Posts Tagged ‘teaching & learning’

Did you know there was once a movement to create a large botanical garden in metropolitan Los Angeles?

The Kew Royal Botanic Gardens uncovered records and letters about this garden in their archives and writes about the garden on their website. They tell the story of California naturalists who started a non-profit organization and who purchased 3,200 acres of land in the Santa Monica Mountains. The organization planned to use 800 acres to create a public garden and research center. The remaining 2,400 acres were to be sold as residential property. The proceeds were to fund the garden.

Called the “California Botanic Garden”, the garden opened in 1928. The stock market crash of 1929 and the Great Depression forced the garden closed in 1935. The garden and the surrounding land was sold and both were eventually enveloped into what is now L.A.’s Brentwood community.

What happened to all the plants?
Find out in The Forgotten Garden on Kew’s website.

You Might Also Enjoy This from the Teaching & Learning Archves

Public Perception of Botanical Gardens

Reminder: The weekly teaching & learning column is on a brief publishing break. This break will continue through June.
In the meantime, I hope you enjoy revisiting selected articles.

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Every new generation will have a more impoverished image of nature than the former one.

— Abraham A. Mabelis

Can the need to conserve biodiversity be understood by those who have hardly experienced nature?

Abraham A. Mabelis of the Netherlands wondered this very thing. To answer this question, he knew he had to find out what kind of preconceived ideas and beliefs people had about nature. Interested in what children thought about biodiversity and extinction, he surveyed Dutch school children ages 8-16. The results of his survey are the subject of the paper, Children’s Opinions about the Loss of Nature.

Mabelis (2005) surveyed 400 students — 200 elementary school students
(age 8-12) and 200 secondary school students (age 12-16). These children attended schools that did not have an environmental education program.
Mabelis surveyed students using a questionnaire. Students responded to three groups of questions. The first group inquired about how often students thought about pollution, dying forests, species extinction and accidents at nuclear power plants.

The second group of questions polled students about how seriously they viewed water pollution, air pollution, soil pollution, dying forests, the disappearance of natural forests, species extinction, nuclear power plant accidents, illness and death.

The third group of questions polled students about thoughts of their own future and thoughts about the future of their country.

Students were also asked to share their ideas about how to improve the environment.

Mabelis (2005) observed most of the students surveyed (71%) thought about pollution at least some of the time and that students considered air pollution to be more serious than water and soil pollution. More than half of those surveyed also thought about dying forests and species extinction. Mabelis (2005) observed that elementary school children think about extinction more often than secondary students and that, in general, indifference towards extinction varies by species.
It appears children, regardless of age, view the extinction of “large and attractive” species to be more serious than the extinction of “small and less attractive” species (Mabelis, 2005). He also observed that students viewed the extinction of rare species (he used an orchid as an example) as being more serious than the extinction of a common species such as a dandelion (Mabelis, 2005).

Could children’s views of species extinction be changed through education?

Mabelis (2005) investigated this too and surveyed students again after they received four months of instruction about the environment. He discovered that student indifference towards the extinction of some species can change after receiving visual information and in-class instruction. He observed statistically significant changes in student opinions about the death of forests and dandelion extinction.

When asked to offer suggestions about how to improve the quality of the environment, 70% of elementary school students responded, while 50% of secondary school students responded (Mabelis, 2005). Student suggestions addressed things people can do at home (e.g., recycle, use less packaging, etc.) and included the need to increase the number of natural areas and the need to provide better information about the environment at school (Mabelis, 2005).

Mabelis (2005) elaborates on his findings and student feedback in his paper.
He also compares his study to other European studies and provides insight into what European children think about biodiversity and the loss of nature. Mabelis also categorizes the responses he received from students and offers suggestions about how environmental education programs should be taught.

The core message of Mabelis (2005) is this — to help children understand biodiversity, conservation and nature-friendly behavior, adults need to explain the relationships between society and nature and provide examples of alternative ways of doing things.

How might change be encouraged in a classroom or on an even more personal level such as during spring break or summer vacation? Visit the “Teaching & Learning” column in the margin at right for ideas. Here some examples of what you’ll find:

Mabelis (2005) is available online for free, compliments of the
Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa (see link below).

