Biodiversity Training for Elementary Schools
Richard H. Zander, Sandy Campbell, Dennis Knipfing, Kathy Kren, Caroline Parrinello
Res Botanica, Missouri Botanical Garden
May 29, 2003

 

Originally published: Buffalo Museum of Science Web site
February 28, 2001

 

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BIODIVERSITY TRAINING FOR ELEMENTARY SCHOOLS

 

Richard H. Zander, Sandy Campbell, Dennis Knipfing,
Kathy Kren, Caroline Parrinello

 

February 28, 2001

 

This summarizes the results of a training course established through the Team 2000 Program of the Institute for Science Education at the Buffalo Museum of Science as part of a grant-funded effort to enhance the training of elementary school teachers in the natural sciences. Because the teachers have been exposed to a scientific interpretation in a scientific milieu, they can better reduce the idea to the students' perspective without losing essential elements and can retain hints of what direction the students will learn in.

 

Teachers contributing ideas about introducing concepts of biological diversity were:

 

Sandy Campbell
Dennis Knipfing
Kathy Kren
Caroline Parrinello

 

all being teachers at the Mackowski Early CC, 1095 Jefferson Ave. Buffalo, NY 14208. Course leader was Dr. Richard H. Zander, Curator of Botany, Buffalo Museum of Science. The ideas were generated during the late summer of 1997.

 

Confidence on the part of a teacher is easily gotten across to children in a particular context, and helps develop a cognitive framework. Taking care of plants teaches the importance of diversity by overlayering. Communality of experience, too, shares importance of biological diversity. Diversity in nature can be equated to some extent with sociological pluralism.

 


 

IDEAS DEVELOPED BY TEACHERS IN THE COURSE:

 

Label trees around school or courtyard.

 

Keep fruit and flowers to document changes through the seasons.

 

Match veneers obtained from local cabinetry makers with photos of trees, and try to identify woods in classroom furniture; note patterns, weights, softness, colors, smells, textures, etc.

 

Feelie bags: guess what part of the plant it is?

 

Find out what trees school items are made of; for instance, pencils are made of red cedar; cabinetry of white birch.

 

Read labels on boxes and cans from supermarket. Look up plant ingredients in an unabridged dictionary and mark on a xerocopied map of the world where the item came from.

 

Match leaves with their correctly named silhouettes.

 

Match plants with their smells. Put crushed herbs in small dark bottles like photo canisters, and smell through the hole. Match smell with the actual plant from a supermarket. Have a smell hunt, a smell trail.

 

Show that our survival is dependent on biological diversity by explaining such things as: (1) Plants produce oxygen. (2) We need many species of food plants because one may be destroyed by disease: examples are elm blight, chestnut blight. (3) Biological diversity in the classroom: we need different plants to produce different things we use everyday, like red cedar pencils, pine tree paper, etc. (4) Plant succession takes place over years and species diversity is totally natural, fields turn into shrubby areas, shrubby areas turn into forests, and the species change.

 

Evidence for diversity in nature: different leaves in fall can be collected and classified by shape, textures, colors, etc.

 

Compare differences between plants only by comparing the same organs at the same stage in their life cycles: compare seeds with seeds, leaves with leaves, flowers with flowers.

 

Other animals help kill off plants, not just us: deer, beavers, mice. But some distribute plants by carrying their seeds: for example, squirrels.

 

Get wheat "berries" and grind it into flour, bake bread.

 

Boy and Girl Scout Manuals and field guides often have good ideas for projects. Look for them at used book sales or flea markets.

 

Use clear plastic bags or boxes to allow comparison of dried plant material by several classes.

 

Introduce analogy: What else does it look like? What else does it remind you off?

 

Use jeweler's loupes and hand lenses to examine objects. What more do you see? Draw it. Make up a poem about it.

 

Introduce time: that which you collect this year may not be there next year. How do you provide for the future? People gather crop seeds for sowing. Take only a small portion of a group of plants in nature so the ones you leave behind can naturally sow their own seeds to provide a crop for next year.

 

Identification books can be made more manageable by xerocopying (and perhaps enlargening) particular pages.

 

Plant bulbs instead of seeds so they come up right away and children can see them.

