An Exploratory Study of the Relationships Among Middle School Students' Food and Garden Experiences and Their Engagement and Motivation

Amonté L. Martin, Purdue University


The purpose of teaching in the traditional educational system, regardless of subject, or grade level, is for teachers to promote learning, and to develop learners and information seekers. Traditionally, within the public educational system, students grapple with the extraction of meaning from the content taught, and rarely detect the broader relevancy of the material. This dissonance results in students’ low interest in the subject material, poor academic achievement, minimal classroom participation and engagement, and low motivation to learn. School gardens and garden-based learning activities can be used to enhance students’ indirect academic outcomes, specifically, students’ intrinsic motivation to learn, engagement via classroom participation, and school engagement by making students’ educational experiences meaningful through the contextualization of their course content. The degree to which learning is promoted, and learners are developed, is determined by how teachers structure their classroom environment in an effort to orchestrate the acquisition of course content knowledge. The purpose of this study was to explore and describe the relationships among middle school students’ food and garden experiences and their school engagement, future educational aspirations, activity motivation, and activity engagement. The population for this study was middle school students (N = 120) enrolled in a course that offered a garden-based learning component at their schools. Quantitative data was collected at the end of the school year using the Food and Garden Questionnaire which included retrospective pretest and posttest items. Descriptive statistics including means, standard deviations, frequencies, Pearson’s correlation coefficients, and Wilcoxon nonparametric signed-rank tests were used to analyze the data. There were four conclusions for this study. First, middle school students who participated in food and garden activities were motivated and engaged while participating in those activities. Second, middle school students reported higher levels of school engagement after participating in food and garden activities. Third, middle school students reported higher levels of future educational aspirations after participating in food and garden activities. Fourth, there were positive and significant relationships among students’ food and garden activity motivation, food and garden activity engagement, school engagement, and future educational aspirations. Future directions for research are provided as well as implications for the theory, research and practice.




Esters, Purdue University.

Subject Area

Environmental education|Agricultural education

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