In recent weeks, the elementary students embarked on a study of plant life. The study began when the students started collecting food families on their weekly grocery store visits. They gathered all the citrus fruits they could find from Whole Foods, and apples from 99 Ranch Market, along with tubers on one trip and root vegetables on another.
In studying each of these food families, the students began postulating criteria for what makes a fruit or vegetable belong to a certain class. They established that citrus have segments, while apples do not, and that tubers and root vegetables grow underneath the ground, unlike fruits which grow on trees from flowers. The exploration led them back into a topic they addressed toward the end of last semester, which is identifying how trees grow.
Originally, some of the younger students thought new trees come from fallen leaves, but older students corrected them and clarified that new trees actually come from fallen seeds. This semester, we introduced the question more broadly, as, “How do plants grow?”
We focused the exploration first on the anatomy of plants, and then incorporated a review of the processes of pollination and germination. We dissected flowers to see first-hand the structures that enable propagation.
In class, we’ve discussed the anatomy of plants, as well as the processes of pollination and germination. Dissection of plants, more specifically flowers, allowed the students to see close-up what the structures are that enable the creation of new plants. It was an incredibly rich experience! Layer by layer, the students tore away petals, pistils, leaves, and stems until the flower’s primary organs were laid out on the table and labeled (the students referred to images of flower cross sections for spelling). The students commentary throughout dissection was rich. They identified not only leaves, stems, and petals but sepals that hold the flower together, as well as the pistil and stamen, and how those organs vary among species of flowers.
As we began the dissection, one student wanted to know why his rose had thorns on it. His group members suggested we cut open the stem to find an answer. Inside of a stem carefully sliced in half with an X-acto knife, the students found (to their surprise) water! One student mentioned that it must be the water that travels from the soil, through the roots and sustains the flower. With no input from the teacher other than moderating the discussion, the students together reasoned that thorns functioned as armor on the stem to protect it’s precious cargo.
Some flowers the students brought had buds on them. The students asked that they be sliced open as well and saw the component parts within still in formation. They peeled away their flowers’ petals and carefully tore away each part, from the tiny anthers and filaments to the sepal. They labeled each part, referring to a cross-section that had been printed out for reference.
One student brought in planted tulips, and he decided to unearth the flowers to observe the root system. The students were astounded by the way the roots, unlike the neat, fork-like vessels they included in their illustrations, were actually more like a knot of hairs that connected the various flowers together into joined organism. In pulling the tulips from their soil, the student who brought them found a bulb. The proverbial light bulb was practically visible above another students’ head as he exclaimed, “OH. That’s where the root vegetable would grow!” (The exact placement of a root vegetable on it’s parent plant had perplexed him during the root vegetable study a week prior). The students latched onto the analogy, comparing the bulb’s thin white skin to an onion.
In addition to our flower dissection, our botany study has expanded through various avenues. The students visited the Garden Center in Sugar Land to purchase plants to include in our school garden. They were asked to find flowers and fruits/vegetables that are well-adapted to Houston’s climate, attract bees, meant to be planted in the Spring. They returned with a wide array of flowers, including celosias and ageratums, as well as strawberries, corn and snap peas.
We used our classroom compost to plant, which is maintained by worms the children feed scraps to. Our garden is blooming! The children water the plants every day and science lessons are regularly held in the garden.