Literature Cited

Mabelis, Abraham A. 2005. Children’s opinions about the loss of nature. Southern African Journal of Environmental Education. 22: 123-136.
Retrieved from http://eeasa.org.za/images/publications/eeasa_journal_22_2005/11-EEASA-Vo_22.pdf.


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Imagine engaging students in conversation about plant morphology, insect morphology, metamorphosis, scale, point of view, value, color blending, symmetry, analogous colors, neutral colors, careers in scientific illustration, Georgia O’Keeffe AND Maria Sibylla Merian.

The resource to help you accomplish such a spectacular feat is the focus of this week’s column. It is only two-pages and it’s free.

Get “Beginning with a Flower”


Russell, Scott. 2012. Beginning with a flower. SchoolArts. May/June 2012. Retrieved from http://www.davisart.com/Promotions/SchoolArts/PDF/5_12_early-childhood-studio-art-lesson-plan-beginning-with-a-flower.pdf

(Updated 9/18/14)


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Paardebloem [De Europische insecten], Merian, Maria Sibylla, 1647-1717,Transfer print, hand-colored, 1730, Dandelion, with caterpillar. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Paardebloem [De Europische insecten], Merian, Maria Sibylla, 1647-1717,Transfer print, hand-colored, 1730, Dandelion, with caterpillar. Digital image courtesy of the Getty’s Open Content Program.

Sometimes we work on projects and wish we could include an image from a historic resource or an image created by a famous artist to show connections or to reinforce learning. Many good ideas have been cast aside because of questions like — Where do I look for the image I want to use? How do I ask for permission to use it? How much will it cost?

The Getty Research Institute has made the dilemma of image use a little easier to manage thanks to their Open Content Program. Launched in August 2013, the Open Content Program features digital images to which the Getty holds the rights or images that are in the public domain. The database has more than 10,000 images of works of art that include paintings, drawings, artists’ sketchbooks, sculptures and much more. The Getty Museum released 4,600 Museum images in August and the Research Institute added 5,400 in October. These images can be used for any purpose. No permission is required and the images can be used for free.

Natural history artists and educators will find many items of interest in the Open Content Program. For starters, it has 1,397 images about the natural world. Included are works of art by Maria Sibylla Merian and Jan van Huysum. Users can search for artists by name, search for specific types of art (e.g., drawing, photographs, etc.) or search by topic. Searches for topics such as trees, plants, flowers, and insects will keep you busy for quite a while.

This database is large and you will find yourself clicking here, there and everywhere. If you get lost in your own search, all you have to do is click on the Search History tab at the top of the page to view your search history and to revisit subjects you have explored.

The Getty Research Institute has made art and history accessible to everyone and it is a wonderful resource for artists, naturalists and educators.

Visit the Open Content Program


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While plants may not be the most interesting subject to some people, did you know that young children have a genuine interest in plants?

What, then, do children know about plants and where do they learn about them?

Professors Patricia Patrick and Sue Dale Tunnicliffe address these questions in What Plants and Animals Do Early Childhood and Primary Students’ Name? Where Do They See Them?

To address these questions, Patrick and Tunicliffe (2011) used a three-layered interview approach to determine the kind of knowledge children had about plants and animals. They interviewed 108 children. Seventy-two from England and thirty-six from the United States. Their sample population was comprised of children from four age groups — 4, 6, 8 and 10.

Patrick and Tunnicliffe used a three-layer interview format to determine what children think of as a plant or an animal, and to investigate how they see relationships between organisms and habitats. They chose this approach over others such as drawing, concept mapping and pre- and post-testing because, as they explain, “…if knowledge is defined as the ability to evaluate ideas and share them through observation, verbalization, hypothesizing, and conversation then we propose that children’s knowledge of plants and animals may be ascertained through interviews” (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011).

In separate interviews, children were asked about their knowledge of plants and animals. During each interview, children were asked to free-list as many plants/animals as possible within a 1-minute period. They were then asked to explain where they saw each plant/animal in their list. Children were also asked about the plants/animals living at their school and at their homes. Finally, children were asked to link a habitat with a plant or animal.

