Indoor Gardening

Agriculture is crucial to all societies, yet most middle school students have few opportunities to learn about it, beyond its origin in the Fertile Crescent. Most U.S. students attend urban or suburban schools, isolated from agriculture. Many students have no idea what a potato, tomato, bean or pea plant looks like, let alone what is needed to sustain it. Ironically, many of these students are descendants of immigrants who brought with them and cultivated old country plants, which gave some comfort in a foreign land and have contributed to contemporary America’s menu and landscape.

Student engagement with agriculture and gardening can not only fill a knowledge gap but also tap in to the affective domain regarding enjoyment, fulfillment, ethics and aesthetics. In school gardening, students will discover relationships between biotic and abiotic factors, the role of cycles such as water, carbon and nitrogen, variables in plant productivity and how best to control them, data collection and dissemination techniques, and uncertainty in scientific investigations. Produce can serve as a springboard for studies in nutrition, cooking, economics, or community service via donation to a soup kitchen, for example. School gardening offers abundant opportunities for authentic learning and assessment.

Don’t have the time or the resources for a full outdoor garden? No problem. Try any of these indoor gardening ideas to whet your students’ appetites.

Fast Plants
“To know a plant, grow a plant” is the motto of the Wisconsin Fast Plant Program, a science education outreach program from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Fast Plants are in the mustard family, are small, easy to grow, and affordable, and have an incredibly short life cycle of about 40 days. From the activities page, we recommend Growth and Development and The Population Explosion.

Creating Herb Gardens: Inspiring Aromatic Adventures
Basic information on how to grow herbs in the classroom is included as well as science and history curriculum connections.

Tulipmania – Growing Flowers to Share
In this activity, students cultivate bulbs, and then practice philanthropy by giving the blooming plants to a community organization or persons of their choice. (This resource of part of the Learning to Give collection.)

Exploring Classroom Hydroponics
This guide features a synthesis of information from hydroponics experts and from people who have explored hydroponics with children in classrooms. It presents basic how-to information, suggestions for helping students discover concepts through investigations, plans for simple hydroponics setups, and stories from classrooms where students and teachers have investigated this growing technique.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School Portal science publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.

World Ocean Day

The Ocean Project, a network of aquariums, science museums, and conservation organizations, has designated June 8 as World Ocean Day. The network’s web site offers resources for these institutions to use in making the public aware of the significance of the ocean. In the resources below, you’ll find background information and lesson plans to help your students understand the importance of the ocean.

Ocean Explorer
This National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration site provides standards-based lesson plans, multimedia presentations and learning activities, descriptions of careers, professional development resources, the history of ocean exploration, and much more.

NOVA Online: Into the Abyss
This site chronicles the ambitious expedition that occurred in June and July 1998 a mile and a half beneath the sea off the Pacific Northwest coast where scientists attempted to retrieve several black smoker chimneys from the seafloor. These chimneys are home to bizarre life forms that thrive far beyond the reach of the sun’s light.

International Year of the Ocean
Created for the 1998 Year of the Ocean, this site has a wealth of features in the Kids’ and Teachers’ Corner. Included are an educator’s guide, fact sheets, unit plans, and poster.

Visit to an Ocean Planet – Classroom Activities
More than 40 classroom activities from this web version of the Visit to an Ocean Planet CD-ROM are grouped under climate, oceanography, and life in our oceans. Each activity is correlated to the national standards. Among the topics are properties of fresh water and sea water, deep ocean circulations, wind-driven currents and bioluminescence.


We Want Your Feedback
We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We appreciate your feedback on all of our Middle School Portal 2 publications. You can also email us at msp@msteacher.org. Post updated 4/19/2012.

The Three Bs: Bee, Bat and Bird Pollinators

April showers bring May flowers—and their pollinators. Many angiosperms, i.e., flowering plants, depend upon animals for species survival. If pollination fails, no new seeds (or fruits) are produced, genetic diversity declines, and the plant population could become threatened. Plants have various adaptations that increase the likelihood of successful pollination. Some require insect pollinators, some bird, and some bat; other pollinators include lizards, slugs, and even small marsupials. The wide variety of plant pollinators offers wonderful examples of the diversity and adaptations of organisms, aligning with the middle school Life Science content standards of the National Science Education Standards.

These resources provide intriguing still and video images of pollinators at work around the world, highlighting not only their adaptations but their economic importance as well.

Biology of Plants: Pollination
From the Missouri Botanical Gardens, this web site covers the basics of pollination. It explains how animals and wind carry pollen from plant to plant, along with how plants produce seeds after being pollinated. A slow-motion video clip shows a hummingbird collecting nectar from a flower and in turn pollinating it. Students can click on links to find more information on individual pollinators, such as bees and moths, or to sing a song about pollination.

Declining Bee Population Threatens Major Growers
This news feature from National Public Radio provides a beekeeper’s engaging, personal story, which can be both heard and read to learn more about the crops dependent on bees for pollination.

Celebrating Wildflowers: Our Future Flies on the Wings of Pollinators
This site from the U.S. Forest Service explains the importance of pollination and profiles many of the animals that serve as pollinators. A section on unusual pollinators features lemurs, honey possums, lizards, geckos, and skinks.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.

Unusual Plants: Not Your Average Garden Variety

Middle school students often have a rather generic concept of plants, failing to recognize the incredible diversity of plants. Unless students are widely traveled, it is unlikely their concept of plant diversity will expand without some intervention. Here are a few resources that can help you impart ideas of species diversity, biological classification, and adaptations, while developing your students’ sense of wonder and awe of nature’s diversity.

Epiphytes: Adaptations to an Aerial Habitat
A fact sheet, including photos, from the Royal Botanic Garden, Kew. Nicely organized with subheadings to quickly find information of interest.

Plants in Motion
A QuickTime movie of a Venus flytrap in action.

Century Plant 2007: Longwood Gardens
An awesome series of still pictures illustrates a Century plant’s growth and flowering at a horticultural display garden in Pennsylvania. Conservators removed a glass panel from the greenhouse roof to accommodate the flower.

Plants Profile for Agave Americana (American Century Plant)
This fact sheet from the U. S. Department of Agriculture provides maps of the distribution of this supremely unique plant. There is a link to images as well.

The Joshua Tree Desert USA
Read about the unusual symbiotic relationship between this species and the moth that the tree depends on for pollination. No other organism is capable of pollinating the Joshua tree’s flowers.

We Need Your Help

We want and need your ideas, suggestions, and observations. What would you like to know more about? What questions have your students asked? We invite you to share with us and other readers by posting your comments. Please check back often for our newest posts or download the RSS feed for this blog. You can also request email notification when new content is posted (see right navigation bar).

Let us know what you think and tell us how we can serve you better. We want your feedback on all of the NSDL Middle School PortalNSDL Annotation publications. Email us at msp@msteacher.org.