Matter, energy, and organization in living systems

Luminous Lessons: Investigating Light

"My third graders wanted to experiment to find out whether plants need light," reports Jane Carver from Boston, MA. "So we placed one bean plant on the windowsill, and left another in the closet. The students were amazed a week later to find that the one in the closet actually seemed to be growing better than the one in the light!" But when they observed more closely, reports Jane, some students noticed that although the plants in the dark were taller, they had thinner stems, smaller leaves, and didn't, in fact, look all that healthy.

Garden Safari

When Kathy Miller's first through fifth graders in Greenville, SC, set out on a spring safari, they were hunting for evidence of animal life in their school garden.

"One of the first sightings my students made were the thousands of ladybugs that seemed to flock to certain garden plants, such as sedum and rudbeckia," reports Kathy. Her keen observers readily hooked by these endearing garden residents, Kathy began a yearlong study of the complex dramas that unfold in a schoolyard ecosystem.

Leftover Lessons

"Several years ago my sixth graders were exploring decomposition using 2-liter soda bottles as suggested in the book Bottle Biology. But their interest waned because the action was so slow," reports Denise Grap from Simi Valley, CA. With a goal of helping her students discover that there was more than one way to digest a banana peel, Denise invited the city's waste management educator to offer them a worm's eye view.

Getting a Charge Out of Inquiry

"My fourth graders had finished an electrical unit, and we moved on to growing plants and studying plant needs," said Painted Post, NY, teacher Carolyn Perry. "Then one curious student suggested that since plants have certain needs and since electricity could produce some of those components, such as heat and light, perhaps electrical current would help plants grow better." With support from Dan Fitch, Science Training Specialist in the district, Carolyn's class secured materials to test some "shocking" hypotheses.

Turn on Learning With Bulbs

"A bulb is a promise," Wendy Sherman tells her pre-schoolers in Sudbury, MA. "You can do your part to provide certain basic conditions for them, and then you have to hope that nature comes through with the rest." These marvelous packages, each containing a complete miniature plant and its lunch, can provide a captivating theme for exploring plant growth and adaptations, using math skills, and enriching history, while brightening winter classrooms with the promise of spring.

Classroom Wiggler Tales

A million of them could live in an acre of soil. They can "eat" their own weight in soil and organic waste every day. We're hearing more and more from classrooms using nature's recyclers to engage, motivate, and spark investigations and understanding of key life science concepts. Here are highlights from some schools that have gotten hooked on worms.

Plants and Energy

Photosynthesis: During photosynthesis, plants absorb radiant energy from the sun (kinetic) and convert and store it as chemical energy (potential).What do plants have to do with energy? Believe it or not, in one way or another they’re related to almost every energy-oriented topic in the news today!   

The Garden Do-Gooders

Insects and Their Importance

Although humans fear and revere them, abhor and adore them, there are no inherently "bad" or "good" insects. They are all simply trying to make a living and create offspring according to their natural programming. But from a gardener's perspective, some insects are worth keeping around and others are just, well . . . pests. Most garden insects, in fact, do more good than harm. Just who are these benign bugs and what do they do for us? Read on.

Fall School Garden Care

Tuck in Beds with Cover Crops

Once your carrots have been dug and tomatoes harvested, discuss with students how you might put the school garden "to bed" for the season (unless you can garden through the winter in your climate). It's important to remove garden plant debris so it won't harbor pests and diseases that could re-emerge the next year. But if nature has its way, the bare ground left behind will have its nutrients leached out, loose topsoil blown or washed away, and soil covered with a mat of weeds.

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