SHIRLEY — Third-graders at the Lura A. White Elementary School had a special treat — they got to discuss, construct, eat and pot plants.
The occasion was an interdisciplinary, hands-on science workshop called titled “Kitchen Botany,” presented by Dina Samfield and funded by the Shirley Educational Foundation.
Samfield first tested students’ knowledge of plant parts and the benefit of each part to the plant. Students took turns drawing the various parts in front of the class, as the rest of the students shared their knowledge of roots, stems, leaves, flowers and fruits.
This activity led to a discussion of photosynthesis, the process by which plants make their own food, and its importance to life on Earth.
Once satisfied that the children knew their stuff, Samfield assembled the students in groups, where they constructed felt plant “maps” from their various parts.
Once the maps were completed, she handed out plates of fruits and vegetables and challenged the students to determine which ones corresponded to each part on the map. As the children placed the plant parts on the maps, their model plants began to look a little like plants from science fiction — with carrot roots, asparagus stems, celery leaves, broccoli flowers, and tomato and pea-pod fruits.
After all of this work, the students were entitled to taste the fruits (and vegetables) of their labor. As Samfield and the teachers handed out cut-up pieces of delectable fresh vegetables, the students were encouraged to savor each bite, tasting their sweetness and remembering which plant part it was that they were consuming. She found that some students were “flower people,” while others really dug roots; some preferred fruits, and others leaves or stems.
Once the maps and plates were cleared, the real work began. Each student was given a 4-inch round green-plastic pot to observe. After much discussion about various aspects of the pot, such as the purpose of the holes in the bottom, the children filled their pots to the fill line with potting mix, which they were encouraged to observe using all of their senses (except taste!). They learned that the potting mix contained no soil, but instead was made up of peat moss, perlite and vermiculite. Samfield shared the story of where the peat moss came from (a bog), and that perlite is actually heated and expanded volcanic rock.
Finally, the students were presented with their plants — carrots with just enough leaves left for the plant to make its own food and produce new leaves, lateral roots, and, eventually, flowers. The children planted and labeled each plant with its Latin name and the date. They are now observing them in the classroom until time to take them home.