What's In the Woods? Part 1.

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Students will learn to recognize change in a plant's structure over time.

Big Idea

Taking a walk in the woods in the early spring gives us a chance to really understand the changes in plant's structure.


10 minutes

I opened the lesson today with simply playing this video, asking them to be absolutely quiet. Then, I moved onto the next video below and asked them to think about what kind of images these videos bring to our minds about plants in the forest. Do they have the same types of traits that our daffodils do? Are there flowers? Do we see these growing in gardens in our neighborhoods? Why or why not? These questions helped to create a mindful atmosphere, as we start to prepare for a different kind of journey into our woods. The last time we were there was to observe the daffodils from the daffodil project. Either of these clips work well for this.





When the video finished, students were settled and ready for me to introduce the lesson using the What's in the Woods? SB file. I opened up the first page and then we went over each page together as I used explicit instruction. I then passed out the Forest Floor Observational Sheet. I knew it was important to go over the structure of this data sheet so students would fill it out correctly. I sketched a leaf on the white board and gave explicit instructions on how to measure the plant, telling them that centimeters or millimeters would be fine. I instructed them to attach the sheet to a clipboard, make sure they had a pencil, their iPad, and a tongue depressor stick with their initials and the date written at the top. I partnered students together and then gave them a ruler to share. 

Venturing Out

30 minutes

This part of the lesson can be done whether you have a woods or not. One modification that you could make would be to buy planted annuals from the nursery that are in early stages of growth and create a terrarium within the classroom using an old fish tank. Reproduce the forest floor using moss or any other plant of your choice. Plants suggested for that would be types of daisies, herbs like dill, or even marigolds. Please be aware of student allergies and only use potting soil in your terrarium. The plants can be measured and observed within the classroom during spring growth time between March and May in the Midwest. Adjust this lesson to your sprouting/ growing season. Consult a local greenhouse expert, your extension office, or a Master Gardener for help. The Science for Ohio resource page is a good one to use to modify this lesson to fit your specific needs for a forest floor terrarium and presents some great ideas. Containers can also be used such as 2 liter bottles or leftover tall candle holders that we often see at weddings. (These can be picked up at resale shops.)

 As we entered our small hardwood deciduous forest, I assigned my students in partners to a patch of forest floor.  I had checked out the areas prior to this lesson for poison ivy ( although it is really too early to have it sprouting), or any burdock( which still contains the old burrs from fall). Burdock can be an awful thing tangled in clothing or long hair. I was looked around for plants like gentians, violets, Dutchman's Breeches or May apples that I knew would be in their early stages. 

I called out names and pointed to areas for partners to work. They had no problem spotting a plant that caught their eye as interesting. I smiled as wood violets that were blooming were greeted with "Awh! This one has a purple flower! Can we use this one?" Soon, all 11 sets of partners were busy working. I roved between the partners, helping one group to observe the plant they marked. These students had chosen these plants at an earlier time. We started today by measuring height and measuring width of the leaves. Data was entered on the sheets. Students made predictions  about what they would see next week on our second observation. Extension of  their interest by questioning what other plants were around showed me that they were truly engaged and interested in what they were doing. They were all enjoying what they found and time went too fast. It was time to stop.

I gathered them in one spot where they could share their thoughts about what they had seen before we went back inside. I checked with them that their sticks were left to mark the plant, they had their rulers, clipboards and pencils. I told them we would return to the woods in two weeks to note any changes that we see  and continue our discussion.   

Identification & Record Keeping

20 minutes

When students returned to class, I gave them another explanation of why they needed precise language. Using precise descriptions would help them identify the plant by name later on. I told them that they didn't know now what the plant was called and it would be harder to identify at this early stage. I also told them that we needed to be sure to include every detail, so they needed to look at their photos and be sure that their observations matched what they really saw. In closing, I realized that they still didn't understand why precise descriptions mattered. The highest above grade level achieving students did not make the connection between the accuracy of their descriptions and their ability to identify the plant. They have never done this! So, it is logical to think that at 4th grade level, they will not be able to make that connection. It is important to support their understanding so that the next measurement and observation will be just as detailed and engaging. 

One student shared that he couldn't wait to see the plants and how they will have changed.