As spring approaches, visions of bountiful gardens, greenhouses, and windowsills inspire classroom growers to plant seeds indoors. By learning a bit about what makes seeds tick, you can better focus students' seed observations and investigations, and enrich their understanding of what these little treasures need to spring to life.
"On the first day of class, I ask my second and third graders to draw a picture of a scientist," says Louisville, Kentucky, teacher Andrea Miller. "Most of their images are of males with wild hair and white coats."
After donning their space suits, a 5th-grade "astronaut commander" leads a crew of three K-2 "astronaut trainees" into a shuttle simulator, blasts into space, docks with the space station, and travels through the airlock into the space station simulator. Says Planetarium Resource Educator Dr. Stephen Schiff, "Once inside the International Space Station model, this young crew will work on different missions, including growing vegetables using a hydroponics gardening system."
"If we want students to become better scientists, problem-solvers, and thinkers, we have to give them opportunities to design investigations to answer intriguing questions," explains teacher Diane Hren from McLean, VA. A school greenhouse provided a context for her students to do just that. With an eye toward engaging students in exploring how different factors affect plant growth, she presented her eighth grade class with a problem and challenge.
Your students may have memorized the parts of a flower, but do they conceptually understand the role of flowers in relation to plant life cycles, pollinators, and agriculture? One way to gain insight into what students know, to assess what they've learned, and to help them organize and represent concepts and meaningfully evaluate their own growth is to have them create "concept maps."
When Christine Staskiewicz invited a local farmer and hydroponic grower to talk to her fourth grade students in Westport, Massachusetts, about growing herbs in their GrowLab, she had hoped the students would be inspired to try raising herbs hydroponically and in soil. This project blossomed into a year-long, multidisciplinary herb-growing business that featured lessons in plant needs, hydroponics, economics, marketing, and cuisine.
The article, The Eyes Have It, explores these unassuming, yet historically and nutritionally important tubers. Here are some additional ideas for curious minds.
In your outdoor garden (or large containers outdoors), experiment with different methods of growing potatoes -- in trenches, on top of soil covered in hay mulch, in piles of compost, etc. Design experiments to determine the best conditions, spacing, and ways to treat your potato crop. Consider bringing the nutritious harvest to your local food shelf or soup kitchen.
Throughout history, they've been alternately maligned as food fit only for animals and revered as "apples of life." They're down and dirty and terrible unassuming, yet these often misunderstood vegetables kept Incan civilizations thriving, helped fuel the Industrial Revolution, triggered mass population shifts, and are now one of the world's four most important food crops. They are also used to produce paper, adhesive, biodegradable plastics, and even cosmetics.