First Science Experience With Plants - Lessons in MSU Botanic Garden

Curriculum | INQUIRE COURSE

Alla Andreeva | 27/05/12 | Moscow, Russia

During April and May MSU’s Botanic Garden has been busy conducting classes with schoolchildren as part of the INQUIRE project. The classes were developed jointly by educators studying on the INQUIRE course and Garden experts. The teachers invited children of various ages to take part: from those just completing primary school (4th grade) to others who have begun studying the Nature Studies and Botany curriculum (5th -6th grades) and some who are in the 10th grade.

The research topic was early flowering plants in the Botanic Garden. The children were introduced to the diversity of plants from different corners of the earth, most of which they had never seen before. They then chose a plant and studied the structural features of its flowers. Many of them, for example, were able to see a birch inflorescence through a binocular microscope for the first time. The older students worked independently, using plant guides, comparing and identifying the distinguishing features of flower structure related to pollination mechanisms and suggesting their own hypotheses. There was a particularly interesting debate on how plant structure inhibits self-pollination. The students then had to seek evidence for their own hypotheses by studying the structure of the plants under a microscope. They also worked actively with the plan of the garden, as they conducted their studies in small independent groups (2-3 students). Although the subject matter of the lessons and research was identical, every lesson was different, as students of different ages were set questions to match their level of understanding.

The lessons were enjoyed by all – both students and teachers. Some of the teachers, incidentally, invited their colleagues along, many of whom had no previous experience of conducting classes in the Botanic Garden. They were impressed by the way these lessons encourage children to pursue scientific research and study biology, and also by the emotional inspiration they provide. After the lesson, many of the kids seriously decided to take up biology.

The teachers were invited to continue discussing the findings of the research and observations during classes at school, while the students were asked to draw maps expressing their hypotheses and the findings of their observations in the form of questions and answers. After the lesson the kids could easily name more than 10 species of early flowering plants that they had learned about, and were able to illustrate the structure of their flowers. During the classes the teachers kept diaries on their students’ level of engagement; they were pleasantly surprised to see students who are not so active in school getting actively involved, while others who usually get low marks in school performed well.

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