Archive for the ‘teaching & learning’ Category

Why is the White House white?
What do bugs have to do with color?
What’s the difference between pigments and dyes?

These questions are answered in The Brilliant History of Color in Art, a new book by journalist Victoria Finlay.

Published by the J. Paul Getty Museum, this new book is accompanied by a collection of activities, handouts and lesson plans teachers can use in their classrooms.

Handouts about the following topics are available:

  • Discussion questions for the Brilliant History of Color in Art
  • An online quiz
  • Elements of Art (line, shape, forms, space, color, texture)
  • How to Make Paint (using pigments, instant coffee, Kool-aid or chalk).
  • Principles of Design
  • Watercolor Techniques

Also available are seven lesson plans for K-12 students and two virtual self-guided tours to help teachers prepare for their visit to the Getty Museum or the Getty Villa. These items are available in the Education section on the website of the J.Paul Getty Museum.

Learn more about this fascinating topic. Watch this short YouTube video.

The Brilliant History of Color in Art is available at The Getty Store or from your local independent bookstore.


Ecoliteracy Curriculum Emphasizes Plant Restoration, Natural Dyes

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ScienceWithPlants Science with Plants is a collection of hands-on activities about the structure and function of plants. The interdisciplinary activities in this book were created for children ages 8-12 and are a nice blend of art, math, ecology, gardening and of course, botany. You won’t need fancy supplies to complete these activities. Most of the items you’ll need are common household items. The major themes of Science with Plants are outlined below.

Here is a brief overview of what you’ll find in this 24-page book:

    Art Activity: Keep a Nature Diary
    Supplies Needed: Beans, lentils, rice, a glass jar, bean seeds
    Concepts Addressed: Seed morphology, how to conduct an investigation, germination, phototropism (a plant’s growth response to light), gravitropism (a plant’s growth response to gravity)
    Also See: A Seed is Sleepy

    Growing Plants

    Art Activity: Create a growth chart for nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Bean plants
    Other Subjects: Math, measuring
    Concepts Addressed: Seedling morphology, plant structure and function, plant needs, data collection
    Also See: Drawings reveal children’s conceptual knowledge of plant structure and function

    Plants and Water

    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Celery, ink, any potted plant, a plastic bag, small 2” plants, a large bottle (I think one of those clear plastic containers used for mixed nuts or jelly beans from warehouse stores would work well.)
    Concepts Addressed: Water conduction, plant tissues, transpiration, introduction to the water cycle

    Plants Use Light

    Art Activity: Leaf Print
    Supplies Needed: House plants, foil, paper, crayons
    Concepts Addressed: Phototropism, photosynthesis, leaf shapes, plant identification
    Also See:
    Comic book about photosynthesis
    The chemistry of plants


    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Roses, common flowering plants (e.g., tulip, daffodil, iris), magnifying glass (or try a magnifying glass app)
    Concepts Addressed: Flower morphology, plant-pollinator relationships, pollination


    Art Activity: Observing Trees
    Supplies Needed: Tree(s) in the yard or neighborhood
    Concepts Addressed: Tree growth, tree canopies, deciduous vs. evergreen
    Also See: Why Would Anyone Cut a Tree Down?

    New Plants from Old Plants

    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Onions, amaryllis, carrot tops, beet tops
    Concepts Addressed: Bulb morphology, forcing bulbs, vegetative propagation
    Also See: How to create a themed plant display

    Seed Dispersal

    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Dirt, plastic bag, assorted examples of seeds and fruit types
    Concept Addressed: Seed dispersal
    Also See: Seed pod project by Anna Laurent

    Plants & Soil

    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Soil, a clear glass (or plastic) jar, water, leaf litter, a plastic bag
    Concepts Addressed: Soil, decomposition
    Also See: A Log’s Life and the work of scientific illustrator, Robin Brickman

    Useful Plants

    Art Activity: Entry into nature diary
    Supplies Needed: Assorted plant material from the panty and refrigerator, cotton balls, newspaper
    Concepts Addressed: Recycling, economic botany
    Also See: Colorful Edibles

Author Helen Edom does a wonderful job of filling this book with practical learning experiences and clear instruction. She closes her book with a section titled, Notes for Parents and Teachers, in which she provides additional information to help parents and teachers answer questions that may come up during the activities.

