Uncovering Conceptions

By Eve Pranis

"Like most elementary educators teaching about seed structure, I had routinely invited my students to examine the inside of lima beans," reports third grade teacher Nancy Martin of Brooklyn, NY.

"But last year, a student's comment really forced me to question my assumptions," she added. After students observed a variety of seeds and listed what they knew about these objects, one pupil held up a lima bean and pronounced that it contained a baby plant. When Nancy then asked each student to pick up a seed that he or she thought contained a baby plant, everyone chose the lima bean. "In fact, one student declared, 'I don't think that these other things (e.g., peas) have baby plants'," reports Nancy. "I realized that after all these years of dissecting lima beans, I made the assumption that students naturally make the transfer and accept that all seeds contain embryos," she adds.

Humbled by her discovery, Nancy invited her students to spend weeks bringing in and exploring a much wider range of seeds such as peas, chick peas, various beans, pumpkins, peanuts, and corn. She notes that although embryos were less obvious in certain seeds, students found some evidence in most they explored. "The students were amazed to find evidence of embryos when they examined 'snack' seeds like pumpkin seeds and peanuts, "reports Nancy. And the class clearly progressed in another way. "The kids are becoming more comfortable questioning me and realizing that they can discover answers for themselves," explains Nancy. "What's more, I'm learning to be less of the goddess on stage, and more of a guide," she acknowledges.

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