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Garden with Insight
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Garden with Insight v1.0 Help: Introduction for teachers and students

Welcome to the Garden with Insight garden simulator. The Garden with Insight program enables users twelve and up to learn science informally while growing and harvesting plants in a simulated garden. The study of gardening integrates botany, earth science, environmental issues, chemistry and mathematics. Since over half of the households in America have a garden, gardening also bridges the gap between science and a student's personal experiences. Garden with Insight makes an effective complement to hands-on gardening in the classroom. Garden with Insight helps students understand the garden as a system. It also provides an example of how scientists model complex systems. Nationwide, science education is moving towards this type of learner-directed exploration of systems.

USDA models

Garden with Insight uses models of weather, soil, and plant growth based on research by the USDA Agricultural Research Service. It includes information on over 1000 climates and over 700 soil types in the United States. Users can also design their own plants, soils, and climates.

Three levels

The Garden with Insight microworld has three levels.

The first level is a concrete representation of the garden in the familiar terms of garden tools, three-dimensional plants, and soil surfaces. The tools look and act similar to their real-world counterparts. Students can use their prior knowledge of gardening to succeed in growing plants at this level.

Raising plants can be made more or less difficult by changing various simulation options such as automatic fertilizing or ignoring plant water stress. When growing plants becomes more difficult, students must take into account factors across multiple areas of science.

The challenge of growing plants under non-optimal conditions intrinsically motivates students to work with the second level of the simulation, shown in the browser. Using the browser, students can see the relation between numbers on the numbers side and pictorial representations of data on the pictures side. Students gain a more precise understanding of what is going on in the simulation. Groups help to manage the complexity of the over 800 aspects in the simulation (such as rainfall, pH, soil nitrogen, surface slope, and day length).

At the second level, students begin to understand the notion of measurement, including the use of units and normal ranges. Soil, plants, and weather have many measurable quantities which vary over time. Students can use measurements of these quantities to make decisions. For example, a student can find out exactly how much water is in the soil and decide to add some; or find out how much a plant weighs and decide to harvest it; or find out how hot it is today and decide whether or not to plant a seed. Students can make measurements and changes that would be impractical, too expensive, or even impossible in a real garden.

Once students understand the concept of measurement and change over time, they are ready to move to the third level of the simulation, graphing measurements over time. Through graphing, students gain an understanding of relationships between variables over time. This most abstract level enables students to gain insight into the garden as an organized system of interacting parts. Students at this level can begin to build their own models of the garden outside the program and compare them to the program's models. For example, students could build a model of how day length varies over the year and how is it affected by latitude.

How teachers can use it

Teachers can work with this program in several ways. It can be used as an open-ended microworld to let students explore science and gardening at their own pace. It can be used to conduct virtual experiments to illustrate key scientific concepts like the influence of temperature on photosynthesis. Teachers can also pose practical problems by setting up simulation scenarios and challenging teams of students to seek creative solutions. For example, students could investigate the best way to reduce soil erosion on local soils.

Also see the programmer's guide for ideas on using Garden with Insight™ with its source code in science education. And see the Introduction for parents and kids.

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Updated: May 4, 1998. Questions/comments on site to
Copyright © 1998 Paul D. Fernhout & Cynthia F. Kurtz.