"I wanted my students to use their observation and thinking skills," reports third grade Cincinnati, OH, teacher Jay Williams, "and to get involved in basic plant care. "So I started out by planting a range of seeds (beans, marigolds, etc.) In enough pots so that each student had one. I then told the students that these were mystery seeds and that I was leaving it to the class to determine the seeds' identities."
Jay left resources around the classroom, such as the Eyewitness plant book, plant identification books, and seed catalogs. He encouraged each student to keep a journal with drawings and observations on his or her mystery plant, and to discuss and compare observations and predictions with other students. As students began noticing similarities and differences among the plants, reports Jay, they became more inspired to use the reference books and more bold in their predictions. "When they made their guesses about their plants' identities," says Jay, "I didn't confirm or deny them, but instead told them to look up more information and use evidence from other students to support their assertions. I was pleased with how students nurtured and cared for their mystery plants. It wasn't until students took the plants home at the end of the year that I finally confirmed their guesses about the plants' identities."