The Role of School Gardens in Influencing Attitudes of Students Toward Agriculture, Science, and the Environment while Fostering Academic Achievement in Classrooms

Project Overview

Project Type: Graduate Student
Funds awarded in 2002: $10,000.00
Projected End Date: 12/31/2003
Matching Non-Federal Funds: $20,130.00
Region: North Central
State: Indiana
Graduate Student:
Faculty Advisor:
Kathryn Orvis
Purdue University

Annual Reports


  • Agronomic: corn, soybeans
  • Fruits: apples, berries (other), melons, citrus, berries (strawberries)
  • Vegetables: beans, beets, broccoli, carrots, cucurbits, peas (culinary), peppers, tomatoes
  • Additional Plants: herbs, native plants, ornamentals


  • Education and Training: demonstration, display, extension, participatory research


    Use of the Junior Master Gardener JMG® program in the classroom resulted in increased knowledge and increased positive attitudes in areas of science and the environment. The results imply that the program could be used successfully in the classroom to teach science and environmental education. Because teachers indicated through observations and in post-evaluations that the curriculum was interesting and easy to use, it also implies that the program could be incorporated into areas of current curriculum. One notable observation was that the students had fun doing the program and thus may be more likely to enjoy and stay involved in science and the environment in the future.


    Something very special can be observed in children as they explore and nurture a plant or garden. No matter the previous experience of the learner or the age, a child can always find something new to experiment with and learn. Capturing the interest a child has for something as simple as a growing seed can be magical.

    Plants and the process of growing plants can be used as a focus for any number of educational subjects. Horticulture, plant science, and gardening can be integrated into every subject area of the elementary school curriculum such as science, mathematics, language arts, and social studies. Horticultural practices and gardening in the classroom can also be used by educators to meet state mandated requirements in multiple subject areas (Cavalier, 1987; Gwynn, 1988; Nelson, 1988; Salisbury, 1989; Markle, 1991; Stetson, 1991; Dwight, 1992; Barron, 1993).

    School gardens were something quite common at the beginning of the 19th century, but their occurrence became scarce as time progressed due to various reasons (Shair, 1999; Lyttle, 1998; Fang, 1995; Babcock, 1909). Now, with changes occurring in educational thinking from hands-on and informal learning, to the importance of environmental, science, and nutrition education, school gardening programs are generating more interest.
    While teachers are finding new resources available to develop and use a school garden or outdoor classroom, many are still searching for techniques to introduce and incorporate gardening into existing curriculum. Additional teacher concerns arise when they have to gain approval to teach an extra program based on how it fits within academic standards or within areas of standardized testing (DeMarco, 1997). Teachers may also take it upon themselves to facilitate gardening activities without the ability to integrate it into existing curriculum and an already busy schedule. These situations often lead to frustration and ultimately the demise of school gardening.

    Although there are various books, activity manuals, websites, and programs available for outdoor learning, many of these programs are new and have not been evaluated for their use in the classroom and with the academic standards. According to a study, teachers and administrators are concerned about the educational merit of programs, as well as logistical requirements (DeMarco, 1997).

    The Junior Master Gardener® program is a youth gardening program that can meet some of the educational concerns of teachers and administrators. Developed at Texas A&M University, the program incorporates many areas related to gardening such as science and environmental education, along with providing opportunities for youth to develop responsibility and leadership skills (Welsh, Wettlesey, Seagraves, Hall, & Harlow, 1999). Within the separate leader and student guides, the topics follow eight chapters ranging from horticulture and ecology, to fruits and nuts and vegetables. In each of the eight chapters there are four to six teaching concepts, each a set of group activities and individual activities. At the end of each chapter, groups are encouraged to perform a community service project pertaining to the knowledge presented in the chapter. Currently the JMG program has two levels, One and Two. Level One is arranged for students in grades 3 through 5, and Level Two for grades 6 through 8.

    Because the JMG program was originally developed as an extra-curricular program and there is little documentation or research about its use in the classroom, the overall objective of this research was to pilot test and evaluate the program in a classroom. Through a series of activities specifically chosen for 3rd grade classrooms by the researcher, the JMG program was quantitatively evaluated for science achievement and attitudes towards science, horticulture, and the environment. This pilot study specifically addresses students’ ability to gain knowledge and positive attitudes while using the JMG curriculum in the classroom. The overall evaluation of the program in the classroom was determined with qualitative methods of classroom observations during the program participation and post-program evaluations.

    To meet the needs and concerns of teachers in this study, Indiana State Academic Standards for Math, Language Arts, and Science were matched to all individual and group activities. A Fast Track, a set of suggested activities for the classroom created by Texas A&M University, was revised to meet many different third grade standards and for time requirements. In this pilot study, teachers were given 10 to 12 weeks in the spring semester to complete a series of activities specifically chosen by the researcher (Fast Track) for use in third grade classrooms. A set of lesson plans was also created by the researcher for all the activities in the Fast Track. JMG® curriculum, lesson plans, and supplies were all given to participating Indiana third grade classrooms at a whole day teacher training workshop.

    The objectives were to test knowledge and attitude against the null hypothesis that there is no change in knowledge, and that attitudes of science, the environment and agriculture do not change with implementation of the JMG® program. Secondly we wished to understand through student and teacher evaluations, and observations, how the program fit within the classroom and how the participants reacted to it.

    Project objectives:

    This study set out to answer the following:
    1) Using the Junior Master Gardener program and a knowledge instrument developed for this study, was there a greater level of knowledge post-test scores as compared to pre-test?
    2) Using the Junior Master Gardener program and an attitude instrument developed for this study, were there more positive attitudes towards science, the environment, and agriculture from pre- to post-assessments?
    3) Through the use of post-program evaluations, how did the teachers and students evaluate the Junior Master Gardener program and its effect in the classroom?
    4) What did observational data reveal about the teachers' and students' reactions to and opinions about the program?

    These objectives were tested against the null hypothesis that there was no change in science achievement, and that the students’ attitudes of science, the environment and agriculture did not change with participation in the JMG® program.

    Ho: The use of the JMG program in third grade classrooms will have no effect upon student knowledge or attitudes towards science, the environment, or horticulture.

    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.