2016 Syllabus and Resources

2016 Plants in the Web of Life Syllabus and Resources


Missing from the life science preparation for most elementary teachers is a consideration and understanding of the “Big Picture.” Elementary school teachers frequently have limited knowledge of what defines the six kingdoms of life and how they relate to each other. Equally important, and also often missing, is an appreciation of the evolution of the plant kingdom – from its beginnings in the ocean, through the major evolutionary breakthroughs that represent distinct and evermore complex adaptations to environments, yielding the biodiversity we see today. Read the entire 2016 Summer Institute: Plants in the Web of Life report [pdf]

Overall Structure

Each day of the Summer Institute was designed to address a specific area of learning. Starting with an overview of the many kingdoms that compose the web of life, the program content zoomed in to consider the structures of land plants that contributed to their evolutionary success. Then the focus returned to the relationship of plants to other life forms in terrestrial ecosystems. The curriculum also provided opportunities for teachers to benefit from self-directed time in the Arboretum landscape and then participate in group explorations of plant diversity in various parts of the Arboretum landscape.

Day 1: Organizing Life

Dr. Elena Kramer, professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, presented an overview of the Tree of Life and its domains and kingdoms, and introduced teachers to basic concepts of phylogenetics (the evolutionary history and relationships among organisms.)

Supplemental Resources:

Day 2: Understanding Land Plants

Dr. Kramer surveyed the ways plants were forced to adapt as they began to successfully colonize land, focusing specifically on reproductive adaptations that enabled greater successes in diverse terrains.

Supplemental Resources:

Day 3: Ecosystems: Putting it All Together

Dr. Elizabeth Farnsworth, Senior Research Ecologist at the New England Wild Flower Society, provided an overview of ferns and fern allies, sharing tips on identification and illustrating the role ferns play in a larger ecosystem. Teachers also explored an urban forest ecosystem within the context of specific Massachusetts Science, Technology and Engineering Life Science standards for their grade level.

Supplemental Resources:

Nature Journal Prompts

Twice each day, teachers spent 15 minutes journaling outside, expanding upon one of three prompts. These were carefully designed to elicit background knowledge and pique interest during morning sessions, and to incorporate new knowledge or deepen understanding during afternoon sessions. Various sharing sessions encouraged science talk among participants.