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Learning Gardens: Spaces Where Students Can Grow a Love for NGSS

Gardens

Many people have never heard of a Learning Garden, but that makes it no less wonderful. A Learning Garden is place where students can get outside, get dirty, and explore food systems all while engaging in critical thought about ecosystems and ecosystem functions. The Learning Garden provides the benefits of getting children outdoors while creating opportunities for students to engage with standard scientific concepts in fun and fruitful ways.

My favorite lesson to teach is about the life cycle of a seed. It is a wonderful way to interactively introduce various concepts including photosynthesis, pollinators, plant reproduction, and seed dispersal. It also aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

  • 5-LS1-1: Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water
  • 5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

This activity needs a little bit of set up, but its fruits are well worth the labor.

Introduction:

Have students take out their journals (which remain closed) and writing utensil, and sit in a circle.

Tell the students that we will be learning about the life of a seed. With a seed in hand, hold up it for everyone to see and ask:

  1. What is this?
  2. What do you know about it?
  3. Where do you think it came from?

This is a wonderful time to have students open their journals and write down the answers to these questions.  The students usually have amazing and amusing answers, so make sure that you create time for sharing. For instance, a student once recognized that the demonstration seed was a pumpkin seed. When I told him that we were going to plant it, he said “How are we gonna take a whole pumpkin home?” Sharing time is a wonderful space for working through your students’ alternative conceptions.

Once students have shared their answers, share a “secret”. The secret is that that little seed contains all of the components necessary for life, and that every plant in the garden starts out as a tiny seed. Then tell them that the class is going to learn about all of the seed’s secrets with the help of a story that they will create.

The Story of the Seed:

  1. In the student’s journal, have them create a story board (5-10 columns with space for writing underneath each column and room for drawing inside each column). Have a pre-made story board available to demonstrate to students how to set up their page(s).
  2. Each column of the story board should address one of these “seed needs”:
  • Water*
  • Light energy* †
  • Carbon dioxide*
  • Oxygen*
  • Pollinators †
  • Fruit †
  • Seed dispersers †
  • Decomposers ⁰

*These “seed needs” align most closely to NGSS 5-LS1-1.

These “seed needs” align most closely to NGSS 5-PS3-1.

⁰ Aligns with NGSS 5-LS2-1: Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Once the students have the journals organized like the model storyboard, you can begin to tell the story. This is an interactive activity that involves student voices.

  • The first panel should have a drawing of a seed. Start the story by reminding the students about the seeds “secret”: that the seed has all the components of life inside of it. Say “However, the seed needs a little help from its environment to grow.”
  • This seed is also a little bit “naked”. Ask the students what ecosystem component is first needed to get this seed started (substrate).

Debrief and Wrap-Up:

When the story is completed the students should understand that:

  1. Columns 1-5: NGS Standard 5-LS1-1.
    1. A seed needs light energy, air, and water to grow roots and become a plant.
    2. A plant engages in photosynthesis, the process by which the green parts of plants use carbon dioxide, water, and light energy to create sugar and oxygen.
    3. Though plants use substrate, they don’t build matter from substrate, they build matter from carbon found in carbon dioxide.
    4. Plants use the sugar they create for food, and we breathe the oxygen that plants create.
  2. Columns 6-10: NGS Standard 5-PS3-1.
    1. Plants grow flowers in order to reproduce (create more seeds).
    2. Pollinators eat flower products (energy transfer) and pollinate flowers.
    3. Once a flower has been pollinated, it creates fruit which is the home to the newly created seeds.
    4. Seed dispersers (energy transfer) help to spread the seeds to new homes.
    5. The plant decomposes (matter transfer), and the seed life cycle starts again.

After completing the story board and a post lesson assessment, such as the Debrief Circle or others, found on the IslandWood Wiki , have the students do a take-home planting project. This is a wonderful, long lasting way for students to put those science skills to use and see them grow!

