About Learning Gardens

More information coming soon!

Science in the Learning Gardens


Hundreds of gardens across the country are underutilized as contexts for active academic engagement in middle grades. School gardens provide important cultural milieus while addressing environmental and food issues. Equally significant, they are sites for learning school subjects.

The Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) project brings underrepresented middle-school youth from Portland Public Schools (PPS) into underused school gardens at a critical time in their intellectual development, to broaden the factors that support their interest and motivation in STEM learning.

This website serves both as an overview of research funded by the National Science Foundation (NSF) and as a web portal for teachers, curriculum coordinators and other educators with an interest in the Science in the Learning Gardens (SciLG) curriculum. For an overview of our work, please download our flyer (currently available in four languages; see below). For more information on specific aspects of this project, please visit the links further down on the page.

SciLG Flyer


Click here to learn more about the Science in the Learning Gardens research initiative, funded by the National Science Foundation. This page documents the scope of our project and includes papers, posters, and conference presentations, as well as our research instruments.


Click here to learn more about the Science in the Learning Gardens curriculum. Building your own learning gardens project? Sign up here to view and download our teaching resources.


Click here to learn more about Dr. Dilafruz Williams and Jonathan Brown’s 2011 book on garden education, Learning Gardens and Sustainability Education.

Our Research


Williams, D.R. & Brown, J.D. (2010). Living soil and composting: Life’s lessons in the Learning Gardens. Clearing Magazine, 2010 Compendium Issue: 40-42. [PDF]

Skinner, E. A., Chi, U., & the Learning-Gardens Educational Assessment Group (2012). Intrinsic motivation and engagement as “active ingredients” in garden-based education: Examining models and measures derived from self-determination theory. Journal of Environmental Education, 43(1),16-36. [PDF]

Kelley, S. & Williams, D.R. (2014). Integrating STEM and sustainability through Learning Gardens. Clearing Magazine. [PDF]


The Pedagogy of Learning Gardens

Learning Gardens Book

Williams, D.R. & Brown, J. D. (2012). Learning Gardens and Sustainability Education: Bringing Life to Schools and Schools to Life. New York, NY: Routledge.

Offering a fresh approach to bringing life to schools and schools to life, this book goes beyond touting the benefits of learning gardens to survey them as a whole-systems design solution with potential to address myriad interrelated social, ecological, and educational issues.  The theoretical and conceptual framework presented creatively places soil at the center of the discourse on sustainability education and learning garden design and pedagogy. Seven elements and attributes of living soil and learning gardens are presented as a guide for sustainability education:  cultivating a sense of place; fostering curiosity and wonder; discovering rhythm and scale; valuing biocultural diversity;  embracing practical experience ; nurturing interconnectedness. The living soil of learning gardens forms the basis of a new metaphoric language serving to contest dominant mechanistic metaphors presently influencing educational discourse.  Student voices and examples from urban schools provide practical understanding of how bringing life to schools can indeed bring schools to life.

Buy the book from Amazon, Powell’s, or direct from the publisher. Excerpts coming soon!

Professional Development

Current Courses

Spring 2018

Garden Education Professional Learning Community

Designed for classroom teachers to expand knowledge of, and experience in, using school gardens as outdoor classrooms. Schools gardens provide hands-on, experiential learning opportunities for students that enhance learning in core subjects including math, science, language arts, social studies, and art. This cohort of teachers will inspire, support, and hold each other accountable while they each work to develop and implement standards-based lessons and units that integrate garden education into their curriculum.

Past Courses

ELP 510: Connect-to-Science through Learning Gardens

Educators from various contexts and in various stages of professional development (in-service and pre-service teachers, extended-day teachers, informal science educators, etc.) work together to learn theory and best-practices of science and sustainability education, then put this understanding into practice by designing curriculum that utilizes learning gardens (at schools and/or community sites) as a rich context for STEM learning and teaching. Participants will specifically focus on developing standards and inquiry-based curriculum that integrates content, formative assessments, and experiential learning activities.

ELP 510: Theory-to-Practice in School Gardens

Educators from various contexts and in various stages of professional development (in-service teachers, pre-service teachers, extended-day/SUN school teachers, informal science educators, etc.) will join forces to put research-based science education into practice. Each day, educators will work with K-8 students at one of four partnering SUN schools in outer SE Portland (Lane, Kelly, Lent, or Woodmere), collaboratively enacting a co-designed STEM program at the school’s garden. The garden-based STEM program will provide teachers and community-based educators with the opportunity to implement a standards and place-based curriculum that incorporates the effective use of formative assessments, and hands-on, inquiry-based activities with elementary students, all in the fun and engaging context of a summer garden camp. Utilizing the garden as a context for teaching and learning, this summer program will provide the foundation for aligning learning and enrichment activities across the regular school day and the extended-SUN school program.