Data collected during the plant interviews indicate that children from England and the US include similar numbers of plants in their free lists (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011). The authors observed that children from both counties name farm-raised plants more often and state they see these plants in home gardens. Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011) also observed that children’s prior experiences with eating or planting plants with their families made a difference regarding their knowledge about plants. Because of this, the authors recommend that teachers include hands-on activities using real plants (not plastic) in their classrooms.

How did children’s knowledge about plants compare to their knowledge about animals? Here is a quick summary. Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011) observed that:

  • Eight year old children listed more animals than the other age groups.
  • English children tended to include more exotic animals in their free lists, while US children included more endemic animals.
  • Children from both countries listed farm animals least often.
  • Children from both countries indicated they see animals in the media, at home in the garden, at zoos and at school.

Patrick and Tunnicliffe’s investigation into children’s encounters with plants and animals and where they see them is very detailed. Their paper contains much more information and would be of interest to classroom teachers and to informal science educators. Data from this study suggest children are more likely to remember the plants and animals introduced to them outside of school and that a formal classroom setting “does not have a considerable influence on how children understand objects in the natural environment, especially at younger ages” (Patrick & Tunnicliffe, 2011).

The authors provide extensive background into where children encounter plants and animals on a daily basis and explain the value of nature-based experiences outside of the classroom. Included in their paper are copies of the plant interview and the animal interview they used, as well as a long list of references about science education, botany education and environmental education.

Patrick and Tunnicliffe’s article can be purchased through SpringerLink for $39.95. You can also look for a copy at your local college library.

Literature Cited

Patrick, Patricia and Sue Dale Tunnicliffe. 2011. What plants and animals do early childhood and primary studens’ name? Where do they see them? Journal of Science Education and Technology. 20:630-642

Also see these studies cited in Patrick and Tunnicliffe (2011)

    Bebbington, Anne. 2005. The ability of A-level students to name plants. Journal of Biological Education. 39(2): 63-67.

    Lindemann-Matthies, Petra. 2005. “Loveable” mammals and “lifeless” plants: how children’s interest in common local organisms can be enhanced through observation of nature. International Journal of Science Education. 27(6): 655-677

    Schneekloth, Lynda H. 1989. Where did you go? The forest. What did you see? Nothing. Children’s Environments Quarterly. 6(1):14-17

    Tunnicliffe, Sue Dale. 2000. Talking About Plants: Comments of Primary School Groups Looking at Plants as Exhibits in a Botanical Garden. Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University (September 7-10, 2000).

    Uno, Gordon E. 2009. Botanical literacy: What and how should students learn about plants? American Journal of Botany 96(10): 1753-1759

Looking for Hands-on Garden Activities?

See books about plant-based education at ArtPlantae’s retail location at Aurea Vista. These titles can also be purchased online at ArtPlantae Books.

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TheAlphabetOfTheTrees9780915924639 The problem most students seem to have is that they see nature as “Other.” Nature is a tourist destination, a place on a map, something saved by buying and selling crunchy candy. They rarely understand that they themselves might actually be part of it.

— Christian McEwen & Mark Statman

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing
is a collection of twenty-nine essays by nature writers, poets, fiction writers and educators. More than simply a collection of essays about nature, The Alphabet of the Trees is a wonderful collection of ideas for the classroom and the field.

In their respective essays, contributors share their experiences teaching students how to write about nature. Contributors provide clear instruction, examples of student work and plenty of inspiration to last an entire school year.

McEwen & Statman (2000) published this book for teachers because they wanted to change how the subject of nature is approached in the classroom. They explain that they want nature to be more than a collection of facts. Their book has so many wonderful ideas and so many different ideas, it is impossible to summarize them. Instead of attempting a blanket summary, I would like to offer a glimpse into the type of nature writing activities contributors share with teachers. Listed below is the name of each contributor and the lessons and inspiration they invite teachers to bring into their classrooms.

