Digging Deeper with Seeds

By Eve Pranis

Discover How They Get Around.
Because plants are anchored to the earth, they have to be clever about relocating their offspring (seeds) so they won't have to compete for resources with their parents. Some are carried on the wind or water. Others hitch a ride on passing animals or are naturally catapulted great distances. Those that are concealed in tempting fruits are eaten by animals and deposited elsewhere. Invite students to take a fall seed walk in search of clues of traveling seeds. What types of adaptations (e.g., barbs, fluff or feathers, tasty fruits) can students identify that might help different seeds travel? Challenge them to use classroom materials to "invent" methods of dispersing seeds. Discuss how people move seeds. Read the classic book, Seeds: Pop, Stick, Glide by Patricia Lauber.

Create Seed Packets.
"To prepare my fourth graders for a statewide writing test, and connect it with our garden-based science program, I had students create "how-to" seed packets to share with other students and parents," reports Carol Smith from San Antonio, TX. Students used standard-sized paper to create giant seed packet envelopes, then researched the type of seed they would like to include in their packets. Next, they drew pictures of the seed and mature plant, and created a seed company name and logo. On the back of the seed packages, students brainstormed the type of "how-to" information someone would need to raise the plant to maturity, then used resource materials to help them create instructions: tools needed, growing conditions (sun, water, temperature), planting details, plant care notes, and so on. "Not only did the students learn about seed needs and care, but improved their writing skills and ability to describe processes step-by-step," says Carol.

Classify Them.
Consider using a simple classification key for common garden seeds to help students sharpen their observation skills. Have students carefully observe and divide a pile of unlabeled seeds into two groups based on an obvious characteristic (e.g., shape, color, length, texture). Challenge them to do the same to successive groups until each seed type has its own unique description. Discuss why scientists classify organisms according to structure in a similar fashion, so each can be described by a set of characteristics. From here, students can develop simple garden seed keys by writing each characteristic in the form of two yes or no questions (e.g., Is it round? Is it not round?), then exchanging keys and trying to identify each seed using another group's key.

Explore Seed Nutrition.
The bulk of the world's nutrition comes directly from seeds in the form of wheat, corn, soybeans, and so on, and half the world's population depends on the seeds of one grass alone for food: rice! Most oils are pressed from seeds. When we eat seeds instead of planting them, we get the food that the plant stored for its own growth. Challenge students to do some research and become seed sleuths. Have them search their food shelves for evidence of whole or processed seeds. (Don't forget the coffee, chocolate, and spices!) Discuss why seeds are so nutritious. Have students bring in a variety of seeds found in their kitchens...lentils, dried beans, brown rice, citrus seeds, and so on...then try to grow them. After exploring seed nutrition, have a "seed snack day" in which each food item students bring in has to contain seeds in some form. Students should be able to explain their seeds' role in the snack.

Exchange Them.
Invite students to exchange seeds of unusual, indigenous, or culturally significant plants with classrooms in other parts of the country or world. Consider checking the E-mail Pals Exchange in the September 1998 issue of Growing Ideas or on our Web site (www.garden.org/edu/penpals.htm). Share questions and information to discover how the plants are used and valued in different areas.

Share Seedy Language.
Brainstorm seed symbols in our language (e.g., good and bad seed, seed money, seed of an idea). How does the word seed give different phrases meaning?

Study a Seed Scientist.
Research the work and experiments of Luther Burbank, a keen observer and curious scientist who explored how to produce better plants and tastier fruits and vegetables by saving seeds from selected plants.

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