 

Put corn (or other seeds) in a clear plastic bag with a wet towel, and tape it to a window to show early growth of seeds. Put one bag in the dark and another in the light; how do the growing plants differ?

 

Plants leave seeds in the soil, and some of the seeds germinate the next year and others wait two, three or more years to germinate. The soil has a Seed Bank that can be demonstrated by putting soil from different areas (field, forest, lawn) into clear plastic bags with a wet towel and seeing what germinates. Replant the young growing plant in potting soil so you can see what it grows into. Does lawn soil harbor lawn plant seeds or forest seeds, or both?

 

Different foods are important for different animals, too. Squirrels will come to a tray of acorns, which blue jays come to sunflower seeds. Will squirrels eat sunflower seeds? Will blue jays eat acorns, and if not, why do you think not?

 

Count identified flowers and graph against date. Which flowers bloom at what times of the year?

 

Photograph the same plant at half-hourly intervals in a day. Does the plant move? Does it respond to the direction of sunlight?

 

Using fake binoculars or paper towel tubes help children focus on differences between organisms.

 

Draw plants that are characteristic of various kinds of art forms, Japanese pines for oriental scenes, looking up through a walnut tree crown for optical art "op art."

 


 

ADDITIONAL IDEAS FROM THE DIVISION OF BOTANY,
BUFFALO MUSEUM OF SCIENCE:

 

BIODIVERSITY. This is the main idea of museum botany, since we have many collections that we use to base our ideas on what species really are, where they grow, and when they grew there.

 

Biodiversity studies are of two kinds:

 

1. Classification (= systematics). What are the species? How do they differ? How can they best be grouped?

 

2. Plant geography (= floristics). Where do species grow? What habitats do they grow in? How did they get there; when and why did they disappear?

 

If identification is compartmentalized, many of these questions can be addressed immediately.

 

There is a diversity of plant life right around the school, in the backyard, and in the supermarket. The ones in the supermarket are already identified.

 

Plants are of many sizes. Algae in pond water are plants.

 

There are simple ways to gauge the effect of people pressure on the environment.

 

 

 

SIZE OF PLANTS:

 

Examine algae in pond water. Plants are often very small. Chloroplasts are visible. Animals do not have chloroplasts.

 

You can "trap" small plants hidden in air, soil and water. Put out different baits (bread, moist fruit, meat) and trap molds. Put a microscope slide in pond water or half-bury in moist soil and see what starts to grow on it (using the glass as a perch--"contact slide method").

 

 

 

PROJECT IDEAS:

 

Grow seeds from edible fruit, or from seed spices. Fruit comes from the kind of plant that grows from the seeds in the fruit. Some plants that provide seed for food cannot survive our winter weather; which ones?

 

Germinate vegetables from roots. Roots easily develop into the plant they come from, but leaves and stems are much harder to grow into mature plants.

 

Make perfumes from flowers, lard, alcohol and a distilling apparatus. You can concentrate chemicals in plants.

 

Make thread, string and rope from milkweed; also pillow stuffing from the fuzzy seeds and rubber (maybe) from the sap.

 

Pictures of plants can be found on the Internet.

 

Teachers can write commercial organizations (Washington DC and New York yellow pages under "Associations") for free kits and samples for use in classroom demonstrations.

 

Food and clothing products are labeled. What plant products are used everyday?

 

What plants do we eat and wear most? Read box and bottle and clothing labels and make a survey. Where are the plants grown?

 

What substitutes are there for each important plant product we use? What if important crop species completely died out from disease?

 

What common products are made from gas and oil? What did we used to use instead? What will we use when the gas and oil are all gone?

 

Fence an area near school or in your backyard. What plants appear? Were they there already? Fence a number of small areas and see how each plant species changes; what does lawn grass look like if you don't mow it?

 

Photograph one or more areas from the same vantage once a month for five or ten years. How does the habitat change over the years? Photograph a nearby area in the same way but fence it first. How is it different from the other?

 

You can "trap" small plants hidden in air, soil and water. Put out different baits (bread, moist fruit, meat) and trap molds. Put a microscope slide in pond water or half-bury in moist soil and see what starts to grow on it (using the glass as a perch--"contact slide method").

