“The Pizza Garden”

“The Pizza Garden”

“When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore” — and your students will love this garden! Set your students singing and learning about the history of this international dish. We will harvest tomatoes, garlic, onions, basil and oregano. The kids will make dough from scratch. We we’ll take a walking trip to a local pizzeria for a lesson from a professional pizza tosser, learn how to raise a population of yeast; and never think about bread the same way again! In 1905, in Little Italy, Manhattan, the price for an entire pizza pie was five cents, but since many people couldn’t afford the cost of a whole pie, they could instead say how much they could pay and they were given a slice correspondingly. We’ll learn about pizza inflation, pizza fractions, the time-line of pizza, and design our own delectable menu.

Spring Lessons

Introduction to Spring Planting:

Have you ever planted something in the gardens at Atkinson? What did you plant? We are going to plant a garden soon. We will plant starts. What is a start? Why might we plant a start instead of a seed? What do you think will be the needs of these starts over the summer (sun, water, weeding)? What do you think will be the needs of these plants over the summer (sun, water, weeding)? How will this happen (discuss irrigation system, volunteers)? What are some of the problems that our plants might encounter (pests, drought) over the summer?

Introduction to the Legacy Idea and the Theme:

The garden we are going to plant will have a theme. In the fall, you will have moved on to another class, so you won’t harvest these plants. This garden will provide a gift to your teacher’s incoming fall class. It will be a surprise for them. Likely, someone will plant a surprise garden for your class to harvest in the fall, too. The garden we plant will have the theme of … what will it be? Put the pizza CD on and listen to it for a moment. What does this music make you think of? Dramatically open the mystery envelope, pull out the slip of paper and read the theme out loud (or have a student or the teacher read it.) The theme is “Pizza Garden.”

Discussion of the Pizza Garden Theme:

What do you think we might plant for this garden? Let’s look at our starts and recipes. What is an herb? Can you think of other herbs used in cooking? Do you like pizza? What do you like on your pizza? Discuss the history of pizza.


Half the class should go out to the garden and plant half the starts. They should record on a map of the garden where they have planted the various seeds and starts. Meanwhile, the other half of the class should listen to a story about pizza, pinch off, smell and taste the fresh oregano and basil. What are herbs? How are they used? Do you have a favorite herb? Groups switch roles.

Once all the students have returned to classroom, they should write a letter about the garden/theme to the incoming class.

Sample Letter:

Dear New 3rd Graders,

We have a surprise for you. We have planted a garden for you to harvest. All the plants growing in this garden are for making a special kind of food. Listen to the CD in the envelope. What do you think the food is? Here’s a map of where we planted the vegetables.  Happy Harvesting!

The 3rd Graders From Last Year

Materials for Spring

  • A mystery envelope that contains a paper on which is written “Pizza Garden”
  • Starts
  • 2 Roma tomato plants
  • 1 Basil plant
  • 1 oregano plant
  • 1 rombocole garlic plant (late ripening variety)
  • 1 cayenne pepper plant
  • Blank map of garden plot
  • Pizza books and “pizza music” CD
  • Recipe for pizza dough, pizza sauce, pizza
  • Some fresh basil and oregano to smell and taste
  • Sample letter and materials for letter writing (wax, envelopes, etc.)

Fall Lessons

What’s Growing? Begin the year’s garden lesson by asking the class if they planted a garden last spring. What did they plant? What have they eaten from the garden in the past? This fall, we are going to harvest a garden that another class planted for us last spring. If there are letters available from the previous year’s class, now is the time to read them. What kind of garden has been planted for you? Visit the garden. Make your garden visits in small groups. Don’t pick anything yet, but do ask the students to point out and discuss what is growing. If you have a garden map left from the class who planted the garden, use it to identify the plants. Walk around the gardens and look around at the other garden boxes. What other plants are growing in the garden? What plants do you recognize? What is new to you? Be sure not to harvest from any boxes (yet.)

Your garden box contains a number of herbs and highly flavorful plants. Consider having the students work in groups to research and prepare a presentation/poster about the history of the following. Here’s a tidbit about each.

Basil: It has long been used as an embalming and preserving herb, found in mummies of ancient Egypt.

Oregano: Ancient Greek and Roman couples were crowned with this herb.

Garlic: Because of its pungent odor, garlic is sometimes called the ‘stinking rose’.

Cayenne: Although the exact origin of the word Capsicum is somewhat a mystery, it is assumed to be derived from the Greek word kapto, which means to bite.

