Brilliant Botany!

Enhancing your lessons on plants

Plants are cool. They just are. Aside from the staggering amount of diversity out there, plants provide us with food, construction materials and beautiful settings.

Plants come up in every primary Key Stage and, although the curriculum content is different in each, there’s a real risk that learning about plants can become a bit stale and cause children to lose interest. To help children in your class agree that plants are cool, try these ideas and tips.

Make it visible

Thanks to a FREE Discovery Kit loan from the Linnaen Society (link below), my eyes were opened to the wonders of using a time-lapse camera to record plant growth. Although it was a little fiddly to set up, the results we got were amazing! We planted five different types of seed in the fingers of a clear plastic glove (and put a little damp cotton wool in each for good measure) then taped them to the window. Over the course of five days they all germinated and grew at different rates, and the photos that the camera took allowed us to observe this in a totally new way.

Can you spot the wayward cress seeds!?

After sprouting, we snipped off the fingers and potted the plants in newspaper pots (made with a handy gadget that also came in the Linnaen Society box!) ready to be planted outside.

These cameras will only set you back around £40-60, so if you’ve got room in your science budget they make a very good investment; they could also be used to track plant movement (towards the Sun), shadows, weather/cloud movement or the phases of the moon. Alternatively, do what I did and borrow one of the Linnaen Society Discovery Kits:

Ditch the beans

I would bet good money that every child currently in Year 6 or above has, at some point in their primary career, grown a broad bean. In fact, I’m guessing most of you reading this article grew at least one while you were at school (mine went black and mouldy, I’m not bitter about it at all…). There’s nothing wrong with growing broad beans; they grow relatively quickly and have nice clear roots and shoots. There is something wrong though, with children having to grow them over and over again, or with them being the only experience of germinating seeds that children have. Make sure you check with your class’ previous teachers what they’ve had experience of already to make sure this is avoided. Alternatives that work well are sunflower seeds, peas, sweetcorn seeds, marigold, basil or, my personal favourite, cucamelons.

Grow dinner

This point is a bit of an addendum to the above one about beans. There are loads of different crops you could grow at school. Potatoes create lovely, bushy above-ground plants and are incredibly easy to grow (and FREE, if you take advantage of the Grow Your Own Potatoes scheme – As sweetcorn grows it creates beautiful tall shoots. Herbs are really easy to grow and can be used in class cooking activities. Spring onions, leeks and celery can all be re-grown from off-cuts. Cucamelons grow rapidly and bear a good amount of rather unusual but tasty fruit. Supposedly, chillies grow hotter if they are deprived of water and face planty adversity as they are growing; what an interesting thing to investigate!

Create your own fertiliser

Who knew worm poo was so good for plants!? Wormeries can be set up easily and cheaply, and provide a great use for all the leftover fruit peels and cores you’ll inevitably end up with (just be sure not to put any citrus waste in there or you’ll end up bent over a bin rooting through mulch to find said citrus peels in order to keep the worms happy!) There’s great scope to investigate how beneficial this worm-waste fertiliser is when growing plants in your own classroom.

Research the weird and wonderful

Everyone knows cutting onions makes you cry, but have you ever thought about why? Children could research the different self-defence strategies plants employ to stop them becoming dinner. From the relatively common-place thorns and spines to the more unusual crypsis and mutualism, there are lots of interesting things to be learned about the different ways plants protect themselves.

Children could find out more about Idiot fruit, Corpse flowers, Baseball plants or the Dancing plant.      In addition to all of these wonders, carnivorous plants is another area with a wealth of cool facts to be learned. Did you know Venus flytraps can’t be watered with tap water? The fluoride in it is not good for them, so when we had a resident flytrap in our classroom we needed to create rain-gathering equipment to help keep it comfortable!

Raising Science Capital

There are a huge range of careers linked to plants, including, but not limited to, farming, forestry, environmental scientist and gardening. NFU Education have just released an absolutely amazing FREE resource that covers all of the Plants objectives in the National Curriculum for either Year 3 or Year 5 in a highly-motivating real-life business creation context. I’ve not yet trialled them with children personally, having had a go myself I can say I am SO excited to get back into teaching KS2 so I can begin using these resources! Check out the product my tram designed for busy teachers scarfing down lunch with one hand while photocopying/marking/setting up an art lesson with the other. Good to know I’ve got a future in product development if ever I turn from education!

The all resources needed, including plans and PowerPoint slides can be found at the link below. It’s well worth having a look around at the other resources on the website too as they’re all very high quality.

Bonus money-saving tip!

Lilies too expensive for your plant dissection lesson? Have the Year 2 pupils plant tulip bulbs in October-November, then use some of them for your plant dissection lessons in April-May. The various parts of the plant reproductive system are nice and clear just as they are on lilies, and investing in some tulip bulbs costs a lot less than a bunch of ready-grown lilies. AND if you take advantage of the amazing FREE Bulbs4Kids scheme you won’t even need to buy your bulbs!

Our finished mini-garden!

Have you ever tried any of the above ideas? What are your top tips for enhancing the teaching of plants? We’d love to hear your experience and ideas in the comments!

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