Two new curricula are making the natural world come alive for middle school and high school students. Developed by EDC in collaboration with the New York Botanical Garden, a leading educational center for gardening, horticulture, and plant research, the programs are exciting students about ethnobotany, the scientific study of the relationship between people and plants.
Forensic Botany Investigations and Ethnobotany Explorers are hands-on programs that use innovative lessons and lab work to interest students in the world around them, from exploring the traditional uses of plants (such as dye making and cooking) to researching plants’ medicinal properties. Both programs can also be used as an introduction to scientific methods, which would lay the groundwork for further studies in traditional science or social studies.
The programs include DVDs that provide windows into the world of research in the field, giving students a look at ethnobotany in action. The middle school DVD explores the work of New York Botanical Garden scientists who study vanilla plants, rice, and rattan. The high school DVD follows teams of scientists in Belize and the United States as they collect plants, visit traditional healers, and take data back to the lab. Both curricula use readily available equipment and supplies, and the lesson plans can be adapted for limited resources and class periods. The program also meets national science, math, and technology standards.
“This is a truly hands-on program that is very engaging and exciting to students,” said EDC’s Kristen Bjork, director of the project. “Working with the scientists and educators at the Botanical Garden allowed us to bring authenticity to the investigations.”
Middle school science teachers who pilot tested the lessons reported that their students loved the programs. Teachers praised the unit, saying it employed a “good, hands-on approach” with lessons that were “easy to prepare and implement,” topics that were “easy to relate to real-life issues,” and activities that provided “excellent opportunities for student group work, inquiry learning, and hands-on scientific research.” Outside the classroom, the program can be used in afterschool science clubs, botanical gardens, and nature centers.
Both Forensic Botany Investigations and Ethnobotany Explorers were introduced at the 2008 National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston and are now available from Glencoe/McGraw-Hill.
Originally published on January 21, 2009