Tomatoes: During Colonial Times, we wouldn’t put a tomato near our mouths, let alone try to eat one. Folklore had it that if you ate a tomato, its poison would turn your blood into acid.

The basis of pizza is dough, and for our pizza we are going to make dough from scratch. Look at the ingredient list for dough. Where do these ingredients come from? Discuss the origin of salt, flour and olive oil. But where does yeast come from? What is yeast? Why do we put yeast into dough? We are going study yeast. Yeasts are micro-organisms that are more closely related to a mushroom (they are a single-celled fungi) than to bacteria. Fungi are not green, do not have chlorophyll, and cannot undergo photosynthesis to make their own food. Instead, yeast must get their food from their surrounding environment. Yeasts use sugars (simple carbohydrates) and starches (complex carbohydrates) as food sources. Yeasts break down these sugar molecules to make energy and release carbon dioxide gas (CO2) as a result. The carbon dioxide gas is what makes a slice of bread so soft and spongy. The pockets of gas are produced by yeast when the dough is allowed to rise before baking. This is the process of fermentation. Fermentation is also used to make beer, wine, and champagne.

Here’s a fun, simple yeast experiment from the Exploratorium.

What is the history of pizza? This website has a hypothetical timeline of pizza history. Have the students build the timeline using a clothesline and little paper pizzas with each of the pizza events. Wikipedia has fun pizza information as well.

Make a visit to a local pizzeria. Arrange to have a dough throwing lessons. If it’s not possible to visit a pizzeria, there might be a parent who has dough throwing skills and who’d like to demonstrate those skills in the classroom.

Did you know there’s a US Pizza Team? There is. You can see them toss dough here.

Here’s some ideas for pizza math:

Mudd Math Fun Facts. Do a search on this page for pizza slices.

This is a great pizza fraction game. I imagine after playing it, students could emulate the game and make a non-computer based version.

The Case of the Pilfered Pizza (Use logic to solve a mystery.)

Design and write a restaurant menu with the cost of various sized pizzas and the cost of various toppings. Have the students create math problems using the menu.

And of course, don’t forget to make pizza!

Books and recommended websites:

Pizza: A Global History by Carol Helstosky (teacher reference book)
The Princess and the Pizza by Mary Jane and Herm Auch
Other various pizza books

Pizza Garden Recipes

Start dough first, then start pizza sauce, unless you make sauce on an earlier day and refrigerate it. Making dough is optional, but cheap and easy. Another option is making fresh Mozzarella in class.

Pizza dough made in bread maker:
(from Oster bread maker recipe book)

¾ tsp. salt
1/2 tsp sugar
4 cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. active dry yeast
optional: any extra pizza herbs from garden (pinch of basil, oregano, majoram)
1 3/8 cup water
3 Tbsp. olive oil


  • Combine all ingredients in above order.
  • Select “Dough” setting.
  • Press start, let the kids watch the dough stir, so much fun! If after a couple of minutes flour seems to be sticking to side of bread maker, add a little more water. Close lid, and try to ignore until end of dough cycle.
  • Remove from maker, and cut dough in half (or you could make many smaller pizzas). On a floured cutting board, work your dough into a circle. Move onto greased (I use Pam spray) pizza pan.
  • Cook dough alone 5-10 minutes in preheated 400° oven.
  • Spread pizza sauce onto dough and sprinkle with cheese. I recommend slicing up extra tomatoes and basil and laying on top.
  • Bake 10-15 minutes more.

Crockpot pizza sauce:

6 to 8 Plum Tomatoes
2 Tbs Chopped, fresh Basil
2 Tbs Chopped, fresh Oregano
1 Clove Garlic, Minced
½ Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 Tsp Salt
½ Tsp Pepper


  • Cut tomatoes lengthwise and seed tomatoes.
  • Coarsely chop tomatoes and put into a crock pot on high, adding remaining ingredients to the pan as well.
  • Simmer sauce for 60 – 90 minutes over low heat, stirring occasionally, tomatoes should be very soft when done.
  • For a smoother sauce blend this best pizza sauce recipe with a hand blender until the desired consistency is achieved. The sauce can be refrigerated in a tightly sealed container for a week or two.

Fall shopping list:

  • Mozzarella and Parmesan cheese
  • Salt and pepper
  • Flour
  • Active dry yeast
  • Olive oil
  • Pam spray

Also need:

  • Measuring utensils
  • Knives and cutting boards, at least one large one for working dough
  • Cheese grater
  • Crockpot
  • Hand blender
  • Bread maker for 2 pound loaf
  • Spoons and bowls for serving
  • 2 pizza pans