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New Mexico State University

New Mexico State University

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Garden Web Site Serves Students Fun Facts about Food, Plants

LAS CRUCES -- New Mexico kids can learn about pizza, chocolate and potatoes in an electronic history class, starting this week. They can spend time digging up plants, either outdoors or indoors, on their computers. They also can become electronic pen pals with Virginia students.

These interesting connections are being made on the World Wide Web through a partnership with the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of Natural History, New Mexico State University and the Las Cruces Public Schools. The two-year project is funded by the National Science Foundation and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

"This project is an exciting way to combine the dirt-under-your-fingernails exploration that kids love with the computers they also enjoy," said Jeanne Gleason, a professor with NMSU's agricultural communications department in the College of Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences .

NMSU first worked with the Smithsonian in 1992 on a "Seeds of Change" educational video called "Green Gold." It was part of a larger exhibit that marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus' arrival in the New World.

"We felt there was more of the story to be told," said Carmen Gonzales, an associate professor with NMSU's College of Education. "We wanted to enhance the exhibit by adding more of the richness of cultures here in the Southwest -- our people, plants, animals and environment."

Through the web, the project will put information from world-class museums at the fingertips of students in rural New Mexico, said Cissy Anklam, director of the Smithsonian's Natural Partners project.

As part of the project, NMSU is designing and maintaining several web pages. The first is packed with information about plants, foods and their origins.

"This particular web site is designed to make learning fun for the kids," Gleason said. "For example, can you imagine pizza without tomatoes? Well, there were no tomatoes in Italy before the Old and New Worlds collided."

As web explorers also will learn, the Dutch had no chocolate, and the Irish had no potatoes until they received them from the Americas.

Students will be able to take their history lessons outdoors for some hands-on science. Maybe they'll start a pizza garden with tomatoes and herbs. Or they may choose to plant flowers that will attract butterflies or a "touching" garden with interesting textures.

"It gives students an opportunity to experience science as a hands-on activity," said Norm Lownds, associate professor of agronomy and horticulture at NMSU. "It can be generated by their own questions, things they have seen in their garden or wonder about. Really, that's where science starts -- by asking questions."

Lownds has used the gardening approach successfully with groups ranging from pre-schoolers to teachers.

Although the materials will be used initially with cooperating classes in Las Cruces and Arlington, Virginia, the web site will be accessible for use internationally, starting Nov. 12, Gleason said. It can be found at: