"As a way of encouraging students to observe deeply and to inquire about the natural world, I gave groups of them peanuts in shells to observe," reports multigrade St. Louis, MO, teacher Doloris Pepple. "I asked them to do just two things at first-to write down everything they could possibly observe, and to list all of the questions that their observations generated. Students came up with a range of excellent questions." The longer and more fully they observed, she notes, the more detail they noticed, and the more questions emerged. Could it grow through the shell? Does water go through the shell? How many are inside? What's inside the seeds that are inside the shell? As a class, they discussed which questions the students could actively investigate and which were better answered through research and other means. They then worked in groups to set up experiments to answer the questions that most intrigued them. Each student also had an opportunity to grow his or her own peanut plant, which sparked even more queries: Will they sprout better in or out of the shell? Which growing conditions (GrowLab vs. south vs. east windows) will provide the best peanut plants?
As part of this nutty project, the class planted an entire peanut patch in a 50-gallon aquarium in the school greenhouse for other classes to explore. "Students wanted to plant the seeds next to the glass," reports Doloris, "so we could examine their roots as they grew. But a horticulturist told us that roots don't tend to like light and will probably grow inward, away from the light." Like good inquirers, the students decided to design their own test to check the validity of the advice. They left part of the peanut patch container covered with dark paper and left some exposed to the light. They then posted questions to help other students observe and ponder this underground mystery. "We plan to build on the students' growing interest," says Doloris, "by exploring peanut history, nutrition, and cultural uses."