Although trying bonsai in the classroom might seem like a way to teach patience, agriculture teacher Lisa Acampora of Canton, PA, found it to be an exciting and rewarding experience for her high school students. "Students not only learn concepts relating to plant growth, soils, basic needs, and so on, but they also developed a new appreciation for plants as art and as living organisms," reported Lisa.
Although bonsai starter plants are sometimes available in local plant stores, Lisa recommends purchasing small juniper bushes from a nursery. They used 1-foot tall junipers with a 12-inch root ball. "Junipers have plenty of branches to work with," said Lisa, "and are very hardy and forgiving."
To prepare for their own hands-on project, students first researched and learned about the cultural aspects and history of bonsai. "Then before pruning or wiring any branches," said Lisa, "students considered their design, then used pipe cleaners to illustrate how they would prune, and make predictions about how their mini-trees would develop. I emphasized that, like the true bonsai masters, their creations would be unique expressions of themselves."
A few young entrepreneurs learned marketing concepts as they negotiated selling their classroom-produced bonsai trees to a local merchant who resold them to the public. "Most, however," said Lisa, "chose to hang on to and continue to care for their precious creations. The student s gained confidence at completing a challenging task. They worked together well, and learned a bit more about each other as they conferred and asked for different opinions on their creations. This type of project would be a great addition to any classroom gardening program."