Our Garden, Our Watershed Full Lesson

Lesson Title: Our Garden, Our Watershed

Lesson Summary: How does a garden model a healthy watershed? Students will explore the impact that permeable and impermeable surfaces have on rainwater filtration through this hands-on garden lesson. They will learn that the permeable surfaces in their garden naturally absorb and filter rainwater that would otherwise collect pollutants on impermeable surfaces, flow into the sewer system, and then into natural waterways, where it could cause harm to members of those ecosystems. They will determine how much rain water (liters/gallons) is being absorbed and filtered in their garden by using local rainfall data and calculating the cumulative surface area of their garden beds. The goal is to help students understand that the ecological benefits of the garden include improved water quality for the surrounding watershed.


Students will be able to 

-Construct an argument to show the key role rain filtration plays in their regional watershed.

-Describe the impact of permeable and impermeable surfaces on the natural process of rain filtration and water quality.

-Determine the amount of rainwater the school garden beds are filtering by calculating the total surface area of school garden beds.


Standards Met:


  • Solve real-world and mathematical problems involving area, volume and surface area of two- and three-dimensional objects composed of triangles, quadrilaterals, polygons, cubes, and right prisms.


  • Use variables to represent quantities in a real-world or mathematical problem, and construct simple equations and inequalities to solve problems by reasoning about the quantities.

Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
  • LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Earth and Human Activity

  • ESS3-3. Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.



Formative: Ask students what it mean to filter something?  Where have they seen filters before?

How might unfiltered water be harmful in the environment?

After introducing the concept of P/I surfaces have the students estimate the number of different impermeable surfaces they can see from the courtyard, and describe them. Challenge them at this point to guess where the slope goes, where the runoff will likely go.

Summative: After students have had time to investigate the different surfaces in their garden and calculated how much rainwater is filtered by their garden plots ask students to discuss how different surfaces impact the ability of water to filter in a watershed?

What can we do to help slow down rainwater so that it has time to filter?

Have students revisit the map of their garden area to chart the direction in which their rainwater runoff flows at a later time.

Potential Big Picture Mind Mapping: How are the functions of a watershed present in the garden?


Exit Ticket Questions:

  1. Describe an example of a permeable surface and an impermeable surface.
  2. Describe how permeable surfaces aid natural rain filtration.
  3. Describe how unfiltered rainwater can harm the environment.
  4. Describe how you used technology as part of learning about filtration.
  5. Give an example of how your class can help protect the watershed by improving rain filtration.


The lesson:

Hook:  Draw students in with a quick demonstration of permeable surfaces and impermeable surfaces.  This can be done inside with watering cans, or inside using permeable/impermeable paper demonstration.

Imagine for a moment a single rain drop falling from the sky.  The drop can either land on a permeable surface (show plain paper) or an impermeable surface (show paper with holes).  This impermeable surface is solid.  Anybody want to take a guess as to which surfaces in the city that are solid? Yeah, we’ll start with a piece of paper, which represents pavement and this empty cup will represent a gutter.  Take a second to make a quick prediction as to what will happen if I pour water on this surface?


**Pour water on impermeable paper gutter and capture it in the empty container**


Now imagine a rain drop falling from the sky.  The drop has landed on a permeable surface has tiny holes like a sponge.  What kind of surfaces in a city are permeable? Predict what will happen when I drop the rainwater across this surface?

**Pour water on permeable paper and capture it in the container**

Ask students to describe where water goes in a rainstorm on the playground’s impermeable surface.

What surface the rain falls on determines whether it will soak in or flow across the land.  Which of these surfaces demonstrated the rainwater flowing over the ground? Which surface demonstrated water soaking into, or filtering, into the soil?

A watershed is an area of land where all of the water that drains off of it, or under it as groundwater, flows into the same river, basin, or ocean! When water soaks into the ground it slows down, spreads, and is filtered by the soil. Water is filtered through layers of soil, sand, and rock, and other natural materials like leaves. When water flows across the ground as it does on pavement it picks up pollution (car oil, fertilizers, detergents, and pesticides) and litter and carries it to a storm drain unfiltered where it eventually ends up in a larger body of water.