Many people have never heard of a Learning Garden, but that makes it no less wonderful. A Learning Garden is place where students can get outside, get dirty, and explore food systems all while engaging in critical thought about ecosystems and ecosystem functions. The Learning Garden provides the benefits of getting children outdoors while creating opportunities for students to engage with standard scientific concepts in fun and fruitful ways.

My favorite lesson to teach is about the life cycle of a seed. It is a wonderful way to interactively introduce various concepts including photosynthesis, pollinators, plant reproduction, and seed dispersal. It also aligns with Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

  • 5-LS1-1: Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water
  • 5-PS3-1. Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.

This activity needs a little bit of set up, but its fruits are well worth the labor.

Introduction:

Have students take out their journals (which remain closed) and writing utensil, and sit in a circle.

Tell the students that we will be learning about the life of a seed. With a seed in hand, hold up it for everyone to see and ask:

  1. What is this?
  2. What do you know about it?
  3. Where do you think it came from?

This is a wonderful time to have students open their journals and write down the answers to these questions.  The students usually have amazing and amusing answers, so make sure that you create time for sharing. For instance, a student once recognized that the demonstration seed was a pumpkin seed. When I told him that we were going to plant it, he said “How are we gonna take a whole pumpkin home?” Sharing time is a wonderful space for working through your students’ alternative conceptions.

Once students have shared their answers, share a “secret”. The secret is that that little seed contains all of the components necessary for life, and that every plant in the garden starts out as a tiny seed. Then tell them that the class is going to learn about all of the seed’s secrets with the help of a story that they will create.

The Story of the Seed:

  1. In the student’s journal, have them create a story board (5-10 columns with space for writing underneath each column and room for drawing inside each column). Have a pre-made story board available to demonstrate to students how to set up their page(s).
  2. Each column of the story board should address one of these “seed needs”:
  • Water*
  • Light energy* †
  • Carbon dioxide*
  • Oxygen*
  • Pollinators †
  • Fruit †
  • Seed dispersers †
  • Decomposers ⁰

*These “seed needs” align most closely to NGSS 5-LS1-1.

These “seed needs” align most closely to NGSS 5-PS3-1.

⁰ Aligns with NGSS 5-LS2-1: Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.

Once the students have the journals organized like the model storyboard, you can begin to tell the story. This is an interactive activity that involves student voices.

  • The first panel should have a drawing of a seed. Start the story by reminding the students about the seeds “secret”: that the seed has all the components of life inside of it. Say “However, the seed needs a little help from its environment to grow.”
  • This seed is also a little bit “naked”. Ask the students what ecosystem component is first needed to get this seed started (substrate).

Debrief and Wrap-Up:

When the story is completed the students should understand that:

  1. Columns 1-5: NGS Standard 5-LS1-1.
    1. A seed needs light energy, air, and water to grow roots and become a plant.
    2. A plant engages in photosynthesis, the process by which the green parts of plants use carbon dioxide, water, and light energy to create sugar and oxygen.
    3. Though plants use substrate, they don’t build matter from substrate, they build matter from carbon found in carbon dioxide.
    4. Plants use the sugar they create for food, and we breathe the oxygen that plants create.
  2. Columns 6-10: NGS Standard 5-PS3-1.
    1. Plants grow flowers in order to reproduce (create more seeds).
    2. Pollinators eat flower products (energy transfer) and pollinate flowers.
    3. Once a flower has been pollinated, it creates fruit which is the home to the newly created seeds.
    4. Seed dispersers (energy transfer) help to spread the seeds to new homes.
    5. The plant decomposes (matter transfer), and the seed life cycle starts again.

After completing the story board and a post lesson assessment, such as the Debrief Circle or others, found on the IslandWood Wiki , have the students do a take-home planting project. This is a wonderful, long lasting way for students to put those science skills to use and see them grow!

About the Author
Alicia Highland

Alicia Marie Highland is a Master of Education candidate at the University of Washington. In her current position as an Education for Environment and Community Instructor at IslandWood, she teaches science and stewardship to 4th-6th grade students throughout the Puget Sound. In addition to environmental education, Alicia's interests include environmental philanthropy and marine research.