Teaching Activities to eliminate “Plant Blindness”: Interactive Activities to teach Botanical Content to both pre-service teachers and K-6 students

Focus of workshop and relevance to conference attendees:
Botanical content is too often neglected or given short-shrift in K-12 science teaching (Conover, 2008) – which means not only do students lack basic knowledge, so do our pre-service teachers. Wandersee and Schussler (1999) acknowledging the serious predicament we are in, coined the phrase “plant blindness”: The inability to see and then observe plants in the environment which leads to the inability “to recognize the importance of plants in the biosphere and in human affairs”. In a world increasingly under ecological pressure from climate change, it is imperative that our pre-service teachers become effective resources for botanical content. To do this they must have, as NCATE repeatedly states, have “knowledge of the subject….and knowledge and skill in how to teach that subject.” How can our pre-service teachers 1) motivate and engage students, 2) plan engaging lessons, and 3) make concepts and skills accessible — if they do not have a basic conceptual framework? (Research for Better Teaching – www.rbteach.com) How can pre-service teachers promote critical thinking by reflecting on information, searching for reasons why things are occurring, and evaluating information for alternative conclusions, evidence, and hypotheses (Ennis, 2013) – if there is not a solid foundation of specific content knowledge?
This interactive workshop shares multiple activities that provide pre-service teachers basic botanical facts, concepts, vocabulary, and observational skills to promote “Plant Awareness”! These activities can then serve as pedagogic tools to bring into the elementary classroom.

Goal and Objectives
Goal: Sharing of hands-on activities to encourage enthusiastic knowledge construction of botanical facts, vocabulary, and concepts for both pre-service teachers and the students they will eventually instruct.
Objectives: At the end of the session, workshops participants will be able to:
1. Identify and label parts of a flower
2. Identify and know the function of the 5 layers of a leaf
3. Enhance observation skills through a “leaf-Venn-diagram” activity
4. Understand the basic functions of xylem and phloem
5. Gain an introduction to dendrology
6. Use a dichotomous key for tree identification

Formative: Evaluate level of discourse during activities and give each participant a “Goal &Objectives” card.
Summative: Brain Blast Activity to assess content knowledge gained. Group is broken up in 4 teams. Select a vocabulary card. Group working together defines term. If incorrect, the first team that recognizes this and gives a correct definition gets the point.
Questions and comments raised at the conclusion will be analyzed for their depth of connections.

Outline of the workshop
Introduction of presenters. Get information from participants – where are they from, what do they do? What grades/ages of students do they interact with? Encourage participants to ask questions and add comments throughout. Connect to prior knowledge – what academic experiences (K-12) did they have with botanical content. How much botany is taught in university’s general first year science class. What types of botanical experiences do the pre-service teachers engage in when in the classroom – other than growing plants? What is the potential ramifications of this dearth of knowledge? How does this combine with K-6 and per-service too frequent lack of time outside in nature? How does all of this contribute to biophobia and plant blindness?
Hand out Goal and Objective cards and review purpose of the workshop. Then proceed to engage in activities.

Activity #1: Discuss flower parts and functions. Hand out worksheets, scissors, and colored pencils. Participants will label parts and construct flower.
Activity #2: A leaf model will be presented with a description of each layer, its function and how to make these with their students.
Activity #3: Describe tree parts and break into groups of 4 -6 participants. Participants will be given twine for Venn diagrams and then will compare and contrast leaves gathered beforehand by workshop leaders. At the end. will share observations with the whole group.
Activity #4: Describe the functions of xylem and phloem. Using this information, group will participate in a creative dramatic activity. This entails have the group form two facing lines. Water and nutrients (a water bottle) pass from the roots up the xylem to the crown/canopy. Sugar (sugar packets) resulting from Photosynthesis, are passed down from the crown to the roots along the phloem.
Activity #5: Give a definition of Dendrology and describe how Tree Rings are formed. Handout worksheet of cross-section of a tree trunk. Note where xylem, phloem are and label parts. Look at the shape of the rings and the size. What do the rings mean? Recognize years of high growth (and the reasons) and years were the tree was stress (and the reasons).
Activity #6: Define dichotomous key and discuss this classification system, the standard used by botanist worldwide. Students will be given twigs (collected prior by workshop leaders) and the dichotomous key used to identify types of trees.

Availability after the conference: Bette and Liza will be happy to speak further to conference participants. Business cards, with email addresses, as well as a brochure from the Morris Arboretum with further contact information, will be distributed in the workshop.

Who would be most interested: The activities in this workshop can be used directly by science methods course instructors. The including the study of botany in curricula is increasingly important.

Expertise and experience of presenters:
Bette L. Perlman, Ed D.(retired Professor from Arcadia University), recipient of the Lindbach Award for Excellence in Teaching (1992) and The Professor of the Year Award (2010) for outstanding research, creative initiatives, and service. She is now Chair of the Education Committee at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, PA

Liza Hawley: Assistant Director, Visitor Education and Youth Programs, at the Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania. She supervises and creates school group and adult tour content, develops school partnerships, and oversees docent training, recruitment and assessment. Liza and Bette just presented at the Conservation Optimism Conference in London (April 2017) organized by University of Oxford and the London Zoological Society.

Budget: None
Number of Participants: 25
Technology: None
Needed Materials to Implement Session: Workshop leaders will provide all materials: worksheets, twine and plant material.