Curious Cow Stomachs

Pete sitting and laughing handing out sample_Montana_Ms_0274

I think curiosity should be a common learning standard, since so much of what I do as a FoodCorps service member is all about inspiring curiosity in kids. In the school garden, I ask students to take five minutes at the beginning of each lesson to explore the garden and observe any changes they discover. In the cafeteria, I encourage students to try kale salad by describing the taste and texture of kale and dried cranberries. In the classroom, I challenge students to think about the raw, original materials that make up different objects in their everyday lives.

“My clothes used to be a plant, right?”
“My dad’s jacket is a cow skin!”
“Ice cream comes from cows!”
“My book is made from trees!”

Throughout the month of February, I use the fourth “Farmer In The Classroom” lesson, developed by Garden City Harvest, to teach second graders about cows and grass. Students pretend to be the four chambers in a cow’s stomach and they get a healthy snack – a slice of Montzarella, a Lifeline Dairy local cheese.

I recently heard a speaker at a conference discuss the meaning of education as “drawing out talent” from students instead of “pushing things into” students’ minds. Waded Cruzado, the president of Montana State University, spoke of the Latin root of education, educe, which means to “lead out.” I wholeheartedly agree with this interpretation of education and I believe I strive for this type of learning in the classes I teach. It is somewhat more difficult to draw out ideas and abilities in 2nd graders than in college students, but I believe that a student of any age can be encouraged to think differently about the world.

So, in my lessons, I attempt to draw out curiosity and inquiry. It is my style of teaching as well; some teachers tell me I just need to tell students that cow skin is turned into leather for clothing instead of spending five minutes collecting answers to the question, “What do cows provide humans?” I believe that when students are pushed to find answers within their own experience, they continue to inquire into and reflect upon their own experience even after the lesson is over. I may be teaching 2nd graders about where we get milk, beef, manure, and leather but I also hope I am drawing out empathy for other beings and an understanding of the energy and work it takes to make these everyday things. When I draw the life cycle of grass and cows on the whiteboard I hope I am also drawing out students’ connections to nature.

I think it is important for second graders to know that bananas grow in very warm places, thousands of miles away from Montana. I also think it is important that they can grow apples in their backyard. But, my measure of a good lesson these days is whether it was able to inspire some curiosity in students. I believe that allowing students to hold a ziplock bag of cow manure and think about its potential to help grow more grass for cows to eat can lead to a love of learning and an openness to diverse perspectives of life. I value the moments when students can exercise their curiosity and think about the world in a different way.