The Quill greenhouse project in Hartford

Tending the plants Tending plants in the greenhouse Writing at the one Apple II computer Writing at the one Apple II computer

The images here are from 25-year-old 35 mm slides, so they’re not very clear, but the story is still relevant.

In 1982-84 I did some work with the Mary Hooker elementary school in Hartford, CT. We had developed a computer program called Quill, which allowed children to write and send email. Our test classroom at the school was taught by Jim Aldridge, who learned a week before classes started that he was to teach 6th, not 3rd, grade, was to work with the local garden club on a greenhouse project, and was to be a test site for Quill.

Jim’s class had 35 students, all from Puerto Rican, Cuban, and African-American backgrounds. There was a high level of transiency. Some students spent large portions of the winter in Puerto Rico; others simply didn’t come to school. The school was under-resourced and had policies such as requiring students to specify in advance how many sheets of toilet paper they needed for a bathroom trip, since students weren’t trusted with full paper rolls.

As a fairly new teacher, Jim was naturally a bit concerned. We worked out a way to use the Quill Planner feature for students to do lab reports on the plants in the greenhouse. This at least made the innovations more manageable. As things settled down, we found that the greenhouse became a focal point for learning. Several students who were on the verge of dropping out stayed in the class so they could work with the greenhouse and the computer. Some of this work is described in Electronic Quills: A Situated Evaluation of Using Computers for Writing in Classrooms (B. C. Bruce & A. Rubin; pub: Erlbaum, 1993).

It’s exciting to see how far we’ve come with similar projects today, such as Urban Agriculture in the Context of Social Ecology at the Pedro Albizu Campos High School in Chicago, which exemplifies the idea of the school as social center.

Seed packets and Planner notes
Seed packets and Planner notes

2 thoughts on “The Quill greenhouse project in Hartford

  1. Last week, Pedro Albizu Campos students planted flowers in the flag containers along Division Street in Humboldt Park. They started out by amending the soil, adding peat moss, vermiculite, and water absorbing polymers (to improve the moisture retention of the soil).

    The students really relished in this process, getting their hands in the soil, mixing things up. Some students reflected on past experiences, how the soil made them think of the beach and gardening with their grandmother.

    I was amazed at how relaxed the students were as they worked the soil. They didn’t talk while they mixed the soil. They examined it, picked it up, and let it slowly pour out of their hands as they watched it form small mounds in the container. I wondered what they were thinking about, if anything. It was as if they were becoming one with the earth, even though their earth consisted of a 3′ x 3′ container in the middle of the city.

    As a student teacher, I learned many things, but what stands out most is that it doesn’t take much soil to start to grow roots.


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