Inquisitive students ‘grow clothes’ from plants and fungus

Botany

Natasha Gartside, BGCI | 27/06/13 | London

For the past ten months, Queen Elizabeth II High School students Emma Howard, Millie Barrow, Grace Harrop and Annabell Jose have been using green tea and sugar not to brew cups of tea but, by adding yeast and bacteria to the mix, to grow clothes. Dissatisfied with the way teenagers buy cheap fashion items from places such as Primark only to promptly cast them off for new ones, this group were inspired to experiment with something more ethical and based upon science in their biology classroom.

Although the connection to inquiry-based science education may not be immediately evident in this instance, through their project these students demonstrate elements of inquiry in science by engaging directly with plants and their organic matter. It seems that the project was very much a student-driven idea and through engagement with each other, experimenting (first in a plastic box and also with natural dyes such as beetroot and red onion), learning from those experiments and applying their acquired knowledge, within weeks they had grown a vegetable leather fabric. This, in its basic sense, is exemplary of inquiry-based education. By carrying out the project, these students have implemented some of the sequential activities of IBSE.

For many botanic garden educators and school teachers, the question is how to engage young people with plants. The idea of ‘plant blindess’, which describes how school students in particular consider animals more interesting than plants, viewing the latter as inferior, demonstrates an obstacle to inquiry-based education about vegetation. But this project in some sense challenges such a concept and presents an example for both teacher-guided and student-led science education. It also communicates a message of possible alternatives for clothing that are sustainable and biodegradable. And the fact it won the Ecover Young Green Award, one of the Observer Ethical Awards 2013, merely highlights its success.

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