Summer Institute 2016: Plants in the Web of Life

by Ana Maria Caballero, Nature Education Specialist

September 1, 2016

card sort

Summer Institute 2016: Plants in the Web of Life

The Arnold Arboretum Summer Institute 2016: Plants in the Web of Life


Careful deconstruction and reconstruction of a sunchoke.

From August 22-24, the Arboretum held a unique workshop for educators – the first of its kind. Various Boston Public School teachers and specialists ranging from Pre-K through Grade 8 participated in an intensive 3-day seminar on botany and plant evolution at the Arnold Arboretum. The content, taught by Dr. Elena Kramer from Harvard University and Dr. Elizabeth Farnsworth from the New England Wild Flower Society along with Arboretum Education Staff, presented teachers with an overview of biodiversity, plant evolution, phylogeny, and ecosystems.

Against this content backdrop, teachers participated in a variety of authentic hands-on outdoor activities, science journal writing, small group classroom work, and discussions that helped put new information in the context of outdoor learning. One of the teachers’ favorite activities was closely examining plant material that had been dissected to reveal detailed insides. Teachers explored varying levels of magnification through the use of a field digital microscope, dissecting microscopes in the classroom, and other lenses.

Another well-liked activity was science journaling in the landscape, which was scheduled twice daily. Teachers had the opportunity to observe, draw, write, and reflect on the wonders of nature, and see for themselves what a powerful way of learning this can be for all students. There also were dozens of beautiful children’s literature and science books available for browsing that served as a source of inspiration for developing science lessons.

Teachers were also exposed to the use of web-based tools for further learning. A Trello board (a web-based project management tool) enabled the sharing of assignments, videos, readings, and other resources, and teachers learned to use Padlet (a virtual wall that allows people to easily express their thoughts on a common topic) as a way to share ideas and discoveries. In addition, Dr. Farnsworth, who is one of the creators of GoBotany, explained how to use this free online educational tool to identify and learn about thousands of native and naturalized plant species of New England.

Participants came away with a renewed understanding of the role that plants play in the larger web of life, and a new way of looking at all that is around them. One hundred percent of the participants said they would recommend this institute to other colleagues.

Throughout the 2016-2017 school year, these Summer Institute participants will receive free bus transportation to bring their students to the Arnold Arboretum for self-guided explorations of the outdoors. In this way, teachers will be able to put into practice many of the ideas they gained this summer for the benefit of their students.

Learn more about the Summer Institute »

card sort

Participants search for ways to organize life through card sorting.

kingdom search

Summer Institute participants categorize organisms into domains and kingdoms.

tree trunk

Teachers examine moss, fungi, and other decomposers.

field digital scope

Using a field digital microscope to observe organisms.

Since the 1980s, Arboretum educators and volunteers have provided nature and introductory plant science instruction to Boston Area school children through instruction in the landscape and in the classroom. In keeping with our educational mission, the Arnold Arboretum offers varied nature programs with a focus on plant science to preschool and elementary children and their teachers.
Learn more about the Summer Institute Program »

See More Programs and Resources the Arboretum Offers for Children’s Education »

See Upcoming Monthly Arboretum Explorations for Educators »

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