How do you teach your students the importance of making detailed observations?
Do you use a single leaf? Leaves arranged along a stem? A single flower?
How long does it take you to make your point? To explain foreshortening?
Here is an activity to consider when the only message you want to get across is “look closely”.
In A Lemon of a Lesson, professor James Minogue shares how he uses lemons to teach elementary school students (grades 3-6) and his preservice teachers the value of looking closely. While lemons may appear to be only balls at first glance, Minogue (2008) demonstrates that they provide ample opportunity for students to make insightful observations, take measurements and even use a magnifying glass.
Minogue’s lesson in observation is comprised of six simple steps. They are:
- Choose a lemon from the bowl. Observe your lemon, record observations using words and a sketch.
- Take measurements using measuring tape and study your lemon using a magnifying lens. Record your observations.
- Return lemons to the bowl.
(Note: After lemons have been returned, Minogue redistributes lemons to other areas of the classroom.)
- Look for your own lemon using the detailed and descriptive data you recorded.
- Look for a classmate’s lemon using their data. Discuss your selection with your classmate.
- Complete the post-activity worksheet.
Minogue (2008) conducts a post-activity discussion with students in which they share what made the search for a specific lemon easy and what made it difficult. He says during this discussion, students are quick to realize that “accurate measurements, careful sketches, and attention to distinguishing features” (Minogue, 2008) are key to making accurate observations.
Why does this lemon lesson work? Minogue (2008) explains this lesson is effective because when you ask students to study familiar objects, this opens their minds to new ways of seeing.
I am sure you already see how this activity can be applied to lessons about plant morphology and botanical art.
The worksheets Minogue uses in his activity are included with his paper. You can buy Minogue (2008) for 99¢ from the journal Science and Children.
Minogue, James. 2008. A lemon of a lesson. Science and Children.