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Building Bridges in the Garden March 7, 2016

Filed under: Books,Everything Under the Sun,Gardening,Inspiration — explorergarden @ 5:50 pm


Problem Solving Opportunity:

Last year, students in the Cardiff School garden helped build a simple arch trellis out of rebar and hardware cloth to hold up four new passion fruit vines. I had read that it would take 3 years for the vines to produce fruit, so I figured the trellis was all we would need.


Imagine our surprise when the start of the new school year revealed a four fully-established passion fruit vines heavy with fruit! Within months, the entire trellis collapsed inward, completely filling in the tunnel with a mass of vines.

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Seeing an opportunity in the problem, the Cardiff MAC (Mixed Age, gr. 1-3) class , where I teach two afternoons a week, embarked on a 6-week mission to build a new trellis. Since a trellis is a type of bridge – a span helping something or someone cross a divide – we began with a study of bridges in order to understand the best way to build a trellis.


We began by looking at a Powerpoint presentation with pictures of different types of bridges from all over the world. We learned the types of bridges: Beam, Arch and Suspension, and looked at pictures of each type. We learned that a bridge needs to be the right strength to hold up the load, and the right size to span a particular width and allow something else to pass underneath. We learned the basic parts of a bridge: the piers that hold up the deck of a bridge, and the span is the space between piers.

These books were especially helpful. They helped us learn about types of bridges and how they are constructed, gave us experience with  narratives from the lives of people who build bridges,  and gave us ideas for experimenting with bridge building ourselves.


Experimenting with Bridges

We experimented with tension cables to see how they could work to hold up a load in a suspension bridge. We wondered how many children it would take to pull on a rope to hold up the weight of a seated teacher – me!  (It took six children – three on each side, holding on and leaning back.)

Working in groups of two, we made plank bridges out of paper and blocks to hold up pennies. We experimented with making the deck stronger with more pieces of paper and by putting an arch of paper underneath. We also discovered that the closer the piers were, the more pennies the bridge would hold.

Next, we learned how engineers add strength to bridges to make them especially strong, using arches and triangular-shaped struts for strength. We looked at pictures of strong bridges that used struts. Then, working with a partner, we made our own struts out of index card strips and brads.

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Trellis Design

Now that we knew what made bridges strong, we were ready to design a trellis that was:

  • Strong enough to hold up four heavy passion fruit vines;
  • Tall enough for a tall adult to pass underneath;
  • Wide enough for our ramp to fit underneath;
  • Simple to build;
  • Pretty to look at;
  • 84 inches tall x 48 inches wide x 26 inches deep

We began by looking at photos of trellises and noticing what made them appealing and strong. In our writers’ notebooks, each child began by sketching his/her own trellis, with a front view, side view, and top view.


Then, each child shared their design with the other students at their table. They came up with a group design for each table showing front, side and top views.

At a class meeting, each group got up to share their work on the document camera. They explained their design, and what they felt were the most important elements of the design.

Then, working as a class, we took the best parts of each design to make a single class design that included all the necessary elements and proper dimensions for the front, side and top of the trellis.


Mrs. Elliott took the design to Dixieline with a list of supplies, and a very kind man named Gerard helped her choose the wood, and then cut it to the proper sizes.

Building the Trellis — Day One

During garden time, the class divided into three groups. Mrs. Elliott worked with one group while Brodie’s Dad, Mike worked with another group, and garden teacher, Mr. Brink, worked with the last group in the garden. Students learned how to properly use a Phillips head screw driver and a power screw driver to drive wood screws into predrilled holes.IMG_0600 IMG_0598 (2) IMG_0633 IMG_0632 IMG_0631 IMG_0628 IMG_0627 IMG_0624 IMG_0623

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trellis 4




Sunday dawn hike in Local Canyon January 29, 2016

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 5:37 pm

Peace is walking out of your house and into nature.





Antsy Ansel

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 5:33 pm

Advanced Reader Editions of Antsy Ansel are out! I shared one with students and teachers at Cardiff School this week.


Spanish Shawl

Filed under: Animals,Environmental Education,Everything Under the Sun,Inspiration — explorergarden @ 5:32 pm

Is there anything more elegant than this nudibranch, a Spanish Shawl, fluttering in the tide pool at sunset? My photo is not great, but the being before me was magnificent last week in the low tide tide pools north of Scripps Pier.


