Plants...explore with your class
Ideas for how to explore plants with your class and explain it in a way they will understand.
children exploring and watering plants
The second part of this topic guide leads on from the tricky scientific concepts that we explained in part one (you can revise them here). Now you're clear on what the children need to know and have the background science under your belt, you're ready to apply these ideas for teaching plants to your class!
To teach a broad topic, such as plants, it is important that the children’s knowledge is built on secure foundations, there is clear progression in their learning and that links to their learning in related topics is made clear. It is also vital that their learning is as hands-on as possible. Crucially, plants is not a topic that can be successfully taught in half a term and needs to be continually revisited as the year progresses.
1. Begin with exploration and observation
If possible, this is best done both inside and outside the classroom:
Bring a variety of plants (including seeds and bulbs) into the classroom for children to investigate and look after
Take your children outside as often as possible, perhaps using fortnightly or monthly intervals to observe and handle safely as many different varieties of plants as possible. This is particularly important for observing changes to plants and understanding deciduous and evergreen trees
Ask your children to look out for plants as they are out and about, perhaps on the journey to and from school. They could even record what they see in a diary, using pictures and descriptions
Encourage your pupils to talk about what they can see, model using the correct vocabulary for naming the parts and help them identify similarities and differences to begin grouping them. If you revisit the same place regularly, children can look for the changes they notice.
Using a class floorbook (like a scrapbook) is a simple way of recording the changes your children see. A floorbook:
is shared amongst the class and used to collaboratively record their science learning
removes the onus of having every child recording their learning
enables a range of recording methods (great for meeting the needs of all learners), e.g., photographs, comments on post-it notes, drawings, annotated diagrams, writing and even items they have collected
see the PSTT’s guide to floorbooks for more information
Another way for children to record their learning is by creating an interactive class display or collection table. Children can collect a variety of plants and seeds and use their display to label, sort and categorise what they have found. It can be used as the focus for their learning and something they can take pride in.
Robbie Kirkham from the Eden Project has written an excellent article about how outdoor learning can provide huge benefits for your children’s love of learning, whilst also looking after their social, emotional and mental health.
Winter seeds, Brown scales, Green texture and Evergreen are Explorify activities that can be used to support children’s understanding of the variety of plants, their habitats and the skill of careful observation. Seasons, Falling into place are useful What's Going On? videos to support observations of how plants change across the year. How can you tell if something is a plant? is a brilliant Big Question to encourage children’s scientific thinking with discussion in groups about what defines something as a plant.
2. Get growing!
Again, do this inside and outside! To understand what different plants need to grow and flourish, children need to get their hands dirty. Provide a range of seeds and bulbs for children to plant, and (if you have space) growing their own vegetables is a really valuable experience. Healthy skin, Rich pickings are fun activities to begin a discussion of how plants that we grow are part of a healthy diet and can be connected to their learning about how other living things need to eat to survive in their habitat.
An investigation into changing the growing conditions for a plant is good for developing a variety of scientific skills:
making systematic and careful observations
setting up comparative tests
using results to draw simple conclusions
Get growing on Mars and Growing in hot and cold places can be used as a stimulus for this investigation.
Growing seed and Shooting sprouts are useful videos for illustrating how plants grow. The activity Water colours demonstrates how plants use their roots to transport water. For more exotic plants (that are difficult to source and might have very different requirements for growth) using videos and research is the way to go: Types of leaves, Alien shapes and Super succulent will help get the conversation started.
3. Plan in enough time!
Children will learn a lot about the life cycles of different plants through the plants they grow and observe over time in their local environment. So, make sure you plan in enough time for this.
To develop and deepen their understanding of the different stages in a plant’s life cycle, Explorify has a range of useful activities. For a discussion of the role of seeds in the lifecycle, Seeds of life and Do you need big seeds to grow big plants? are a great place to start.
Bonkers conkers and Super seeds are great videos to show how different plants disperse their seeds. Sightseeing seeds is a nice Odd One Out to assess children’s understanding of dispersal methods.
Pink and white, Friends of flowers, and Busy bee are useful activities for learning about how flowering plants are pollinated
To learn about the adaptation and evolution of plants, How is the poinsettia different to other flowering plants?, Timewarp plants and Making records are useful ways of introducing the topic.
4. Apply their knowledge
Once they have a secure understanding of plants, older children will benefit from the opportunity to discuss the vital importance of plants to the ecological balance on Earth.
What if we did not plant trees? and What if all plants were the same? are a great way to begin this conversation. They can also apply their knowledge with this Problem Solver challenge to Make a plant self-watering device.
5. Use a concept cartoon
A concept cartoon is a great way to engage your class and stimulate discussion of their ideas. You can use it at any time, but it is particularly useful for finding out what children know at the beginning of a topic or assessing their understanding near the end.
(Taken from Science Concept Cartoons® Set 1 Revised Edition (2014) and Science Concept Cartoons® Set 2 (2015). © Millgate House Education Ltd www.millgatehouse.co.uk)
This concept cartoon presents a range of viewpoints about how to grow new plants, including common misconceptions and the scientifically correct response. Get your pupils to consider what they think about the different opinions. It will help them to justify their own ideas and clarify their scientific thinking.
You can even design your own concept cartoons based on the needs of your children or to assess a particular piece of understanding. Or why not let your children have a go at creating their own?
We'd love to know how these ideas worked for you. You can tell us on Twitter, join our Facebook Staffroom Group or send us an email!
Image credit: Children exploring and watering plants by Rawpixel.com via Shutterstock SL