Wednesday, February 27, 2013

Planting Science

Ok I am long overdue to post about one of my favorite biology programs! Just to put it out there upfront the program is totally free (except your lab materials of course). The summer after my second year teaching I was searching for summer professional development institutes. I stumbled upon the PlantingScience website and learned about a summer institute they were holding at Texas A&M. Knowing barely anything about the program other than it was about plant biology and the summer institute was all expenses paid I sent in an application and to my surprise was accepted. I spent 10 days in hot, humid Texas with a group of high school and middle school teachers, plant biologists, faculty from TAMU, and faculty from the Botanical Society of America. It was AMAZING! I learned so much in those 10 days about plant biology and using inquiry and authentic research in the classroom, it really did transform the way that I teach my biology class now!

So a little about the program. PlantingScience matches up student research groups with mentors who are plant biologists. As the teacher I select a module that I want to participate in and register for either the fall or spring session. I facilitate the learning in my classroom and provide opportunities for my students to access the internet to communicate with the mentors and other student groups about the process. Each group has a webpage that they maintain where the post their research questions, predictions, experiemental design, results, etc. There is also an area to post comments. Check out some sample student projects here.

Last year my students participated in The Power of Sunlight an inquiry into photosynthesis. The lab work was pretty straight forward and students came up with good scientific questions to test. They were able to discuss the development of their questions with the mentors, problem solve with them while collecting data, and get their input as they worked to analyze data and draw conclusions. At the end of the project students created power point presentations which were posted to their pages and shared with the whole class. This year my classes are doing one of the modules still in field testing which focuses on C-Fern life cycles. We are just starting this this week and hopefully will be online for the first time tomorrow.

In addition to using these two modules as the full online inquiry experience I also have used the celery challenge (also in field testing but one we worked on while in Texas). This I have used at the start of the semester. We are learning about cell structure and function then but also just beginning to develop scientific inquiry skills. It gives me a good first impression of where the students are at and what they need to work on in terms of thinking like a scientist. At the end of this project students made tri-fold poster boards that were fantastic! I have done this two years in a row and it has been a big hit with the students and a great learning experience in my opinion.

 Above: A groups photosynthesis trials - looking at the effect of temperature on the rate of photosynthesis in spinach leaves.

Above: results of initial celery trials. This group had simply sliced a bunch of celery and put it in water....they they had to figure out why some curled and some didn't and try to get the max curling.

Above: Cross section of celery stained and photographed under the microscope.

If you teach middle or high school biology I really suggest that you check out this website. It is easy to sign up (the spring sign up has gone by so keep it in mind for next year)! Plants are safe and pretty easy to work with, and the support from the crew at PlantingScience is wonderful!

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