Diverse group of students tend plants in a greenhouse

Learning gardens promote environmental knowledge

People who grew up in the 90s will remember “Captain Planet,” the half-hour animated TV show whose titular hero and his band of Planeteers thwarted villains more interested in polluting the environment than taking over the world.

His catchphrase – “The power is yours!” – encouraged viewers to take a proactive approach to protecting Earth’s resources, and this same spirit lives on through the Atlanta-based Captain Planet Foundation, which helps schools implement hands-on environmental stewardship projects.

Carmen Carrion, a Dean’s Doctoral Fellow in the College of Education & Human Development’s Department of Educational Psychology, Special Education, and Communication Disorders, has been working with the foundation to conduct research on the “learning gardens” they’ve established at several Atlanta Public Schools sites.

These gardens are initially planted on the school grounds and tended by a master gardener, but teachers and parents are slowly given the reigns, encouraging a sense of community around the gardens and allowing them to teach science lessons in an interactive way.

“It’s about looking at project-based learning involving school gardens and how they can help children have better environmental stewardship,” she said.

Carrion’s dissertation will incorporate the data she’s collecting in these learning gardens, highlighting how students learn science and how they gravitate toward more sophisticated scientific thinking.

“I think it’s important to help students understand that you don’t have to have this aura of being a scientist to think like a scientist — it’s a natural thing we can all do,” Carrion explained. “I’m hoping that these learning gardens can be this beautiful catalyst that can help students figure out more quickly what it is to think like a scientist.”

“Last year, I attended a workshop on mentoring that emphasized empowering graduate students to ‘do it on their own terms,’ and that really stuck with me. It’s something I try to think about as I’m advising graduates in their own research. It’s about getting people to the point where by the end of graduate school, they’re comfortable in their own niche and doing their own research.” -Maggie Renken, Carmen’s faculty advisor, on her mentoring style