Nature Writing Activities

  • Gary Snyder – The power of language and observation.
  • Matthew Sharpe – Ideas about how to lead a conversation about nature in an urban classroom.
  • Susan Karwoska – Using children’s literature to explore nature in the city.
  • Joseph Bruchac – Teaching the value of listening to connect with, and write about, nature.
  • Sam Swope – How to write about common objects in many different ways.
  • Eleanor J. Bader – How to write an advocacy essay.
  • Kim Stafford – Recording the thoughts and words of children.
  • John Tallmadge – Looking for wildness in the city.
  • Mary Oliver – How to keep a notebook of felt experiences.
  • Barbara Bash – Field sketchbooks in the city.
  • Sarah Juniper Rabkin – Seeing through the eyes of a scientific illustrator.
  • Clare Walker Leslie and Charles E. Roth – Nature journaling with school groups.
  • Christian McEwen – Using the five senses to write about nature. Also, how to set up an ode to nature or any topic.
  • Suzanne Rogier Marshall – How to transition from looking to writing.
  • Holly Masturzo – How to encourage observation through discovery.
  • Ann H. Zwinger – How to write a natural history essay.
  • Carolyn Duckworth – Tools for exploring an animal and an issue.
  • Mary Edwards Wertsch – How to write nature poems (specifically question poems).
  • Michael Morse – Writing about nature using the senses and observing transformations in nature.
  • Penny Harter – Lessons that address how to write about animals (grades 4-12).
  • William J. Higginson – How to write haiku and linked poems (includes renku topics and guidelines for teachers)
  • Cynde Gregory – A garden writing exercise that is a good lead-in to a unit about plants.
  • Jordan Clary – Using nature imagery in poetry.
  • Jack Collom – A wonderful collection of writing ideas for poetry.
  • Terry Hermsen – An exercise in creative memory (poems to help humans recall what they have forgotten about Earth, Wind, Air and Fire.
  • Margot Fortunator Galt – Nature as teacher and guide (circle poems, writing about landscapes, seasons).
  • Janine Pommy Vega – How to help students speak for something in nature (persona poems).
  • Barry Gilmore – Exercises in naming things, observing and describing.
  • Carol F. Peck – An idea to incorporate writing with social studies curricula.

Contributors each include a list of resources at the close of their essays. Editors McEwen & Statman reorganize these resources and provide teachers with a rich bibliography of nonfiction books, fiction books, books about poetry and books for children. They also provide a list of resource organizations and a short biography of each contributor.

The ideas in this collection can be used in many ways beyond the traditional classroom. Outdoor educators, naturalists and interpreters will also enjoy this book.

The Alphabet of the Trees: A Guide to Nature Writing is available at www.christianmcewen.com.


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There is no shortage of drawing, sketching and painting apps for iPads, iPhones and other gadgets. Which apps are the best? Which will help you draw, paint and match colors in a way resembling how you work with pencil, paper and paint?

Today I want to bring attention to a selection of apps created by Adobe and, specifically, to the interesting series of videos published last month about creating botanical illustrations on mobile devices.

Broadcasting from The Creative Cloud Classroom, instructor Mike McHugh demonstrates how to use Adobe’s Creative Cloud products to turn a botanical drawing into a finished painting. The products he demonstrates are Adobe Ideas (sketching), Adobe Kuler (color matching) and Adobe Illustrator CC (painting).

The color-matching app Adobe Kuler is especially interesting. Many of you are familiar with the color chart by the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS). Well, Adobe Kuler essentially functions like the digital version of the RHS color chart. This interesting app enables you to point your iPhone camera or iPad camera at a subject and instantly establish a color palette. It is fascinating to watch it work.

Now, in just these two paragraphs I have laid the foundation for some very lengthy discussion. I know a discussion like this can turn into as heated a debate as those about religion and politics. My objective today is not to stir the pot, but to share thoughts. To facilitate the sharing of opinions, I created a short survey where opinions can be cast as anonymous clicks. If you would like to post more extensive commentary, please feel free to do so in the Comment box below. All I ask is that you keep passionate commentary friendly.

Before you visit the anonymous survey, take a moment to view the wonderful tutorials in Adobe’s Creative Cloud Classroom. Each video runs about 12 minutes. Here are the links:

Here is the survey

You’ll be able to see how your opinions compare with other readers at the end.

Also See

Adobe Touch Apps for iPhone and iPad. Adobe Ideas and Adobe Kuler are FREE.

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