4 Simple Ways Kids Can Learn About Plants in the Classroom

I’m teaching science this year for the first time EVER!

It is my thirteenth year teaching, and although I’ve taught many science concepts through language arts and math curriculum, I have never been the science subject teacher.

Not only is it my first year, I am teaching it to two groups, in two different grades: fourth and fifth.

I am PUMPED!

I LOVE science. Understanding science helps us to become problem solvers.

I especially love earth sciences, particularly ecoliteracy.

(If you want to know more about the Green School Project initiative I started at my school, St Jude Elementary School in Deux-Montagnes, Quebec, Canada, check out the article on pages 36 to 41 of Garden Culture Magazine here.

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I want for my students to have hands-on experiences with nature. I want for them to learn about how plants reproduce by reproducing them. I want for my students to learn about basic needs of plants by taking care of them. I want for students to understand how parts of the plant work by experimenting with them. I want for students to see the growth stages of trees by seeing the stages in person. I believe that these experiences spark an interest and passion for plants and then snowballs into an understanding of their importance.

We started our school year by talking about what we know and questions we have about plants. We watched videos, read articles and found diagrams about plants. We then proceeded to complete several hands-on activities.

1- Reproducing Plants

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In an effort to understand how different plants reproduce, we have begun propagating succulents. This is a simple and inexpensive activity to do with your students.

Succulent 1: Darley Sunshine

This succulent propagates by extracting individual leaves, letting the ends heal and then letting them rest on moist cactus/succulent soil mix. Roots then grow from the base of the leaf and a new plant starts to grow.

Succulent 2: Kalanchoe

This succulent propagates by extracting individual leaves, letting the ends heal and then letting them rest on moist cactus/succulent soil mix. As opposed to its Darley friend, baby Kalanchoe grow from the indentations on the leaf, rather than the base of the leaf, thus resulting in multiple new plants per leaf cutting.

Succulent 3: Christmas Cactus

This succulent propagates by making cuttings of 2 to 3 leaves at a time, letting the ends heal and then planting them upright into moist soil.

Sprouting Mango Seeds

Our principal came into the classroom with the pit from his mango and started a growing activity with the students in each of the groups to which I teach science. He cut the pits open and retrieved the seeds. He then placed them in damp paper towels, then into closed ziplock bags, and put them in my cupboard, where they waited and sprouted after about 2 weeks. When the roots were long enough, we transferred the sprouts to a pot and into soil, where they are slowly becoming little mango plants.Watermarked(2017-10-22-1441)

2- Creating A Tropical Ecosystem

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Students in my fourth grade science class made jungles in a bottle.

First, they brought empty 2L soft drink or juice bottles from home.

Next, we cut them horizontally about a third from the bottom.

Then we added river rocks to the bottom on the bottle, followed by potting soil and sections of Bella Palm plants.

We finished by to sealing the bottles by adding the tops to the bottles, wrapping masking tape around the seams and watering our plants through the bottle opening (unscrewing the bottle caps).

Students were able to observe water draining to the bottom of the bottle and the complete water cycle. Students also learned about the needs of a plant by incorporating everything but the sun into the bottles. The project allowed students to think about what plants need in the wild in order to survive and to provide these elements to their plants.

3- Taking Care of Classroom Plants

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I have added a cyclamen, African violets and a Venus fly trap to my classroom. Students water and care for these plants. They have learned that cyclamen and African violets should be watered from underneath rather than from the top.

Cyclamen are particularly expressive plants that wilt dramatically when they require watering and rapidly perk up once their needs have been met.

Venus Fly Traps are kids’ favorite for obvious reasons, and students enjoy tickling the leaves to see them react and snap shut.

4- Field Trip to the Woods

Last week, I brought all of my science students to Bois de Belle Rivière, a nature centre in Mirabel, Quebec. I visited the site in advance in order to plan the semi-structured activities listed below, which students completed in their small groups with their parent or teacher chaperone. However, this activity can easily be done in any local wooded area, and often, in the school yard.

Scavenger Hunt

Students needed to find, measure and take pictures of items on a scavenger hunt list and add the photos to a their group’s file in Google Drive. Items included animals, fungi, plants and trees, with a few bonus challenges that required the creation of PicCollage images or videos describing the life stages of a tree or the interdependence of animals, insects, fungi and plants.

Tic Tac Toe

When I visited the site prior to our field trip, I took photos of phenomena that may be interesting or new to students. I created a numbered table with the photos that students would use in order to play the game. When students found the item from the picture, they had to refer to the corresponding question photo and discuss what they had found with their chaperones prior to marking the Tic Tac Toe board.Watermarked(2017-10-21-1516)

Art Projects

While students discovered the park, they were asked to collect at least three items from the forest floor that they would use for art projects.

I purchased some vellum paper for leaf rubbings. When students used their colouring pencils to complete the project, the color adhered to the paper. When we place the paper to the light, the color really pops off of the page.

Next, students explored texture by placing aluminum foil on top of leaves to make imprints of the leaf shapes.

Lastly, students made leaf/nature print patterns onto canvas paper.

Three groups at a time, I explained which materials went together for the art projects and let students proceed at their own pace.

Forest Walk Inspired Art Work

What’s next:

In the next few weeks we are going to begin an aquaponics project. Using the materials purchased on Amazon, we are going to be growing plants and seeing the interdependence and connection between species and life forms.

We will also be reintegrating the vertical hydroponic growing system into my classroom and learning about needs of plants and how we can substitute natural elements in order to grow indoors during winter months. (Learn more about hydroponics in the classroom here.

Lastly, we are starting vermicomposting. Students will learn the difference between vermicomposting and traditional composting and what types of foods or materials should or shouldn’t go into each.

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Also, follow me on Facebook and Instagram to learn more about each activity as we progress through the year.

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