Although I've taught the topics of plants and seeds for many years, my experiences with my students this past year have definitely been the most exciting and rewarding. Putting together and this unit has allowed me to collect and develop what I consider to be some of the best ways for children to explore the entire life cycle of plants. The unit revolves around materials developed by the NSRC (Science & Technology for Children), which set up the exploration of plants by way of the Wisconsin Fast Plants (a member of the cabbage family).
By using the fast plants, children have an opportunity unlike that in most other classroom plant experience: they can observe the growth from seed, to stem (in only two days!), to leaves, flowers, seed production and plant death in relatively little time. With the help of dried bees on sticks, the children even cross-pollinate their plants, which was done with a good deal of gusto and buzzing around in my classroom. Many of the children in my class were upset when their plants began to die, but they were also very pleased that we would be using the seeds they raised in the next year's class. I can think of no better way for children to take interest in and understand the plant cycle than through this kind of personal attachment.
The development of the fast plants structured the order of the students' explorations, and in order to promote a good deal of close observation, discussion, and writing, I used student journals on a nearly daily basis. For instance, when the children observed closed and open seeds, they drew pictures of them and wrote predictions. When the stem and leaves developed, there was ongoing measurement of growth, more sketching, comparing, predicting, discussing, and even story-telling in the journals. My students knew many basic ideas about plants from earlier grades, so we tried to spend more time thinking and writing about the specific functions of the leaf veins, flower parts, roots, etc. To extend these investigations, I have also pulled in other plants, such as carnations and celery, in order to examine the movement of nutrients through the stem.
In addition to having a good understanding of the plant cycle through hands-on work, I have wanted my students to understand the critical dependence we have upon plants and plant products. We maintained focus on this larger environmental cycle by keeping a classroom chart of the myriad uses of plants--food, furniture, clothing, cleaning the air. The chart grew large as the children observed and reflected on the world around them. In the end, I want them to understand how greatly the world depends upon plants, and why we need to protect our environment. Eventually, I would like to expand the unit to include more hands-on activities with plants and pollution.
I would be interested in hearing your ideas on teaching about the plant cycle and the impact of pollution upon plants. If you would like to share them with me, or would like more information on this unit, I can be reached by
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