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Baylor Students and Faculty Create Outdoor Learning Space at Local Elementary [05/23/2019]


Dr. Stephanie Boddie (right) celebrates the dedication of the greenhouse at Connally Elementary with principal Eric Cantu (center) and James Bates (left) of the Baylor School of Engineering and Computer Science.

Connally Elementary School is celebrating a new greenhouse and outdoor learning environment, thanks to the work of Baylor assistant professor Dr. Stephanie Boddie and graduate students from the Baylor School of Education, Truett Seminary and the School of Engineering and Computer Science. Boddie holds joint faculty appointments in the School of Education, Truett Seminary and the School of Social Work.

The greenhouse project has spanned the entire academic year and began in the fall when Boddie taught the course “Education from a Gardener’s Perspective” to graduate education and seminary students. The first day of class was a literal walk through a garden. Then the class planned the space; for their midterm grade, the class collaborated to write a grant proposal. One of 900 applications submitted to the Whole Kids Foundation, the project received $2,000 to build the self-sufficient geodesic dome and support it with life-science lesson plans. Boddie’s fall students wrote the curriculum.


Dr. Stephanie Boddie

Boddie’s next step was connecting with Dr. Anne Spence, clinical associate professor in the School of Engineering and Computer Science. Every engineering student is required to take the course Senior Design, in which seniors must choose and complete a capstone design project. Boddie showcased the greenhouse concept as one of the twenty-two options for seniors to choose from, attracting a handful of passionate students who designed and built the greenhouse during the spring semester.

Boddie has an unconventional teaching philosophy based in experiential learning that motivates students to actively use their skills and make real world applications. Boddie’s course focuses on natural growth and how things were meant to grow versus growing with the use of man-made designs. Boddie said, “In the [fall] course, we spend a lot of time learning how to be attentive and present and actually spent the first day of the class walking through a garden. A lot of garden-based learning is built on how we teach in the outdoors and how we bring the outdoors to kids to help them learn.”

Tori Davis, a School of Education doctoral candidate in Curriculum and Teaching, was a student in Boddie’s experimental fall class. She helped write the grant and create the unit lesson plans that implement the use of the greenhouse for Connally Elementary School teachers.

“We made the lesson plans so they didn’t feel burdened to create the curriculum while also serving as an encouragement to use the garden for classroom activities,” Davis said. “If a teacher is trying to make a project like this all on their own, it will be overwhelming. Using institutional support to connect with the community makes these types of projects even more impactful.”

Inside the greenhouse are heat lamps to keep the plants warm during the winter and eight black water-filled barrels for the warmer months. When the sun heats the barrels, energy will be dissipated into the greenhouse and heat the space. There are two small windows in the back of the structure with temperature control hinges with air capsules inside them so when the greenhouse is too hot, the hinges will open the windows, allowing airflow. Along the sides are the solar panels that will power everything inside.

Teresa Kelm, a fourth-grade teacher at Connally Elementary School is excited to see another addition to the eco-friendly presence that has developed on the school’s three grassy acres of opportunity. Where an old homestead used to be, there are now several vegetable gardens, a herb spiral, and a shed of gardening tools for student learning. She plans on using the Baylor-created unit lesson plans next fall to introduce lifecycles, the difference between living and non-living things, and environmental factors. She said that every content area can use the greenhouse for classroom purposes. Students can write about the visual experience in their English class, measure the shapes that make up the dome in their math class or consider how people provided food centuries ago in Social Studies.

Boddie said, “I wanted to provide a class that wasn’t only focused on how to give students different learning experience, but also how can we give teachers a different way of thinking about teaching and learning. They might be able to transform their own experience and engage students, colleagues, parents, and the community in different ways because they are seeing and acting as part of a larger ecosystem.”

Boddie recently presented a lecture at Gansu Agricultural University in Lanzhou, China, about this project and the “Education from a Gardener’s Perspective” course and engineering class that resulted in the greenhouse at Connally Elementary.

Thursday, May 23, at 5:30 p.m., Connally Elementary will host a showcase of the greenhouse and outdoor learning environment for student families and guests.

By Cameron Bocanegra

Baylor students work on the greenhouse at Connally Elementary

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For more than 100 years Baylor educators have carried the mission and practices of the School of Education to classrooms and beyond as teachers, superintendents, psychologists, health education professionals, academics/scholars and more. With more than 50 full-time faculty members, the school’s growing research portfolio complements its long-standing commitment to excellence in teaching and student mentoring. Baylor’s undergraduate program in teacher education has earned national distinction for innovative partnerships with local schools that provide future teachers deep clinical preparation, while graduate programs culminating in both the Ed.D. and Ph.D. prepare outstanding leaders, teachers and clinicians through an intentional blend of theory and practice.

Baylor University is a private Christian University and a nationally ranked research institution. The University provides a vibrant campus community for more than 16,000 students by blending interdisciplinary research with an international reputation for educational excellence and a faculty commitment to teaching and scholarship. Chartered in 1845 by the Republic of Texas through the efforts of Baptist pioneers, Baylor is the oldest continually operating University in Texas. Located in Waco, Baylor welcomes students from all 50 states and more than 80 countries to study a broad range of degrees among its 12 nationally recognized academic divisions.

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