Which End is Up?

By Eve Pranis

Its outside skin looks dead and its inside skin looks alive. It looks like an onion. I wonder if you can plant it. How come it has so many layers? These candid observations and "wonderings" emerged as Carmel, IN, first through third graders took a close look at some "mystery objects" with parent volunteer Patti Chester and teacher Mary Beth Fitzgerald.

"We started the investigation by giving groups of three students each a flower bulb to observe without telling them what it was," explains Patti. Each group got a sheet to record observations and "wonderings," a bulb, and a hand lens, then spent ten minutes exploring.

Once students had exhausted observations of the bulb exteriors, the adults cut each "object" in a manner requested by each group, allowing students to explore the inside and to add to their lists of comments and queries. "Finally, we reviewed our observations and questions and the students shared thoughts on what they thought the objects were," says Patti. "Although they still weren't quite sure, most students thought they were bulbs, so we agreed to call them that. And since most kids thought they would grow, we decided to plant them in a soilless mix," she adds. Each group was asked to agree on how they wanted to try planting their bulb, then draw their plan. Each student then had to draw what they thought the bulb would look like once it had grown.

"Some groups planted just a piece of the bulb, some planted it quite deeply, and some planted it upside down," notes Patti. "The teacher and I made sure to plant several extra pots 'correctly,' with the pointed side up and a bit of the top of the bulb showing," she adds.

To help these youngsters consider the conditions these bulbs might need for growth, the adults read a story about a young boy who unsuccessfully tries to grow bulbs he had found in a basement. When his dog dug up some spring flowers and he noticed that they had come from bulbs, the boy pondered why the basement bulbs wouldn't grow but the ones that had spent the winter underground did. Students brainstormed ideas, and decided that the bulbs might need to spend time being cold, Patti reports.

"Students agreed to try leaving the pots of bulbs in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic bags, and placed in boxes labeled 'science experiment,'" explains Patti. "We decided that three months would be enough 'winter' for the plants, and patiently waited to take them out. When we did, students immediately observed signs of growth, some of which were surprising," she continues. In some pots, roots seemed to emerge from the top; in others, shoots poked up.

Students observed the plants for a month in the GrowLab, until most had bloomed, then had a chance to dig them up and observe more closely. Groups compared their original predictions with how bulbs actually grew. "Several bulbs that had been planted upside down even had shoots twisted completely around in an attempt to grow up," observes Patti. "Through this engaging inquiry, students were able to make their own connections to figure out how bulbs should actually be planted," she adds.

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