Science lesson by Max Millard
Written for New College of California, fall 2006
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Ia. Learning objectives and outcomes

- Students will learn how to sprout seeds. - Students will be able to transplant sprouted seeds to plant pots. - Students will learn to take care of plants.

Ib. Language objectives

- Vocabulary: seed, cotton wool, sprout, peat, plant pot, geranium, sunflower, soil, transplant. - Students will learn to follow simple directions about keeping their plants alive.

II. Standards addressed (kindergarten)

Science Standard 2a. Students know how to observe and describe similarities and differences in the appearance and behavior of plants and animals (e.g., seed-bearing plants, birds, fish, insects).

Science Standard 2b. Students know stories sometimes give plants and animals attributes they do not really have.

Science Standard 2c. Students know how to identify major structures of common plants and animals (e.g., stems, leaves, roots, arms, wings, legs).

III. Background/rationale

Gardening is probably the world's most popular hobby. For people living in the city, gardening usually means taking care of house plants, growing things in window boxes, or sometimes having a small backyard garden. City residents who learn about gardening do not need to put a lot of time into it. The secret is to know the minimal amount of care you need to give a plant in order to keep it alive, and let nature do the rest. Since I left a farmhouse in Maine 30 years ago and ended up in a small fourth-floor apartment in San Francisco, my gardening space has been reduced from acres to inches. But I've never given up gardening completely. My grandfather Sydney Harland was a plant geneticist and my British-born parents were both lifelong gardeners, so perhaps I inherited the gene. With just a little instruction, kids can develop a passion for plants that will be useful in their later years, possibly leading to an interest in organic gardening, a love of cooking, or a career in plant biology.

IV. Process

A. Into

Even in a big city like San Francisco, we are surrounded by plants. Most of them are flowers and trees that we grow for their beauty. Some people grow fruits, vegetables and herbs for cooking. What are some nice things about plants? They are colorful, they often smell nice, and they cheer us up. That's why people give flowers for presents. Trees provide a home for starlings, parrots and other birds. Some plants have many uses, such as bamboo, which is a building material for houses and scaffolds, is an attractive house plant, and whose shoots are an important food in Asia. No wonder bamboo is so closely linked with Chinese culture.

What are some of the flowers, trees and other plants we see in San Francisco? What flowers are sold in stores and on the street? What are the kids' favorite plants? Which ones do they have in their own homes? Which plants can we eat, and which are only for decoration?

I asked the kids these questions, and made a list of some of their answers. I also brought in some flower catalogues, newspaper ads and store flyers for three of San Francisco's major plant stores -- Sloat Garden Center, Floorcraft Garden Center, and Guerrero Street Gardens -- to show which plants and flowers are most popular this time of year. I also showed them some house plants, including an orchid and a geranium, two of the most commonly grown flowers in San Francisco. Then I showed them some seeds and the materials we were to use for the lesson so that they could grow their own plants.

B. Through

I asked the kids: what are the things that plants need in order to stay alive? We finally settled on three things -- soil, water and air. I pointed out that seeds can first sprout with a little water and no soil, and be transplanted into soil later. I said that today we would sprout some of our own seeds.

I gave each child a little plastic baggie, a kidney bean, and a piece of cotton wool. I had a container of water on hand, and I showed them how to wet the cotton wool, put the bean inside the bag, punch a couple of small holes in the top of the bag with a hole puncher. Then I helped them run a piece of yarn through the holes and tie the ends of the yarn to make a hanger.

After the kids had "planted" their seeds, I distributed white stickers and told them to stick them to their baggies and write their names on them, so that they would remember which plant was theirs. The kids then hung all their baggies on push pins that I had put on a bulletin board.

For the next part of the lesson, I gave each child a small plant pot made of peat and two sunflower seeds. I then brought out a container of potting soil, which I set up on a table that was covered with newspaper. I demonstrated how to lift the soil from the container with a spoon and to fill a peat pot with it. Then I took two sunflower seeds and pushed them into the soil, just below the surface. I put each peat pot inside a slightly larger paper cup. Each child wrote his name on the paper cup. Finally, I instructed them to sprinkle a little water on top.

We talked about the need to watch their plants in the days to come, and to add more water to both the bean and the sunflower if they got too dry. I stressed that overwatering can easily kill a plant, and that it was better to water too little than too much.

C. Beyond

The planting of the beans and sunflowers was just the first step in a lesson that went on for weeks. A few days later, we saw that the beans had sprouted and the shoots were clinging to the cotton wool to absorb the moisture. Shortly after that, the sunflowers started coming through the soil. Each time the plants needed to be watered, we watered them together. When the bean sprouts seemed to be outgrowing the baggies, I helped the kids transplant their beans to peat pots.

When both plants eventually outgrew the peat pots, I showed them how to put the peat pots in a larger flower pot filled with soil, and told them that the roots would grow right through the peat, so they didn't need to be transplanted. Then I let the kids take both of their peat pots home, with an instruction sheet about how to put the pots in a larger growing pot, a garden, or a window box.

V. Assessment and Teacher Reflection

I showed them the potted plants I'd brought in, the seeds, the materials and the pictures, and led a discussion about what these things were. I moved the class to a part of the room where they couldn't see our project, and asked a series of questions about the seeds we had just planted. "If you think we planted the beans in soil, please raise your hand. If you think we put them in cotton wool ..." and so on. I called on children to explain about watering, transplanting, and peat pots. I assessed them about how much they knew. They were eager to find out when their plants would start growing.

VI. Materials

potted geranium and orchid
flower catalogues
newspaper ads
flyers for gardening stores
kidney beans
sunflower seeds
cotton wool
hole puncher
container of water
newspaper for covering the table
peat pots
potting soil
paper cups