 

Soil has a "seed bank." Take bare soil from relatively barren areas and put in a pot and keep it warm and moist. What grows from them?

 

 

 

USEFUL PLANTS:

 

Grow seeds from edible fruit, or from seed spices. Fruit comes from the kind of plant that grows from the seeds in the fruit. Some plants that provide seed for food cannot survive our winter weather; which ones?

 

Make perfumes from flowers, lard, alcohol and a distilling apparatus. You can concentrate chemicals in plants.

 

Make thread, string and rope from milkweed; also pillow stuffing from the fuzzy seeds and rubber (maybe) from the sap.

 

Teachers can write commercial organizations (Washington DC and New York yellow pages under "Associations") for free kits and samples for use in classroom demonstrations.

 

Food and clothing products are labeled. What plant products are used everyday?

 

What plants do we eat and wear most? Read box and bottle and clothing labels and make a survey. Where are the plants grown?

 

What substitutes are there for each important plant product we use? What if important crop species completely died out from disease?

 

What common products are made from gas and oil? What did we used to use instead? What will we use when the gas and oil are all gone?

 

 

 

PLANT FORMS:

 

Germinate vegetables from roots. Roots easily develop into the plant they come from, but leaves and stems are much harder to grow into mature plants.

 

Pictures of plants can be found on the Internet.

 

 

 

PLANT HABITATS:

 

Fence an area near school or in your backyard. What plants appear? Were they there already? Fence a number of small areas and see how each plant species changes; what does lawn grass look like if you don't mow it?

 

Photograph one or more areas from the same vantage once a month for five or ten years. How does the habitat change over the years? Photograph a nearby area in the same way but fence it first. How is it different from the other?

 

Soil has a "seed bank." Take bare soil from relatively barren areas and put in a pot and keep it warm and moist. What grows from them?

 

Vectors: observe several different kinds of flowers to see what pollinators choose to visit them. Write down flower color, odor (sweet or fruity), time of day it opens, adaptations to wind pollination or insect pollination.

 

Adaptations for pollination:

 

Beetle-pollinated flowers: Magnolias, some lilies, wild roses, California Poppies. Also dogwoods, spiraeas, many of carrot-family, Skunk Cabbage. Beetles - highly developed sense of smell, poorer sight: therefore beetle-pollinated flowers are usually white or dull but have strong odors (fruity, spicy or fermentaceous as opposed to sweet). Nectar is secreted or if beetles chew the flower parts, the seeds are concealed beneath the floral chamber.

 

Bee, Wasp and Fly pollination: nectar and pollen taken. Bees see colors and outlines well, and can sense odors, cannot see red but can see ultraviolet as a distinct color. Many floral adaptations to coat hairy bodies with pollen. Bee flowers are not pure red. Orchids of genus Ophrys have flowers similar to female bees (pseudocopulation).

 

Moths and Butterfly pollination: Like bee pollination but many flowers are red or orange since some species of butter flies can see red or orange. Moths are nocturnal, so moth-pollinated flowers are often white and have odor only after sunset (e.g. Nicotiana). Evening primroses with yellow flowers are moth-pollinated.

 

Bird pollination: Hummingbirds and others in tropics. Lots of nectar but little odor, since sense of smell is poor in birds. Birds have color sense like ours, so bird-pollinated flowers are colorful, mostly red and yellow. Fuchsia, Passion-flower, Eucalyptus, Hibiscus, Poinsettia, many cacti, species of banana and orchid families. Flowers are usually large.

 

Bat pollination: Like bird pollination, but since bats are nocturnal the flowers are usually dull-colored and many open only at night. Odors fermenting or fruity. Flowers borne usually on strong stalks or directly on trunks because bats are comparatively heavy. Organ-pipe cactus.

 

Wind pollination: flowers have dull colors, relatively odorless, do not produce nectar, petals small or absent, flowers often aggregated and small (some beetle-pollinated flowers are also aggregated and small). Grasses, Birch (catkins), willows, oaks.

 

 

 

Diaspores: collect different kinds of seeds and fruit, list the adaptations for dispersal.

 

Adaptations for seed dispersal include:

 

Water: water resistant husk, floats, germinates in salty water. Coconut.

 

Wind:

 

Samaras are winged fruit. Elm, Ash. Maple.