This is a great video to show the impact of I/P surfaces and introduced the use of rain gardens as a way to positively impact the health of the watershed.

Vimeo Video: http://vimeo.com/77811268


Introduction to filtration calculation and garden map activities in garden:

Today, we are going to be looking at how your garden is a part of your watershed. Which parts of your garden courtyard would you expect to be permeable?  We’ll have one group mapping out the garden and testing what surfaces are permeable and impermeable. The other group will calculate how much rainwater is being filtered by each raised bed garden and construct a rain gauge to put near the garden beds.


Collecting Your Data in the Garden

What data you need to collect:

How much rain has fallen in inches? We can measure this ourselves using a tool called a rain gauge, or we can search for rainfall data for this area online.

What is the surface area of each raised bed garden? The surface area being just the surface and not the depth (imagine an orange peel vs. the orange itself). Calculate this by Length * Width= SA.

The amount of water a single square foot of permeable surface can filter. 0.623 gallons or 2.36 liters.


Calculate Water Filtration*


For Gallons:

(g) Permeable surface in square ft. x (rainfall amount in inches x 0.623) = approximate gallons of water filtered

For liters:

(g) Permeable surface in square ft. x (rainfall amount in inches x 2.36) = approximate liters of water filtered.

These formulas are based on 1 square foot of permeable surface filtering 0.623 gallons or 2.36 liters of water. These figures have been checked by Nature Conservancy scientists.  Please note however that many factors will affect the amount of water that your garden filters including transpiration by plants, soil type and quality, grade of the land, depth of the soil, etc.  Your resulting data will therefore not be 100% accurate but is designed to be used as a teaching tool.


Mapping Out the Garden

Students will see how an impermeable surface allows water to flow quickly and unfiltered into the watershed, while a permeable surface of soil and vegetation not only slows the water flow but also absorbs and filters much of the water.

Draw a map of your garden, include all raised beds, greenhouse, and any other structures in space.  After you have a map drawn, shade in the impermeable vs. permeable surfaces with colored pencils.

Permeable surfaces — all surfaces that contain soil, garden beds, planters, pots, etc. Impermeable surfaces — concrete or stone surfaces, metal structures, paved areas, etc. Students should also consider what makes these surfaces permeable or impermeable.


Pour water in a select few impermeable areas of your garden.  Draw arrows on your map to indicate which direction the water is flowing.  Consider where this water might go and what that means for the watershed. What could result from water not being filtered before it enters a larger body of water?


Transfer of Learning:  

Present your group’s observations during this activity.  What did you find? Was it surprising? What connection can you draw between the garden and your watershed? In the video we watched earlier the phrase “lots of little things…add up to a big effect.” How does this apply to your garden? What about your community and other gardens in this area?  What about gardens across the country?


Possible Extensions:

Track rainfall and drainage over a longer time period.

Use the “Nature Works Everywhere” page to track your gardens rainfall data.


References: Adapted from “Gardens Filter Rainwater” https://www.natureworkseverywhere.org/#your_garden


Created by Liesel Benecke on May 11th, 2017.




Arts Integration Lesson Plan

Plant Advertisements: Best Plant in the Forest!

Lesson Summary: Students create a poster advertisement for a PNW plant.  They will need to provide evidence for the claim that their designated plant is the best in the forest! The poster will include a botanical sketch, and information from reference materials.   Their advertisement is meant to be eye-catching, informational, and creative. Optional: As part of a end-of-lesson gallery walk, students can vote on which advertisement (not their own) provided the most evidence for the claim that their plant was the best in the forest.


SWBAT build a base of knowledge around an E1T1 plant (i.e. geographic distribution, ethnobotanical uses, physical characteristics)

SWBAT use evidence to support their claim that their plant is the best in the forest.

