Since fall is when many wild plants release their seeds, it's a good time to explore wild plants' seed dispersal strategies, collect them for you classroom garden, and experiment with methods of inducing them to grow. You'll have the best chance of success if you harvest seeds when they're ripe. Most of the wild plant seeds you collect will be mature or ripe 4 to 6 weeks after they've flowered.
"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."
Wildflowers like goldenrods, field asters and sunflowers produce lots of seed in fall and are very easy to grow in spring. (image by Jessie Keith)Growing plants from seeds pictured on bright packets is great fun, but have you considered the potential for excitement and discovery in collecting and planting unknown treasures from the meadows, overgrown lots, or woods in your school environment?
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.
Assume your eagle-eyed classroom observers notice a collection of those sucking little pests, aphids, on the leaves and stems of your classroom garden plants. What should you do? The horticultural guide, GrowLab: A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom, will tell you not to worry -- (a.) pesky pests won't necessary spell the end of your indoor garden plants, and (b.) you can control aphids to a point using a soapy water spray or wash.
"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.