Science with Plants is a nice addition to any home or classroom library and will provide hours of fun and thoughtful observation.

Available from your local independent bookstore. ($5.99)

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Cutting edge research meets botanical art in a new exhibition at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art at the Royal Botanic Gardens, Kew.

The exhibition Inspiring Kew offers a historical perspective about how scientists at Kew have inspired artists. The exhibition features botanical paintings from the 17th century, as well as artwork by contemporary artists Rachel Pedder-Smith and Laurence Hill.

Many of you are familiar with the work of Rachel Pedder-Smith. Today I would like to introduce you to artist Laurence Hill.

Laurence Hill takes a systematic photographic approach to botanical art. Hill’s life-size presentation of the genus Fritillaria is not only beautiful to look at, it is a lesson in biodiversity. Titled Fritillaria: A Family Portrait, the composite image he created is composed of 80 Fritillaria and provides “insight into the biodiversity of life” (Hill, 2014). His digital photographic image stretches across 5 panels and is 10 meters long and 1.4 meters high (~33 ft. x 4.5 ft.). Specimens in the image are arranged according to the molecular phylogenetic analysis of the genus as described by Peter D. Day, Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, and Laura J. Kelly (2014).

In the color booklet accompanying his exhibit, Hill describes his collaboration with Dr. Ilia Leitch and her research team at Jodrell Laboratory. He also presents a dendrogram explaining the taxonomic relationships between Fritillaria species and includes a replica of the 10 meter-long image now on view in the Shirley Sherwood Gallery of Botanical Art (the fold-out image is 1/10 the size of the original). This booklet can be purchased at the Shirley Sherwood Gallery for £2.50. It can also be purchased from Laurence Hill for £2.50 plus shipping (convert currency). Transactions will be processed through PayPal. To order the booklet from the artist, please contact Laurence Hill.

Laurence recently presented the first of two gallery talks about his work. His next gallery talk will be on November 5, 2014 at 2 pm. Seating is limited and reservations are required. To reserve a seat, please contact the Shirley Sherwood Gallery.

About Laurence Hill

Laurence Hill manages Fritillaria Icones, a searchable photographic database assisting with the identification, research and conservation of Fritillaria. This very informative database is an Open Access Web-based resource.

Laurence maintains a living collection of Fritillaria and has worked on Fritillaria Icones for many years. He graciously took the time to discuss his project and what educators will find at Fritillaria Icones.

Over several years I have been building a living collection which I systematically photograph and post online. This new dataset provides a supplement to other taxonomic resources, e-vouchers for published work and insight for many other botanical disciplines.

My living collection of Fritillaria, a genus of about 160 taxa, has over 700 accessions which are photographed at four stages through their annual cycle:

  • The bulb just after root growth has starts
  • The whole plant and a dissected flower at dehiscence of the anthers
  • The capsule just before seed dispersal showing it both whole and dissected
  • The seed just after germination

These images are dated, scale bars added and then formatted into PDF’s with accession details. Each PDF is put online with the URL incorporating the accession number and not the species name. This acts as a form of DOI or universal identifier so in the event of any taxonomic revision the image specimen set will continue to be associated with any reference.

These image sets can be used for species identification, delineation and classification but they also show:

  • Root structure
  • Period of growth
  • Photosynthesis period
  • Flowering point relative to other species
  • Mode and tempo of bulb renewal
  • Vegetative growth
  • Reproductive output
  • Seed type

Most herbarium specimens record a plant in flower and botanical illustrations prioritise the parts thought to be taxonomically important by the consensus of the day. I have chosen these four time points with Fritillaria to record a wide set of non-prioritised data. As photographs the information they carry is constantly open to re-interpretation. As a record of a botanical collection they have a phenotypic value and also service the interests of disciplines. Many of my accessions have been sampled for genetic research, both DNA sequencing and genome size, and these PDFs act as e-vouchers both for published work and online databases.

By combining images and textural information including synonyms and common names plus appropriate embedded metadata, the images on Fritillaria Icones have an enhanced visibility to internet search engines. Information, no matter how valuable, that lacks visibility will be underutilized.