Age Group: 4th-6th

Venue(s):  Anywhere with flat drawing surfaces (i.e. Labs, Art Studio, LS, in the forest with large clipboards)

Duration: ~ 60 minutes



Formative:  Students will describe their “Leaf in a Bag” plant to their partner at the start. They will make references and use descriptive language to observe their plant through their sense of touch.  Listening to these descriptions will help steer the conversation to identifying plant structures, and distinctions between evergreen and deciduous.

What are some of the cultural uses of plants (i.e. material for buildings, food, medicinal). Make a list to perhaps illustrate the role that plants play in our lives with the students.

Summative: Did their plant advertisement display their knowledge of that particular plant and were they able to do so in a convincing and creative way?


The lesson:

Materials Needed:  

  • Journals
  • Leaf in a Bag
  • Butcher Paper posters
  • Markers (make sure you have plenty of green markers)
  • E1T1 Ethnobotany Cards
  • PNW Plant Field Guides


Use the power of suspense during the Leaf in a Bag lesson. Begin with the “Leaf in a Bag” lesson by having the students partner up and describe their leaf so that their partner can make a simple botanical sketch in their journal. Because they are only using only their sense of touch they will need to use a lot of descriptive language to help paint a picture of their plant for their partner.  These sketches are meant to be imperfect!

There is more to learn about plants than just a name.  Plants can be very useful to humans.  Examples: Have you ever drank tea when you were sick?  Used Aloe Vera on a sun burn? Built anything using wood?  There are many ways that plants can be amazingly useful.

You will be making poster advertisements as to why their plant is the best in the forest.  You will need to convince your friends that your plant is the best, by creating an advertisement that is creative and convincing!


After taking their leaf out of the bag, have them draw the leaf again below their original sketch.  At this point, they should have some familiarity with their plant.  Students will then find their plant amongst the E1T1 cards and do some research on their plant using their E1T1 card and reference books.

They should find the following information and write it on the blank page next to their sketches:

  1.      Name of Plant
  2.      Where can their plant be found? (Geographic Distribution)
  3.      Physical Characteristics (What it looks like)
  4.      Cultural Uses (How it’s used)

Encourage the students to use both their E1T1 card and the PNW plant field guide to gather more information on why their plant is the best!

Next, be sure they have some solid ideas on what advertisements are used for, where advertisements are found, and who their audience is for the advertisement (in this case it’s one another).  Provide examples of advertisements in the discussion if needed — i.e. logos, fonts, descriptive language used in advertisements, etc.

Using a piece of butcher paper, roughly ½ the size of a normal poster board found at craft stores, have them create their plant advertisements.



Ask students to lay out their plant advertisements side by side along the floor and do a gallery walk.  What interesting things did they learn while researching their plants? What is something they learned from someone else’s plant? Was it difficult to find a lot of evidence for why their plant was the best in the forest?Liesel_ArtsIntegrationLesonPlan (1)


Transfer of Learning:

This lesson has the students using claims and evidence, and can continue to help students work with concepts of quality, quantity, and size of assumptions in their evidence.  When you provide evidence to convince someone of something, what kind of evidence is the most convincing? In what ways were they using quality evidence (i.e. using reference materials)?  Discuss some ways in which they can be critical of persuasive arguments when there is a lack of quality evidence.


You can begin or end this lesson with an E1T1 Ethnobotany lesson, or with a lesson on botanical sketching.  There are many connections you can make with the cultural uses of plants and the ways in which this information was passed down between generations.

There are more ways to get to know a plant besides knowing just the name.  Connecting students to their plant with their sense of touch provides an example of beginning an inquiry through noticing and wondering.  You could extend this part of the lesson during the outdoor evening program with having them each carrying a rock during the hike to later pick out at the end of the night.

Why a L.A. teacher’s success story might offer something significant to my teaching disposition.

