Shannon Brackeen has taught in the Moore School District's SEARCH program for gifted and talented students for the past 11 years. She teaches grades 3-6 at Broadmoore and Central Elementary schools. Awhile back a science teacher from Westmoore Junior High offered to give her a hydroponics table along with some other equipment that were not being used at the junior high. The only catch was that she had to find a way to move it. "It took two truck loads to get it all over here," she said.
The equipment sat in a temporary building at Broadmoore until Brackeen came up with a plan for using it—an edible learning lab. She approached a parent who was a member of the Rotary Club to see about getting financial help. At first he drew a blank, but a few months later he contacted her about a grant possibility. The club ended up donating $6,000 to help Brackeen fulfill her vision. She also received a OAITC/Oklahoma Pork Council grant for materials to teach the OAITC lesson "Grow a Living Pantry: Growing Food Without Soil."
Meanwhile, a former student came to her looking for ideas to fulfill his Eagle Scout requirements. "He built this lab table for me," she said, pointing to a large sturdy table in the middle of the room.
The lab is set up in the temporary classroom where she first stored the donated materials. While she was organizing it, getting ready to set up the lab, she found brand new lab coats, never used, still in their bags.
Initially Brackeen approached an outside contractor to help her set up the lab, but she balked at their $2,000 fee. Instead, she and her students set the lab up themselves. She turned assembly of the donated hydroponics table over to her 6th grade students.
"I said, 'I don't know how to put this together. Figure it out,'" she said. "And they did! In the process they discovered they needed an additional pump. It was an amazing problem-solving activity," she said.
Donated hydroponics table put together by Brackeen's sixth grade students
Brackeen is a city girl who grew up in Moore, a suburb of Oklahoma City. She has no ag background. Most of her students are suburban as well. "A few have animals or gardens but none have actual agricultural background," she said.
Brackeen said she decided to incorporate agriculture into her teaching as part of a process that included determining what her students need. "I decided that learning where their food comes from should be a priority," she said.
"It's good for them to get their hands dirty and to be exposed to soil and seed mix," she said.
Her distinctly suburban students approach even potting soil with trepidation, Brackeen said. "Can we touch that?" they want to know.
"It's sad because they have been taught not to touch so many things," she said. "This provides a good tactile experience for them."
Brackeen was first introduced to OAITC through Cheri Long, an OAITC coordinator who formerly taught at Broadmoore. She has attended several OAITC workshops taught by Long and other coordinators. "They always have something awesome to show," she said.
"I'm planning on using more OAITC resources in the future," she said. She is particularly eager to make use of a resource she received at a recent workshop, "Fruits, Nuts and Veggies, Oh My!"
Sturdy lab table built by a former student as an Eagle Scout project.