Plant Watchers

By Eve Pranis

"When we began the PlantWatch Project, my sixth graders were tickled by the idea that plants can tell us things we wouldn't know if we didn't look at them," reports Peggy Bergmann from Alberta, Canada.

"And they were motivated to be part of a real-life research project to track when certain plants bloom throughout the continent," she adds. With the help of botanist Elisabeth Beaubien, Peggy's students identified several plants of Amelanchier alnifolia (a shrub also known as saskatoon or serviceberry) growing in different microclimates around the school (e.g., a south-facing and east-facing slope). Their goal was to discover the environmental factors that prompted the shrubs to bloom in the spring.

Each of several small student groups was charged with tagging and naming a shrub to track. Every couple of days in early spring, one person from each group observed the progress of each plant, discussed their findings with their group, then shared significant observations with the class. Each group added observations to a class chart that also included weather data. "Since the PlantWatch researchers wanted to know when the shrubs were at different stages, students also had to figure out how to determine percentages of bloom," says Peggy.

The project generated fruitful discussions about how differences such as exposure to sun affected how early plants bloomed, says Peggy. "And the kids felt a real ownership in the project, since we explored together and I wasn't the one imparting the knowledge," she adds. By examining the PlantWatch Web site , students were also able to see how their observations combined with those of others across the continent to create a vision of how the "green wave of spring" progresses.

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