Nine-year-old Preston Freeman closed his eyes, bit into a cucumber slice and savored the cool, crisp taste.
"It's my favorite veg. . . er, fruit," he said, smiling as he caught himself in a near mistake of the lesson his class was studying Wednesday.
The cucumber is a fruit, not a vegetable, because it grows from the flower of a plant and contains seeds, third-graders at Remington Elementary in Falcon School District 49 learned this week.
The same goes for beans, peppers, pumpkins, peas and tomatoes, many of which students dissected with plastic knives Wednesday to find and count the seeds.
"I like doing this because I like messing with stuff," declared 9-year-old Tye Spaulding.
The fun, hands-on activity is part of the "Can You Dig It?" plant science curriculum developed by recently retired Colorado Springs School District 11 science teacher Delores Higgins, who is working to get it into classrooms.
The course is a multi-tiered winner, said Remington Principal Lisa Fillo.
The material aligns with Colorado academic standards, she said, and integrates not only science, but also reading, writing and math.
"It's very kid-friendly and student-centered. The students are driving their own learning," Fillo said.
Remington tried the program as a pilot last year, and teachers liked it so much that it's now part of the lineup for the school's 100 third-graders.
"This is a lot more engaging than just textbook-style teaching," Fillo said. "The students are so excited about it."
Higgins, highly regarded as an expert in agriculture for young learners, wrote the "Can You Dig It?" book for elementary school students and created corresponding third-grade curriculum.
Children receive a "tool kit" containing the book, vivid garden makers and a mesh bag to hold fruits and vegetables.
The colorful book - not "dumbed down" for students, but serious and scientifically accurate - is made of plastic.
"So kids can take in into the garden, refer to it and hose it down, if they need to," Higgins said.
Her goal: Develop budding horticulturalists who know where their food comes from and how to grow it.
"It takes the science they've already learned in school, why plants grow, and helps them understand how plants grow," she said.
If kids can grasp that concept, it's an easy step to graduating to full-fledged gardener.
And, "it helps them think about healthier eating and nutrition," Higgins said. Plus, gardening teaches resiliency, perseverance, patience and sharing the bounty, she added.
A lot of Remington students had never been introduced to an author, which added to the specialness of this week's gardening lessons.
Mason Antisdel said having Higgins talk about the book and answer more than 200 questions from students Tuesday was nearly too good to be true.
"I think it is awesome to meet a real author," he said. "The book is really interesting; it teaches us about facts about plants."
What has he learned?
"Carrots store sugar in the leaves, and once the sugar goes into the roots, it turns into energy," Mason said.
Higgins said it took her years to develop the "step-by-step gardening guide for the curious small gardener" and companion curriculum.
A stack of rejection letters from publishers measures more than 6 inches tall. So she self-published the material, spending about $65,000 on production alone.
"Which takes a while to save up when you're a teacher," she said.
From educational experiments to garden supply lists to tricks of the trade, kids can absorb it all and possibly grow a beanstalk to rival Jack's.
"It's a curriculum that's lifelong," Principal Fillo said. "They'll carry this knowledge into their adult lives."