This week I read an article titled, “No Gold Stars for Excellent L.A. Teaching,” where a few teachers within the L.A. Unified School District were applauded for their effective teaching.  The award for best teaching was contingent upon their ability to be statistically effective teachers.  This sounds a bit uninspiring, until you realize that many of these teachers aren’t teaching by the books.  Zenaida Tan, an L.A. elementary teacher, challenges her math students in creative ways by getting them to practice multiplying large numbers in an activity called “Monster Math.” An effective teacher pushes their students outside their comfort to achieve more than they would left to their own devices!

The classroom can be a great place to get students thinking collectively. What can we achieve with this many people? By making learning a concerted effort students are more likely to participate or help out.  Too often students give up when they struggle independently.  By recognizing the potential in my students to solve bigger “problems” as a class I can facilitate more academically rigorous discussions.  By posing small-sized questions we sometimes forget that we are sending students the message that we don’t trust their ability to achieve higher standards.  I would like to plan for some of my discussion questions to require a higher caliber of critical thinking (perhaps labeling them difficult) for the times that I want to challenge my students to reach beyond their comfort zone.

Take at least two implicit bias tests…

This week we were tasked with taking at least two implicit bias tests found on Harvard’s Project Implicit website.  I chose to do two political tests– one for preference for physical attractiveness/political party, and whether or not I had an “automatic” preference for Thomas Jefferson over Donald Trump.  I was more interested in taking a political test as I was skeptical as to whether or not the information gained from the sex/gender or race implicit bias tests would be valid or useful.   I learned that I have a slight preference for Democrats and that I do not have an automatic preference for Thomas Jefferson.

I don’t discuss politics while working with 10-13 year old students, but I do occasionally catch off-hand comments about news events and negative comments towards our current president.  As someone who is a liberal Democratic I am more likely to allow these off-handed comments to slide if they aren’t posed to the entire group or act as major distraction.  I am already aware that I prefer Democrats, but I understand perpetuating this bias of mine could support students in their own biases.  The political world and news media is heavily biased.  It’s important to continue the search for truth and weigh in all perspectives in my own life, and the same goes for my students.

As a role-model to my students I would like to treat off-hand political comments with an appropriate amount of attention.  I think it’s acceptable for students of their age to form opinions about our government.  The terms “bias” and “quality evidence” both come to mind as good conversation topics.  Without addressing specific people or events, I could potentially engage with said student about the impact of his/her statement on others in our field group. Political issues are debatable and appropriate debating conduct is something I could choose to discuss with my students when the occasion arises!

How can you use the principles of critical thinking in your teaching?

As an instructor within the SOP program I have had many opportunities to facilitate a wide variety of discussions with my students. The depth and use of critical thinking in these discussions often varies, as it is contingent on my ability to elicit their own ideas and prior knowledge. What do you they “think” they understand about a topic?  Using questioning techniques to facilitate discussions is a way for me to promote critical thinking. Their understanding of a topic could be a large concept such as the role of ecosystems or on a specific adaptation an animal has.  As an instructor I can plan my questions so that they are the kinds of questions that generate critical thinking.

It’s common for students to arrive at an answer and feel as though they’ve “got it.” One of the overlooked principles of critical thinking is thoroughness. What evidence do they have that their description is complete? By asking students to build on what they’ve just said to be true, allowing them to follow their train of logic is paramount in the learning process.  Providing evidence for their claims is something I often encourage my students do throughout the week. This process of critical thinking will often surface misconceptions or assumptions that the student might have.  Supporting their claims with evidence will not only stretch the discussion but also encourage the students to examine the topic of discussion in a larger context.

So why does this matter? By using principles of critical thinking in my teaching I will help students peer into the way they think in a process called metacognition.  By asking them to build on ideas, giving them ample time to think, and encouraging them to strengthen their argument they are in fact attempting to understand the way they think. Critical thinking matters because refining one’s own ideas is something that will lead to more thorough understandings. As an instructor I can set intentions in discussions for this kind of thinking.  It’s important to note that having knowledge is key to understanding an idea, but it’s the refinement of one’s thinking that allows us to make connections to the bigger picture.

Why is peer observing a key part of Advanced Instructional Strategies?