My project is an example of how living collections in botanical gardens should be systematically recorded with photographic protocols established for genera or families. Databases need to move beyond random single images to embrace a more structured approach using horticulturists specifically trained to record the plants in their care. This would be an additional resource both to the taxonomic community but also to physiologist, genetics’ and non-traditional uses of taxonomic information.

These two PDF’s have the complete compliment of images.
Fritillaria amabilis
Fritillaria pontica

The information found in Laurence’s beautiful and informative database is available for educational use and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Literature Cited

    Day, Peter D. and Madeleine Berger, Laurence Hill, Michael F. Fay, Andrew R. Leitch, Ilia J. Leitch, Laura J. Kelly. 2014. Evolutionary relationships in the medicinally important genus Fritillaria L. (Liliaceae). Molecular Phylogenetics and Evolution. 80:11-19

    Hill, Laurence. 2014. Fritillaria: A Family Portrait.

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© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist's Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

© 2005 ArtPlantae Artist’s Herbarium, Hippeastrum flower

Here is a wonderful idea that can be used at schools that do not have the room or the funds to create a garden.

In 2004, undergraduate student Stefanie Lawniczak and professors D. Timothy Gerber and Judy Beck pilot tested a program enabling teachers and students to have direct access to plants at their schools. This program was created around three of the twelve principles of plant biology established by the American Society of Plant Biologists (#4, #7, #12) (learn more, get bookmarks).

Lawniczak et al. applied the National Science Education Standards to these principles and created five themed plant displays. The themes they chose to address were: Environment, Plant Families, Plant Organs, Growth & Reproduction and Plant Origins. Displays were placed in the media centers at three elementary schools and were left in place for 10 weeks. The theme of each display changed every two weeks. Teachers were invited to use display plants as subjects for their classroom studies and students were invited to drop questions in an “Ask a Botanist” box. At the end of the 10-week program, teachers received surveys and were asked to share their thoughts and experiences. Lawniczak et al. received positive feedback from teachers, as well as helpful recommendations about how to improve their displays.

Learn how each themed display was created and get a list of the easy-to-find plants (e.g., orchids, geranium, Hippeastrum) used in each theme.

Order a copy of Plants on Display at the NSTA Store for 99¢.

Literature Cited

Lawniczak, Stefanie and D. Timothy Gerber, Judy Beck. 2004. Plants on Display. Science and Children. 41(9): 24-29

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Lightbulbs. Cereal. Sandwiches.

This is what some kindergarten students cited as factors necessary for plant growth.

This and other interesting insights into what young students think about plants are revealed in Understanding Early Elementary Children’s Conceptual Knowledge of Plant Structure and Function through Drawings by Janice L. Anderson, Jane P. Ellis and Alan M. Jones.

Anderson et al. (2014) chose to investigate the conceptual knowledge of plants of K-1 students because, at this age, children are busily constructing explanations about what they see. The authors chose to analyze students’ drawings of plants for three reasons: 1) drawings enable young children to express what they cannot articulate verbally, 2) drawings offer insight into what children think, and
3) drawings offer insight into children’s stage of development with respect to conceptual thinking (Anderson et al., 2014).

The research team investigated student knowledge of plant structure and function specifically. They did this by creating a three-stage investigation. The data-collecting tools they used were a Draw-A-Plant instrument (based on the Draw-A-Scientist instrument), a plant survey, and interviews (Anderson et al., 2014). Study participants were K-1 students (n=182) from an elementary school in the southeastern United States.

Anderson et al. (2014) explain their research methods in detail, including how they coded student drawings. You can read about these methods in their paper. Today I provide only general insight into their findings.

Anderson et al. (2014) observed that:

  • Young students have some basic understanding of plant structure and function.
  • Young students have misconceptions about plants.
  • Some teachers spend more time discussing plants with students than others.
  • Some students learn about plants outside of the classroom.
  • Flowers and flowering plants are drawn most often.
  • Young students can identify the simple needs of plants.
  • Young students often exclude soil from their drawings.
  • Students sometimes demonstrate more plant knowledge in conversation than through drawing.
  • There is a lack of advanced conceptual knowledge about plant structure and function in young students.
  • Student interviews help researchers interpret their findings.
  • Students drawings provide insight into students’ life experiences.
  • There is a need to involve students in more inquiry-based activities about plant structure and function.

