Singing Sunflower Praises

By Eve Pranis

We've heard from a number of teachers who have reported that growing sunflowers, both indoors and out, has inspired student enthusiasm, questions, and studies across the curriculum. "They're big seeds, very fast growing, brightly inviting, and a popular snack food in my class," reports resource teacher Carol Ann Margolis from Smithville, NJ. "And I find that they're good for most types of investigations of seed germination and plant growth."

Carol Ann's students brought in bird food sunflower seeds, those from a health food store, and those packaged for gardens, then compared the seed types and grew all three in the classroom GrowLab and on windowsills. "We discovered that we could actually get them to bloom in the classroom after a few months, and learned by experimenting that smaller pots produce smaller plants and flowers." They also grow the plants successfully in trash cans outside the school as well as in the school garden. The garden sunflowers, she reports, grew so tall so quickly that the kids had a great time measuring their growth with math "links," then charting and comparing the plants' growth rates with their own.

Consider other ways in which sunflowers might light up your classroom. For instance,

  • observe the enticing flowers (really comprised of hundreds of tiny flowers) over time and discover who or what pollinates them, how the flowers in the head progress into bloom, and how seed is produced.
  • track sunflowers' movement (phototropism) as the sun changes in the sky throughout the day.
  • estimate, then confirm the number of seeds in one sunflower head.
  • explore the history and folklore of sunflowers -- a native American crop with a wide range of uses, ranging from dye to a cure for rattlesnake bites!
  • find out about the international production and uses of oil pressed from sunflower seeds.
  • research the nutritional value of sunflowers (and infer why birds flock to them!), then try some sunflower recipes.

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