A simulated desert in Jan Model's Michigan classroom became a centerpiece for practicing mapping and geography skills. With support from a local horticulturist, Jan's seventh graders created a GrowLab desert environment in which they planted cacti and succulents.
The students worked in pairs to draw, describe, and measure their plants. Using materials from the library, students identified the plants in their desert environment and learned about their origins. From there, they located and marked the plants' origins and current distributions on their mural world map. "We're thinking about doing a similar project with a rainforest environment," said Jan. "It really helps the students visualize geographic diversity and is a great way to tie science and geography together."
You don't have to be simulating a particular ecosystem to tie GrowLab in to a geography/mapping lesson. Did you know that potatoes probably originated in Peru; lettuce from the Mediterranean area; cucumbers from India; radishes from China; watermelon from Africa? Consider having students trace and map the origins of whatever crops are growing in your garden. Ask them, What do the areas of origin tell you about the conditions they require for growth? Find out some of the history of use of different food crops.