2017 Syllabus and Resources

2017 Build a Plant Bottom to Top Syllabus and Resources


During this second year, the Arnold Arboretum Summer Institute focused on tree morphology. Participants gained a deeper understanding of tree parts, their functions, and relationships with the environment. Content and practices were designed to be in keeping with the 2016 Massachusetts Science, Technology, and Engineering (2016 MA STE) Life Science standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). Much of what elementary teachers, and their students, are familiar with in terms of  structure and function in life science applies to animals.  One goal of the Institute was to promote understanding of form, function, adaptation, and processes as it applies to plants and their habitats.

Overall Structure

Each day of the Summer Institute was designed to address a specific area of learning. Starting with an overview of plant evolution, the program content zoomed in to consider the structures of land plants that contributed to their evolutionary success. Following this, the content focused on roots and stems, leaves, and flowers and fruit. 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. Additionally, participants were given a copy of Witness Tree by Lynda V. Mapes as a way to incorporate content about form and function into the wider discussion of climate change and environmental interactions.

Plant Evolution stations

Examining evolutionary history of major groups of plants.

Day 1: What is a Plant? and Plant Evolution

Participants spent some time considering various definitions of “plant” and probing their own understanding, as well as discussing some possible misconceptions that children might have when thinking about plants. This work involved using Assessment Probes developed by Page Keeley in her work around uncovering student ideas in various science domains.

Children’s Education Fellow Ana Maria Caballero presented an overview of plant evolution, from the origin of the chloroplast and cyanobacteria to the evolution of angiosperms.  Teachers learned about the challenges plants faced as they moved onto land and how each challenge led to new evolutionary adaptations that enabled plants to successfully colonize and diversify on land. In the afternoon, Arboretum Director William (Ned) Friedman led a walk in the landscape with a focus on what makes a plant a plant, and how plants fundamentally differ from animals.

Supplemental Resources:

Day 2: Bottoms Up! 

Putnam Fellow Kasia Zieminska shared her understanding of vascular systems and the inner workings of roots and trunks.  Teachers applied this learning when examining a variety of roots and stems from both herbaceous and woody plants inside during a Plant Part Stations activity.  Once outside, teachers also spent time observing and recording ideas in a science journal while exploring the Linden Collection on the grounds.

Model making became a central part of learning.  The NGSS practice “Developing and Using Models”  requires that students be able to use and construct models as helpful tools for representing ideas and explanations. Thus, teachers constructed models of the inside of a tree using straws and tubes, and, once outside, used their bodies as well.  Once these models were created, teachers discussed their limitations, applications, and suggested ways to improve upon them or change them to meet the individual needs of different aged children.

Supplemental Resources:

Leaf explorations

Learning about leaves through model making and hydrophobicity lab.

Day 3: Leaf Out!

Assistant Professor Dave Des Marais discussed leaf anatomy, photosynthesis, and respiration.  He also explained about the different and important roles leaves play in the environment, and how there are constant trade-offs in where a plant expends its energy: in defense, longevity, or size, for example.

Using this new information, teachers created leaf models that showed their current understanding of function.  A variety of materials were made available, such as felt, wax paper, bubble wrap, yarn, plastic stirrers, construction paper, and tulle.  Teaches had to justify their choices based on the form and function of the various leaf parts.

In a separate activity, institute participants explored a variety of leaves in the landscape, and brought in a few unique samples to use in a Hydrophobicity Lab.  Teachers placed water drops on a leaf and tilted the leaf to judge its ability to repel or absorb water, and to observe how the water drop moved along the surface or underside of the leaf.

Supplemental Resources:

Day 4: Flower Power!

Flower pollinator collage

Learning about flowers and pollinators.

Participants spent an extended time outside searching for and photographing a diversity of flowers and developing fruit. These pictures were then uploaded to Padlet, a web-based tool, for sharing with each other. Padlet operates, essentially, as a giant whiteboard on which participants post “sticky notes” that contain text, images, video, or links. Once inside, teachers dissected flowers to examine their parts under dissecting microscopes and via the use of digital scopes and tablets.

A simulation of pollinator-flower interactions required groups of teachers to examine flower morphology, pollinator facts, and data to determine which flowers are most likely to be visited by certain pollinators.  Groups then presented their claims and evidence, backed by reasoning, thus engaging in argumentation based on evidence.

Post-doctoral fellow Sevan Suni shared her research interests and passion about pollinator-flower interactions, and answered numerous questions about the state of funding for research in today’s political climate, how projects get selected, and her own personal opinions about the future of flower-pollinator interactions.

Supplemental Resources:

journaling in nature

Summer Institute participants take time to reflect and journal in the landscape.

Nature Journal Prompts

Each day, teachers spent 30 minutes journaling outside, expanding upon a prompt. These were carefully designed to connect previous reading with the daily topic of study, and provide an opportunity to relate content to the natural world.  As such, these moments in the landscape provided time for teachers to reflect on their learning, and prompt new questions or wonders.

Additional Resources for Selected Readings:

Raven, P.H., & Johnson, G.B. (2002). Biology, Sixth Edition. Boston: McGraw-Hill Companies.

Nearby Nature! from the Four Winds Nature Institute