for a butterfly to survive.
How has the garden been helpful to you and your students?
It has been helpful on a lot of different levels. First of all, it's just good for kids to get out of the classroom and spend time outside. It's incredibly valuable for them to ask all sorts of questions and explore in a natural, safe space. They bring up things that I wouldn't even think to talk with them about. When visiting the butterfly area, they say things like, “Oh my! I have never seen this flower before,” or “What's this?” or “Look! There are three butterflies!” Interacting with natural environments allows children to learn by doing and investigate their ideas.
It also gives them something to look forward to that's a little different by providing them with a mini field trip, and the plant and butterfly development is something that they can follow. For instance, one group mentioned how they were impressed by the large flowers as they followed the flowering process of the garden’s pipevine plants.
Do you think your students enjoy learning in the garden?
They definitely do enjoy learning through trips to the garden. When I tell my students that we are going to the garden, they get really excited. Some students also take the initiative to ask me for related environmental activities that they can do at home, such as planting vegetables and flowers that will attract butterflies. Students are very enthusiastic to learn more about nature, and the garden is successful in feeding their thirst for such knowledge.
Filled with dozens of butterfly and plant species, the Lichtenfeld Family Butterfly Garden and Vivarium has not only been useful in educating Ms. Garren’s students about the life cycle of butterflies and plants but most importantly, fostering their interest in and passion for learning about living creatures. The author Anthony J. D’ Angelo once said, “Develop a passion for learning. If you do, you will never cease to grow.” Indeed, passion in learning is what drives us to seek more knowledge, just as Ms. Garren’s students are now being motivated to ask for more gardening activities upon visiting the garden and vivarium. I am sure that this curiosity that the garden has awakened in these students will motivate them to continue to discover more about nature.
About Ms. Michele Garren
Michele Garren is a Lower School teacher who is in her fifth year working at NSU University School. She runs the Innovation Lab, which integrates STEM into the Lower School curriculum, such as robotics, coding, electronics, and engineering. Garren attended college at Chatham University where she majored in mathematics, minored in chemistry, and pursued a pre-med path.
About the Lichtenfeld Family Butterfly Garden and Vivarium
The Lichtenfeld Family Butterfly Garden and Vivarium was designed and planted back in 2018 by senior Duncan Jurman alongside Upper School science teacher Ms. Chana Goodman. Since its inception, more than 1,500 butterflies have been raised and released from the vivarium, which is now maintained by Upper School students. The garden and vivarium serve as a hands-on educational resource and nature-based classroom for students of all ages.
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