Last week, some classes solved mathematical equations or conjugated verbs. About two dozen students in the Art of Horticulture, however, spent the afternoon of Sept. 8 creating a giant piece of lawn furniture. They shoveled, shaped and sodded a truck-sized sod sofa in the pond area of the F.R. Newman Arboretum.
There are many reasons to undertake such a project, said Marcia Eames-Sheavly, senior extension associate and lecturer in Cornell's Department of Horticulture, who teaches the course. She named a few of them, detailed in the students' journals they maintain for the class: "the joy of moving away from textbooks; how this is a model for integrating different subjects into one unique project; the value of effective team work; the excitement of learning something tangible and hands-on that can be told to others; a break from the 'misery' of academia; and how learning something like building a sod sofa teaches basic horticultural concepts." She added, "The students really appreciated getting outdoors, and perhaps most importantly, connecting with one another."
"The turf grass couch not only emphasizes art, but it can also fit into a curriculum around plant science, horticulture, business management (sod vs. seed, etc.), insect pest management (e.g., grubs), and numerous other subjects," said Kristin Frangione, a graduate student in agriculture education. "Since agriculture education is about real-life problem solving, I really think this type of activity would benefit numerous students. … I think high school students would really appreciate breaking away from textbooks and getting to use their creativity in the construction of a project like this."
Added Mike Rodriguez '11, a student in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences: "Not only did each of us learn an art form that we were previously unexposed to, we had an incredible time doing it. While tradition at Cornell involves evaluation by way of paper and pen and forgettable multiple choice tests, this class allowed each of us to learn not only about the art of horticulture but also about ourselves in an experience I have yet to stop telling my friends and family about. Although I previously worried about our inexperience with the turf world, by the end of the day, our couch looked as though we were experts in the field (no pun intended)."
"The students created something unique, functional and of very high quality," said Kevin Moss, community outreach coordinator at the Cornell Plantations. "We hope that visitors of all ages will come to the arboretum to try the sofa out, and sit and enjoy the view for a while."
Turf specialist Frank Rossi and Cornell Plantations staff assisted with the project.