I am a biology teacher from Northern Ireland and I have been working at Nazarbayev Intellectual School, Aktobe in western Kazakhstan for over two years. Last summer as part of an ecology project I decided to help develop the vegetable plot and build a pond. The original idea came from discussions with my team teachers, Sholpan Karamurzina, Laura Ayanasova. We wanted to get the students involved in investigating pond species, water quality, horticulture and recycling. We also wanted to get the students out of the classroom and into the fresh air. Kazakhstan has quite a harsh climate, minus 40 in the winter, with howling winds and plus 40 in the summer. However May and June are very pleasant months so ‘we set to work’.
The first thing to organize was the pond. At the beginning of May Laura and the students designed the pond, complete with a waterfall. Next was the vegetable plot. Sholpan was the driving force behind this and she and the students planned the plot with precision.
The pond provided a great opportunity for the students to interact with each other and study the wildlife. The sights and sounds of the waterfall were enjoyed by the whole campus, in the sunshine, after a very long winter. We also had a very successful crop of vegetables and these were given to the canteen, so that the students could taste ‘the fruits of their labour’, and eat some nutritious food full of vitamins.
The skills and also health benefits the students gained from the ecology project:
- Planning: The students helped design the pond and the vegetable plot.
- Horticulture: The students planted tomatoes, potatoes, pumpkin, squash, beetroot, peppers, carrots, watermelon and courgettes.
- Ecology: We studied the local habitat and the water quality of the pond.
- Recycling: The students planted flowers and researched materials that they could use as seats for the pond. They used an old tree trunk and boulders as benches to sit on. The students also made ‘bird scarers’ from recycled materials.
- Experimentation: Growing British tomatoes, ‘Ailsa Craig’ and courgettes. A small part of the vegetable plot was set aside for the British plants. Kazakhstan is in the steppe and the British plants were getting battered by the wind on a daily basis, so the students came up with ways to shelter the plants. They protected the plants with recycled materials such as car tyres, shoe boxes and cardboard boxes. This very quickly became known as ‘skid row’
- Problem solving: At this stage the Kazakh plants in the main part of the vegetable plot had taken root and were growing at a phenomenal rate, undeterred by the wind. So the students decided to plant some of the British plants in with the Kazakh plants and to my relief they thrived.
- Teamwork: Working together for a common goal.
- Sharing: The vegetables were given to the canteen, so that the other students could enjoy the produce.
- Health benefits: Natural surroundings assist cognitive functions in children and can enhance psychological wellbeing.
This year we intend to continue our ecology project and I will help the students plant the British plants in amongst the hardy Kazakh plants.
This project has now evolved into more than an ecology project. It has taught students about integration and that different cultures can live in harmony alongside each other.
That was one lesson I didn’t think I would learn from growing tomatoes.
The organizers of the project: Sholpan Karamurzina, Laura Ayanasova and Joanne Brown