Kindergarten classes at Carmel (IN) Elementary School cultivate flowers in Alaska, while fifth graders tend cotton and peanuts in the Deep South. They're not national travelers but participants in an ambitious "Courtyard U.S.A." garden project. Faced with the specter of expensive landscaping for a renovated school courtyard, teachers and PTO members brainstormed a more educational use of the courtyard.
To prepare her students for carving out a garden site in the schoolyard, middle school teacher Joan Dungey in Yellow Springs, OH, invited them to reflect on and write about their favorite childhood places. Students next shared their memories with a partner; then each pair presented highlights to the rest of the class. "I found it interesting that nearly all of the students recalled some sort of peaceful natural spot where they had played or explored the world as youngsters," notes Joan.
"The Root Loops activity in GrowLab: Activities for Growing Minds provided a great springboard for our third and fourth graders to explore how plants respond to gravity and other stimuli," reports Arcadia, IN, parent volunteer Debbie Mager. Students observed that each time they rotated the petri dishes with bean and corn seeds, the roots found their way downward. This prompted discussions about the effects of microgravity on the growth, flowering, and seed production of plants grown on space vehicles.
A long-term investigation prompted by some humble potatoes confirmed for first grade teacher Carol Flicker of Herndon, VA, how her students' learning and abilities could unfold when she let their curiosity guide their inquiries.
"By fourth grade, it seems that students' creativity and curiosity are often squelched," reports Easton, ME, teacher Vaughn Martin. "To counter that shift, I always seek ways to spark their interest and bring learning to life," he adds.
"Our third and fourth grade team is studying the history of this region and the immigrants who settled it," reports Kathy Farrington from South Burlington, VT. With an eye toward making the investigation more meaningful for her pupils, Kathy asked them to interview parents, grandparents, and other elders to find out where they had emigrated from and what types of items they had valued enough to bring with them.
"My tenth graders had paired up with elementary students to fill a butterfly nectar garden with butterfly bush, black-eyed Susans, and so on, then realized the need for larval host plants," reports Collegeville, PA, teacher Sandy Sweeney.
Students knew from researching the monarch that the caterpillars needed milkweed, so they decided to collect its seeds and try to raise seedlings in the GrowLab to transplant to the garden.
"Our students have certainly learned the basics about butterflies and the plants they depend on, but our butterfly garden has yielded an even richer harvest than that," says fifth grade, Orion, IL, teacher Marcia Whitmore. "What we've learned in this microcosm has prompted a richer understanding of ecology and the need to conserve habitats in other parts of the world," she adds.
Photosynthesis: During photosynthesis, plants absorb radiant energy from the sun (kinetic) and convert and store it as chemical energy (potential).What do plants have to do with energy? Believe it or not, in one way or another they’re related to almost every energy-oriented topic in the news today!