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]
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.)
- The Tree-Thinking Challenge [pdf]
- Phylogeny Quizzes [pdf]
- Tree of Life Explorer
- Another Tree of Life Interactive
- Evolution of Life simulations
- Evolution Lab from NOVA
- Kingdoms of Life lesson plan [pdf]
- Kingdoms of Life Sorting Cards for purchase
- Classify It! App for children
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.
- Arboretum based plant evolution cards [pdf]
- Construct a Plant Evolution Timeline [pdf]
- The Evolution of Big – a talk by Ned Friedman, 2012
- Video about Alternation of Generations
- Setting Up Plant Part Stations [pdf]
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.
- Go Botany website
- Energy Flow Misconceptions [pdf]
- Nature Works Everywhere – teacher and student resources about ecosystems and biodiversity.
- Using a Quadrat [pdf] – lesson from the Monterrey Bay Aquarium.
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.