The paper by Anderson et al. (2014) is available for free through an Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons License. Click on the link below to download a PDF copy of the article that includes supplementary materials used in this project.

Literature Cited

Anderson, Janice L. and Jane P. Ellis, Alan M. Jones. 2014. Understanding Early Elementary Children’s Conceptual Knowledge of Plant Structure and Function through Drawings. CBE – Life Sciences Education. 13(3): 375-386. Retrieved from http://www.lifescied.org/content/13/3/375.full.pdf+html?with-ds=yes

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I recently read a keynote address delivered at the 2010 conference of the BioCommunications Association. It was given by Domenic Screnci, Executive Director for Educational Media & Technology at Boston University. In his address he reflected on the field of biocommunication and how biocommunicators each rely upon a unique set of skills that took them years to acquire.

Everyone reading this is involved in biocommunication in one way or another and we all have an interest in using visual forms of communication. In his presentation, Screnci (2010) reflects upon the many jobs he had that contributed to his becoming a medical photographer. This made me wonder… How did we all get here? How did we become biocommunicators with a keen interest in plants and imagery?

I thought I would pose this question in this week’s teaching and learning column.

Let’s talk. I’ll start…

    In hindsight, I can now see that my experiences as a biocommunicator began 30 years ago when I worked in a college zoology lab. I used to travel to classrooms with the animals and give naturalist talks. This was followed by teaching experiences in K-8 classrooms and in college classrooms. My graduate research made me more aware of how people learn and how they make meaning. Wrap these experiences up with explorations into authentic interests such as cartography, children’s literature, books, plants, history, botanical illustration, journalism, informal education and other life experiences and you get AP.

How did you become a biocommunicator?

Briefly share your story. Please provide at least your first name so we know how to address you. You don’t have to post your last name.

Literature Cited

Screnci, Domenic. 2010. Darwin and the Survival of the BioCommunicator. Journal of BioCommunication. 36(2): E57-E63

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There is a new resource for educators introducing students to coastal ecosystems, wetlands and watersheds. This new resource is CA Outdoor EDU and it was created by Ian Bernstein, an Environmental Studies graduate from UC Santa Cruz whose passion is education and environmental stewardship.

The CA Outdoor EDU website is brand new and resources will be added on a continuing basis. Visit CA Outdoor EDU and you’ll discover activities about the following topics: ocean tides, intertidal zonation, tide pool ecology, plant ecology and nature studies. You may be especially interested in the handouts for the plant ecology and nature study activities because both involve observation, drawing and writing.

Today we have the opportunity to learn more about this website and its creator.

Please join me in welcoming Ian Bernstein!

Ian, why did you choose to major in Environmental Studies?

I always knew I wanted to get into something involving the environment and didn’t know what I wanted to do at first. I started taking environmental studies classes on ecology and the environment and environmental literacy and fell in love.

You have lead environmental programs for California State Parks, Ballona Wetlands and are now at the Los Angeles Natural History Museum. What have you learned about creating programs for the public?

Creating programs for the public you have to know your target audience and also be aware of how you approach any subject so that you can speak not only to your target but also anyone that happens to wander in and want to take part.

Sometimes parents, grandparents or guardians find themselves in the position of having to lead a group of young naturalists in an activity at summer camp or scout camp. What advice do you have for individuals who suddenly find themselves in the position of being a front-line interpreter?

Open ended questions are the best way to encourage scientific discovery and fuel creative exploration of the outdoors. Simply asking questions that ask them how and why will make all the difference.

I see you are also a photographer and an avid traveler. How have your photography and travel experiences informed your environmental education programs?

I have been all over the world and seen so many sights — but the most stunning thing I have found isn’t the number of places, but the quality of time I have spent in those places enjoying what was around me instead of trying to make sense of it. This has definitely helped me develop my nature experience and in turn my approach to how to best facilitate this in formal and non-formal school situations.

What are your plans for CA Outdoor EDU? What kind of a resource do you want to create?

I hope to create a resource that helps people to have a nature experience. This can happen anywhere from seeing an ant on the sidewalk in downtown Los Angeles to walking through the redwood forests of northern California in Santa Cruz.


Do you have questions for Ian about CA Outdoor EDU and how you can use it in your classroom or program?

You are invited to ask Ian questions.
Please type your questions or comments in the Comment box below.

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