Turn on Learning With Bulbs

By Eve Pranis

"A bulb is a promise," Wendy Sherman tells her pre-schoolers in Sudbury, MA. "You can do your part to provide certain basic conditions for them, and then you have to hope that nature comes through with the rest." These marvelous packages, each containing a complete miniature plant and its lunch, can provide a captivating theme for exploring plant growth and adaptations, using math skills, and enriching history, while brightening winter classrooms with the promise of spring.

"Would it really matter if we planted a bulb upside-down?" asked several of Wendy's preschoolers. With Wendy's encouragement, the class decided to find out. The kids planted one crocus right side up and one upside-down, then chilled them through the winter. "Students made a whole range of predictions about what would happen," said Wendy. While one bulb grew as they'd expected, they dug up the "upside-down" bulb to discover it had grown circuitously in an attempt to reach light, but never bloomed. "Students concluded that it must have used up its energy on its trip to find the light, but had none left for flowering," Wendy said. "Seeing that dramatic visual image gave kids an understanding and appreciation for the amount of energy stored in bulbs."

Meanwhile, in other GrowLab classrooms throughout the country, and range of bulb projects have taken root.

* Math teacher Michael Bowers and science teacher Jerry Parker were searching for a theme for an integrated math/science project for "at risk" 10th through 12th graders in Eugene, OR. A going-out-of-business sale at a local nursery provided the inspiration and dozens of low-cost bulbs for this hands-on project. Teams of students planted tulip bulbs in containers in October with hopes of coaxing them to bloom for Valentine's day.

The pots were buried under a stake of leaves outdoors to provide them with a "winter," then brought back to the classroom for forcing during January. Students kept a daily bulb diary and plotted growth. They decorated the pots with foil wrap and ribbons and brought 40 pots of vibrant tulips as Valentine's Day gifts to a local nursing home. "The kids had never done much with plants," commented Michael, "and they really enjoyed this project. It inspired a lot of interest in gardening, as well as questions and 'what if's' about plants that led to further exploration including a cloning project."

* Teams of students in Sally DeRoo's 9th /10th grade class in Plymouth, MI, planted, cared for, measured, and predicted growth rates of amaryllis bulbs. "One of the bulbs showed few signs of growth," said Sally, "and its caretakers were disgusted. Then suddenly it shot up and had an even larger flower stalk than the others. These tough high school boys experienced such awe and amazement when the eight gorgeous blooms appeared."

"How could this perfect, beautiful flower come from that little bulb?" one student remarked in amazement. Students became gentle caretakers, and even offered to "babysit" for one another's bulbs. Students shared their bulbs with the school office where they reportedly delighted staff and visitors for months.

* Second and third grade classes in Yelm, WA, reports Cyndy Johnson, initiated a blooming contest with their respective class amaryllis bulbs. Students exchanged daily visits to observe, compare, measure, chart growth, and to cheer on the bulbs. As they read the book A Flower Grows by Ken Robbins, they compared the growth and development of their bulbs to those in the book. Cyndy described how students began to notice that each amaryllis leaned in a different direction and wondered why that might be. After further observation and discussion they concluded that the plants received light from different directions since the classrooms were on different sides of the building-a firsthand lesson in phototropism.

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