With spring and Earth Day fast-approaching, here is a resource you’ll want to refer to the next time you need to talk about plants with preschool children. It will also help you introduce young audiences to the subjects of inheritance and traits.
In Plants, Alike and Different professor Kathy Cabe Trundle and doctoral students Mandy McCormick Smith and Katherine N. Mollohan explain how they use a learning cycle involving play, exploration and discussion to teach students how plants and insects are alike and different. Below is a general overview of their process. For a thorough review that includes the prompts they use in class and how they bridge one activity with another, read their enlightening paper.
During the Play Phase of the learning cycle, Trundle et al. (2013) provide children with unstructured playtime in a play area that has been stocked with silk flowers and plants. The authors state they often observe children pretending to pick flowers and pretending to plant a garden. Trundle et al. (2013) explain that unstructured playtime with plants gives children time to think about plants and to ask questions about them. Instructor-guided learning begins later in this phase and begins with a conversation about how humans are similar and different. This then leads to a conversation about how plants are similar and different (Trundle, et al., 2013).
During the Exploration Phase, students compare two types of marigolds, two types of pansies and two types of coleus plants to make observations about flower size, flower number, leaf shape, leaf color, textures, stem length and stem shape (Trundle, et al., 2013). Children document observations by drawing them, by creating leaf rubbings and by tracing leaves. The visual data recorded by children are then shared, much like how works-in-progress are shared at the end of a botanical illustration workshop. The sharing of data enables students to more easily see patterns in color, shape, size etc.
This visual information created during the Exploration Phase is paired with detailed discussion during the Discussion Phase of the learning cycle. Student observations are grouped and then arranged in a graphic organizer (i.e., chart). This chart helps students compare traits for each plant they studied.
The process of observing similarities and differences described above helps establish a foundation for more detailed conversations about traits and inheritance, concepts that are the focus of Part II of this activity by Trundle, et al. (2013). A link to their activity about inheritance is included in their paper.
Also included in their paper is a link to the rubric the authors use to evaluate student drawings and assess student understanding. The rubric serves as a checklist of objectives and targeted behaviors and is based on a project about helping children draw and sketch from observation from Illinois Projects in Practice at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Published just this week, Trundle et al. (2013) can be purchased online for 99¢.
Trundle, Kathy Cabe and Katherine N. Mollohand and Mandy McCormick Smith. 2013. Plants, alike and different. Science and Children. 50(6): 52-57