As part of our Advanced Instructional Strategies class this quarter we have been randomly paired with a peer from the opposite cohort to observe and be observed by during our School Overnight Program teaching week.   To begin with, this peer-to-peer coaching will help me practice being a part of a professional learning community in which I am exchanging ideas and growing as an instructor with the assistance of a peer-coach.  Furthermore, through my peer observations I will be able to connect to what I am observing and expand upon my own understanding of what effective teaching might look like in my own practice. What are the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that I might gain from this practice?

The most obvious thing that comes to mind when considering what knowledge will be gained from this peer relationship is that I will witness the cross-cutting of knowledge and concepts in new ways. For example,  I recently observed my peer partner deliver a review of ecosystems and how they might relate to their team in a community agreement.  The students were drawing connections between relationships in ecosystems to relationships found in cultural communities.  It’s seeing content through novel activities and drawing inspiration from creative connections such as the one I saw my peer partner use that makes peer observing a key part of AIS this quarter.

What skills if any do I hope to gain from peer observing?  After exchanging Professional Growth Plans, or PGPs, with my partner I feel confident that I will be able to convey to my peer partner the skill areas in which I want to improve.  While reading “Teach Like a Champion,” by Doug Lemov, I have come across several succinct techniques that can be used during the School Overnight Program.  As I have already told my peer partner, I am particularly interested in gathering evidence and/or artifacts of learning throughout the week and using more “Check For Understanding” techniques.  By having a common language, in that we both are reading TLAC at the same time, it will be an opportunity to work together to incorporate these techniques into our practice.

Lastly, what dispositions might I develop during my peer partner relationship? My peer partner and I are both working on the same disposition this quarter– being organized and dependable.  Because we both struggle in this area, it will allow us to support one another in this particular endeavor.  We are both open to suggestions and interested in exchanging ideas before and after our peer observations, which will likely make working on this disposition together more productive.  

We are only just beginning our peer-to-peer coaching this quarter.  I have only observed my peer once, and will be observed for the first time this week.  My current plan is for my peer partner to catch me using CFUs effectively during an introduction. By having a peer to observe and be observed by we will be practicing transparency and vulnerability, which will hopefully allow us to grow as educators.

Attention Please!

This week was an abbreviated one; two of the three schools attending arrived a day later due to President’s Day.  Having only one full field day, I decided to fill the day with as many activities as time (and attention) would allow.  During this week’s practicum we discussed the role of student attention and how as instructors we might adapt our instruction to achieve more attentive moments of learning.  One pro-tip that was given to us during practicum was to design our day in such a way to account for AM and PM energy fluctuations– where students are more likely to be in a focused state in the AM and a social and relaxed, less focused state in the PM.  

My goal for the full field day was to introduce a student-led investigation in the Marsh Loop Forest Wild Zone.  In order to prepare them for this task of making observation and asking questions, I planned on taking them directly to the marsh bird blind for an ecosystem observation.  I anticipated that they would be more focused and receptive immediately after our Friendship gathering.  This was not the case.  They were very socially engaged and energetic (singing aloud musical numbers from Treasure Island).  Knowing that the bird blind ecosystem observation would require stillness and silence, I quickly began to re-evaluate my AM strategies.

Instead of immediately heading to the bird blind, I decided to go ahead with a team challenge that I was saving for the PM.  This team building game requires strategizing, running, and freezing, which helped reached this team’s social and energetic needs while still bringing some focus on the challenge aspect of the activity.

At the bird blind, I was able to do an ecosystem observation for much longer I believe than had I not done some energetic team building beforehand.  For this particular ecosystem observation the students were much more engaged.  I later allowed the students to explore outside of the bird blind where they would be able to hear much more.  I noticed that the observations made in the journals were encouraging them to explore more; they were taking in more of what was happening around them (i.e. honing in on a squirrels behavior, examining a glob of orange fungus).  This week reminded me that the simple AM/PM model is good to keep in mind, but it’s also important to read your students energy before and after certain lessons and to respond accordingly.