Communicating the latest developments in plant science is an important part of the land grant mission, but efforts can be impeded by the public’s lack of familiarity with plant biology. One strategy to address this challenge is to promote inclusion of more plant science in primary and secondary school curricula.
Encouraged by the Ithaca City School District to move toward case studies as a model for instruction, Bob Novick, 5th grade teacher at Ithaca’s Northeast Elementary School, contacted SIPS Director Chris Smart in 2016 to ask for assistance in drafting a unit on plant biology and food systems.
Drawing on resources from from SIPS and the Cornell Institute for Biology Teachers, Libby Cieniewicz and other graduate students in the SIPS Plant Pathology and Plant-Microbe Biology Section developed a set of lessons about plant anatomy and experimental design with plants.
This year, the effort was expanded to include all 5th grade classes at Northeast Elementary. Lessons were focused on plant parts and their functions, plant propagation, and creation of epidermal peels so students could view cells under microscopes. One highlight involved visualizing Tradescantia leaves under a demonstration microscope. The purple epidermal cells interspersed with yellow guard cells in this plant are readily visible without dissection and placement of the leaves on the microscope stage elicited gasps of wonder from the 5th grade students.
Novick commented, “The students have really been learning a lot from the grad student visits. I think the hands on approach helps turn abstract ideas and vocabulary into something much more concrete and tangible for the fifth graders.” Novick is hoping to lead a field trip to the Geneva campus in spring 2018.
Cieniewicz reflected that she really enjoys bringing plant science to elementary schools and talking about science with different age groups. Her involvement in the educational outreach at Northeast Elementary and at schools in Geneva NY has been supported by a CALS extension/outreach graduate assistantship. Other students assisting at Northeast Elementary included Plant Pathology graduate students Adrienne Gorny, Morgan Carter, Annie Kruse, Chris Peritore, Zoe Dubrow, Larissa Osterbaan, and Bill Weldon.