"I want my second graders to begin to think and act like scientists," reports Durham, NC, teacher Sarah Meyer. "When they're exploring plants and other garden elements, for instance, we discuss how scientists carefully observe objects, then draw what they see, not what they think they see. I typically challenge the students by asking, 'Can we help people who haven't before seen a (flower) better understand what one is?'" Students' garden journals feature such drawings, along with questions, observations, and descriptions of investigations.
"My fourth and fifth grade special needs students are captivated by things they can nurture and interact with," reports Joan Gould from Athens, GA. "The kids had been watching and feeding birds for some time when we learned that purple martins provide natural control of insects," she adds. When Joan brought in plans she'd found for "gourd houses" that attract and shelter these avian helpers, students were eager to go to work in the school garden.
"By involving the local community in donating time, ideas, resources, and funds to our school garden project, we've been able to do more than we ever could have imagined doing alone," reports middle school teacher Joan Dungey of Yellow Springs, OH. The students and teachers who wanted to launch the gardening project first invited interested community members to join them in developing short- and long-term goals for it, then to create an action plan for moving forward.
Whether your young scientists are conducting indoor plant experiments ("What conditions promote the best bean plant growth?") or outdoor habitat research ("Which plants do different types of butterflies prefer?"), they'll need to practice accurately gathering and organizing their data. By learning how to represent their data so patterns are revealed, students will be able to make better sense of their experiences.
Is it green? Is is bigger than a breadbox? The familiar classroom game 20 questions typically limits the questions to those that can be answered with either "yes" or "no." While these are valid questions, limiting responses to yes or no tends to discourage reflection, observation, and creative thinking. Imagine instead questions that challenge students to observe closely, compare and contrast, and think metaphorically.
What do kids really understand about plants? What are their misconceptions? How can teachers do a better job of helping kids wrestle with ideas and build an understanding of how plants grow, thrive, and interact with their environments?
Here are some suggestions from classroom teachers to spark student understanding and investigations of weather and climate.
Make rain! Have students cut the top off a clear plastic soda bottle about one-fourth of the way down the bottle. Pour some boiling water into the bottom part of the bottle, then place the bottle top back on upside-down so the mouth of the bottle points to the water. Ask students to predict what will happen when they put ice in the hollow of the upside-down bottle top. Watch what happens.
Are you aware that Pilgrims considered tomatoes an abomination on a par with dancing, card playing, and theater going? Did you know fried peas were sold to spectators in lieu of popcorn in ancient Roman theaters? How many of you knew that the humble potato helped fuel the Industrial Revolution?