November 13, 2012

How to Love a Plant

Amy Park and Deirdre Bailey

Earlier this year we had a pretty cool opportunity to connect with Mount Royal University professor Dr. David Bird to co-present on Plant Growth and Changes for the Calgary Science Network. We were most eager for an opportunity to ask Dr. Bird what one one thing he wished his university students came in with that we might be able to foster in elementary school. His answer was unhesitatingly curiosity. He wished his students arrived at university with a desire, confidence and ability to ask scientific questions. Overwhelmingly, many of them arrived reluctant to explore, preferring instead to wait for instructions on what to think or how to deliver in order to "pass the course".

We were excited to be able to share the following (recently completed) video with Dr. Bird and to have a conversation about the kind of thinking we tried to cultivate in our students throughout the process. Having effectively guided them toward deeper understanding of scientific research earlier in the year with our Rotten Tomatoes Decomposition Lab, our inquiry into plant growth invited students' to use their experience with the 'Game of Science' to develop their own questions this time around. They were free to choose how to structure and represent their research autonomously, based on their previous experience.

The results were messy and in some cases, disorganized. Maintaining controlled conditions was difficult, keeping outdoor plants alive in May was a challenge. Many students discovered on their own why quantitative observations are typically separated from qualitative data, how organizing information makes analyses much simpler, and which variables should be most carefully observed when documenting plant growth. Though some conclusions were surprising or skewed by human error, the real value was that our students wrapped up these experiments with an insatiable desire to discover more about plants, undeterred by the awareness that everything might fail.

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