Radishes, Roots, and 'Rithmetic

"My students had always disliked math," reported a fourth grade teacher from Hartford, CT, "but when we started a classroom garden, they eagerly figured out how many hours to leave our lights on, measured and graphed growth rates, and predicted when their vegetables would be mature. Their excitement about growing things helped their math skills soar."

Sharpening Observation Skills

"They look at and observe things so much more carefully now," reported 5th grade teacher Sharon Wheeler from Westerville, OH. When Sharon's students started keeping GrowLab journals, she said, their observations and drawings were very general -- for example, the bean plants had six leaves.

Natural Curiosity

Like your students, scientists are always asking questions. These questions often spark investigations to look for answers. Many of the scientists who have studied plants asked questions not so different from those of your students. Consider having students research how different plant scientists went about asking and answering their own questions. Some of the more well known plant scientists, and one each of their questions, are listed below.

Jean Baptiste Helmont: "Does the weight a plant gains as it grows come from its eating the soil?"

Exploring Decomposition

Decomposers, the final links in food chains, use dead plants and animals as food, breaking them down into smaller particles. Among the decomposers are fungi, which include the familiar molds and mushrooms. Other decomposer -- called bacteria -- are so small that a mere teaspoon of soil could contain billions of them.

Touch Your Plants? A Ticklish Question

Try telling your students that in addition to watering and fertilizing their classroom plants, they might consider tickling them from time to time. You may get some quizzical glances.

Herbal Adventures

Herbs...the green flecks in spaghetti sauce, the soothing late night teas, the dried mixtures that keep the bathroom air fresh. But did you know that many prescription medicines contain drugs derived from natural herbs? Or that many perfumes and other fragrances are made from the oils in herbs? Herbs have been used for at least 5,000 years by all cultures for cooking, medicine, crafts, and cosmetics. Many herbs are easy to raise in the classroom.

Planting Questions: The Heart of the GrowLab Classroom

"A good question is never answered. It is not a bolt to be tightened into place but a seed to be planted and to bear more seed toward the hope of greening the landscape of idea." -- John Ciardi, author

Wasteful Lessons

Delving into Decomposition

"It was a terrific example of an accident that turned into a teachable moment," reports Minneapolis, MN, teacher Joanne Taft. "That's how my third and fourth graders learned about composting." When Joanne's students returned from a long winter break and discovered that many of their unwatered indoor plants had died, they dumped the moist soil mix and plant remains into a clear plastic bag to discard. But then they began to wonder what might happen to the materials over time so they made predictions and placed the bag in the warmth and light of a windowsill to observe.

The Garden Jigsaw: Cooperative Learning Stations

An effective way to manage a classroom of active students when teaching indoor gardening tasks is to organize a cooperative learning "jigsaw" in which each cooperative group becomes "expert" at a particular technique or gardening skill. Each expert can later teach his or her skill to another group of students or work with other expert group members to present a short demonstration to teach the skill to the whole class.

Laying the Groundwork: Sparking Student Inquiry

Watching a seedling unfurl, trying to influence the direction in which a root grows -- these experiences offer rich opportunities for sparking students' curiosity and questions, and set the stage for further exploration and discovery. A pile of seeds with diverse colors, textures, shapes, and structures holds endless possibilities for stimulating interest and questions. Some of these questions can be actively explored in the classroom, others may require research, and still others may remain mysteries.

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Last updated on 04/19/2014
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