"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?
"A reading unit on China prompted my second graders to ask whether we could try growing rice," reports Norfolk, MA, teacher Simone Favaloro. "We successfully germinated some rice seed in big pots, then set them in trays of water in the GrowLab, but noticed that growth slowed once the grass was about 5 inches," she adds.
Ask your students whether they've ever seen flowers on grasses. You might inspire a fruitful debate.
Fall is a good time to challenge students to explore outside and look for signs of grass flowers. You may first want to reveal that grasses are not pollinated by birds, bees, or other insects, but by the wind. Have students brainstorm some of the likely differences between flowers that need to attract pollinators and those pollinated by wind.