Ode to My Truck — Haraka, Haraka, Haina Baraka — Hurry, Hurry Hath No Blessing November 9, 2015

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 7:41 am

IMG_0471It is time for my beloved truck, my 1981 VW Rabbit Pickup Truck, Baraka Joe, to be put out to pasture.

We have been together since 1985, when I bought him, used, for $3000, as my very first car. He has carried me across the country from college in Maine to California, and has carried countless loads of compost and mulch, manure and straw bales since. He has carried me slowly, loudly — he is a diesel — and economically (45 miles per gallon!) to every job I had, every class I took, until I had kids. Then he became the second car, the utility vehicle.

As a manual — i.e. stick shift — he has been zippy and fun to drive. As he has aged, he has slowly lost his looks. He is loud and smelly. He has no ceiling, just bare metal, and cracked seats and dashboard. His odometer stopped working at about 250,000 miles. Some days, his speedometer sticks and I have to judge my speed by the cars around me. I have to unhook his battery every time I stop, as there is a short somewhere that will drain the battery. I have kept him alive all these years out of pure love. I LOVE to drive this truck.

Last week, Baraka Joe nearly killed me when the hood latch fell apart on the freeway and the hood slammed up into the windshield. Fortunately, no one was around me, and I was able to safely pull over. It’s time to say good-bye.

I will miss this car so much! I love not buying gas very often. I love carrying wood and greenery to the dump and coming back with compost and mulch. I love shifting into 2nd, 3rd, 4th, listening to the rum-hummmm of the engine, and downshifting to slow down, my seat the perfect distance from the pedals.

Baraka Joe has never been in a hurry. That’s how he acquired his name, from a Swahili Proverb. Having such a long relationship with a car, with an object, is kind of a metaphor for what I value in life: taking care of what I have; keeping friends for a long, long time; going slow and seeing the blessings all around me.

Thank you, Baraka. Asante sana.IMG_2777 IMG_2778


Gophers Be Gone!

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 7:20 am

I let my garden go fallow this summer. The drought and blistering heat made gardening feel like more of a chore and guilt-trap than a joy. But now that the weather is cooling off and rain is coming (!!!) I am tackling the issue I gave up on at the end of last season: gophers. Last season, they eluded my traps, and ate everything in sight. Rather than build raised beds, like many of my neighbors, I am experimenting with protecting my in-ground beds with hardware cloth. I down in the dirt, raised up the sides of my recycled cement-block beds, and laid down the mesh. Next, I’m burying the mesh in 1.5 feet of new and old soil and compost. Then, it’s time to plant and re-install the drip irrigation! Oh, the things we do for our plants!



Barracuda Schooling in a Circle off La Jolla Cove

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 7:12 am

This morning, on my Sunday morning swim at La Jolla Cove, about 1/2 mile from shore, I saw hundreds of fish schooling in a circle. the circle was about 20 feet in diameter, and the fish were running on a  race track about 10 feet wide. The fish themselves were long — 24 ” or so —  and torpedo-shaped, sliver with small, dark stripes on their sides, like bars. I looked them up when I returned, and I believe they were young California Barracuda. Here’s a link to a photo of barracuda schooling in the way that I saw: 



Carolyn Fisher, Illustrator of Weeds Find A Way shares Process October 20, 2015

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 11:39 pm

Carolyn Fisher and I visited a classroom recently and she shared the process of turning my  Weeds Find a Way manuscript into a picture book — from first encounter with the manuscript to thumbnail sketches, then going over the sketches with thin paper and keeping the important lines, then making more detailed renderings of sketches (for 2 years!) then creating the  illustrations on Illustrator, collaging with colors and textures she has created in her studio

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Monarchs visit the school garden

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 11:29 pm

A week ago, I watched a monarch butterfly lay her eggs on the milkweed in a flower box outside a classroom. Today, there are caterpillars, flowers, and seeds popping out of pods. The cycle of life happens very fast this time of year, everything happening at once.

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Nonfiction Picture Book Wednesday: Some beginning read alouds September 16, 2015

Filed under: Everything Under the Sun — explorergarden @ 3:19 pm

Check out these great nonfiction nature picture books for the classroom.


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