 

Pappus hairs: Dandelion parachutes.

 

Dust-like fruit. Orchids.

 

Whole plant: Tumbleweeds scatter seeds.

 

Explosive dehiscence: Touch-me-not (Impatiens), Witch Hazel.

 

Animals:

 

Clinging fruit: hooks of Burdock fruits.

 

Fleshy fruit: seeds survive digestive tract. Cherry. Raspberries. Dogwoods. Grapes. The color of a ripe fruit is a signal that the seeds are mature and the fruit is ready to eat.

 

Grow plants from supermarket produce: Seeds: avocados, papayas, mangos, grapes, grapefruit, spices, "Eyes": sweet and Irish potatoes, Whole plants (see what kind of flowers are produced): lettuce, cabbage, Brussels sprouts. Where are these plants grown for market and in what part of the world do their wild ancestors grow?

 

Collect seeds of garden flowers (they are identified in the inexpensive packets you can get in stores).

 

Visit a nursery: the plants are identified. Also: Visit a botanical garden: South Park Conservatory, Niagara Falls Park School of Horticulture.

 

Games: Use small or large bags and invent inference games (what's in the bag):

 

-How many samples must they make to make a good inference about what is in the bag? marbles, paperclips, rubber bands, mixtures of various proportions.

 

-When is a theory good enough? when it correctly predicts what comes next. It doesn't have to be right, as long as the exception does never comes up, then the theory is serviceable to science. All theories are liable to exception.

 

-How would one invent an explanation game? answering question "how does it work?"

 

 

 

AN EXERCISE
The exercise is to teach methods of scientific analysis and synthesis, emphasizing general processes over merely correctly naming plants. The following demonstrate classification techniques in any field and on any collection of objects, nuts and bolts, paper fasteners, nails, etc. This might be good practice and will demonstrate how complex living things are.

 

A. Collection of actual specimens. Recommended are weeds or tree leaves from non-city areas (cannot identify city or garden plants with field identification guides to wild flowers). Mount pressed and dried specimens with white glue on paper with a label.

 

a. Analytic methods.

 

-Describe fully, in a large data table, the physical attributes (morphology) of each specimen. Point out in the table how the specimens differ from each other.

 

-The label should give the plant's name, if known. Also document each specimen as to place of collection, kind of habitat, date of collection, name of collector, color of flower, height of plant if complete plant not collected (e.g. tree leaves).

 

b. Synthetic methods.

 

-Note how each specimen is similar to the others. By noting which specimens are most similar to each other, organize the specimens into groups, and groups of groups (ranks). Make any number of groups of groups at first, but try to end up with four levels of groups of groups.

 

-Name the most basic groups as species and the next largest groups as genera and the next largest as families and the very largest as divisions or phyla. This can be done with or without recourse to plant identification books. Either use entirely artificial names that you make up for the basic groups (species) and for the groups of groups, or do as much as possible and if a correct name cannot be found in a book, make up a "classroom" name and use that. If you need more ranks, the following is a guideline:

 

TAXONOMIC LEVELS

 

Kingdom - Plantae

 

Division (Phylum) - Anthophyta

 

Class - Monocotyledones

 

Order - Commelinales

 

Family - Poaceae

 

Genus - Zea

 

Species - Zea mays (Corn)

 

(Zea mays (the actual species) is a taxon, so is Zea (the genus), so is Poaceae (the family), etc. Species is a rank (taxonomic level), so is Genus, etc.)

 

B. Collection of photographs: Photographs provide a way to document biological diversity of easily identified specimens without actual collection and subsequent negative impact on the environment. This is especially attractive to students since a full description of the specimen is not required in the case of photography. Document each photograph. To what extent can you do analytic and synthetic research using just photographs, and what does this tell you about the value of actual collecting? 

 


 

BIOGEOGRAPHY

 

This is where the specimen documentation is very important. Map the distribution (make "dot maps") of all groups and groups of groups. What might this tell us about possible reasons for these distributions? Effects of environmental factors and differing habitats (list these), and of vectors (analyze possible effect of different means of seed distribution, e.g. animal fur, stockings, dandelion seeds and acorns). Compare distributions with maps of soil types, rock types, climate differences.