Service Learning > Example Service Learning Projects > A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden

A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden

Rhonda Spidell
Albuquerque Academy
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This activity has benefited from input from faculty educators beyond the author through a review and suggestion process. This review took place as a part of a faculty professional development workshop where groups of faculty reviewed each others' activities and offered feedback and ideas for improvements. To learn more about the process On the Cutting Edge uses for activity review, see

This page first made public: Mar 19, 2010


A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden Project combines Earth Systems geoscience curriculum with designing and developing a sustainable Japanese garden. The garden uses water harvested from the roof of the library in conjunction with solar powered pumps. The garden has a historical significance as it is modeled after the gardens created during the Japanese American interment camps.

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The audience for this project will be the 8th grade Earth Systems science students at Albuquerque Academy. The community (faculty, staff, students, parents and alums) will be involved in the ongoing project to create a sustainable SW Japanese Garden. Another component of the audience will be the honoring of the Japanese/Americans who were interned during World War II.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Skills include:

How the activity is situated in the course

The Sustainable SW Japanese Garden project is ongoing and includes a comprehensive community service component. During the fall semester activities will be linked to plate tectonics and the rock cycle. In the spring, the work in the garden will be linked to projects and activities around the water cycle, plant and pond ecology, as well as solar activities.

Fall Semester:

Spring Semester:


Content/concepts goals for this activity

The goals for the project include:

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden is service learning project with design, implementation and problem-solving components. The linked classroom activities and labs will serve as conceptual development and help students master the skills needed to solve solar power and irrigation challenges. The overall goal is to achieve a 100% sustainable garden that will serve as a demonstration for students and adults to enjoy over the years.

Other skills goals for this activity

Historical perspective: understanding the implications of interning the Japanese/Americans during World War II.

Description of the activity/assignment

Project Description (Microsoft Word 14kB Jan26 10)

Water collection and usage in the Sustainable SW Japanese Garden

The Albuquerque Water Authority has several activities on their web site to help with making a personal water audit, selecting xeriscape plants, designing garden areas as well as forms for rebates. We used the ABQ Water Authority design format to calculate which plants to install. Students start with a personal water audit and then move to the design of the garden.

Personal water audit

Techniques to consevere water outdoors

Planning Xeriscape - students create their own personal garden and we transfer the concepts to the Japanese Garden. We are looking at Japanese design elements with a SW flare and thereby modeling what the internees did when they were limited to the surrounding rock, vegetation and water collection.

Calculating roof area using a Google satellite image

We use a measurable square on the pathway for the scale and then we calculate the square feet of the roof area. A transparency is used to overlay the image and calculate the water harvest.

Calculating the capacity of the 1500 gallon cistern in terms of water needed per plant

Students experiment with buckets to see ascertain the best collection site. The water is measured after rainfalls and compared to the weather data collected by the NOAA.

Determining whether students have met the goals

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

A Sustainable Southwest Japanese Garden (PowerPoint 2.4MB Feb2 10) - PowerPoint presentation from the Service Learning Workshop

Website using the Japanese garden as a model for education outside of the classroom.

My previous students who worked on the garden during their community service project saw potential of using gardening to make a broader impact. The were selected to be a part of a sustainable blogosphere called Education Outside the Classroom. You'll see some of the images of the Japanese Garden project.

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