When you have benchmarks for studying plants and for technology, save time by combining the two. Here are two ways to use some of our favorite tech tools to learn more about the plant kingdom.
- Plant a baby tree for your class at MyBabyTree and watch it grow — really– in Google Earth. This is an affordable way to get a real sense of connection with the great forests of the earth. The site has an interactive animation with photos showing the life cycle of a tree, three different tropical trees with varying characteristics, and the way you can watch your tree grow over time. Checking in on the class tree from time to time will let you look not only at plant development but also at latitude and longitude and other geography topics, human geography, environmental issues, growth and development in general, biomes, and computer skills.
- Look at plants around the world in Google Earth and compare them with the plants in your community. One excellent starting place is the Valley of Flowers in India. Open the file in Google Earth and you will find yourself in an impressively mountainous area. Click on the photos to see lots of pictures of plant life, and check out the video below for more images from the same location. Follow up by creating your own photo files of the plants around your school or your town. Add them to Google Earth and share them in the Google Earth Community. There is a student section where kids can share and discuss their finds. (Note: if you’ve tried the Google Earth Community before and found it hard to use, check out the new interface — it’s a lot friendlier. )
I was shocked, in talking with local high school writing teachers, to learn that Excel was one of their go-to software choices for their writing classes. This was, in fact, one of the experiences that inspired FreshPlans — teachers need to know about all the great free and low-cost software for education, so they won’t have to settle for what came on their computers. If you like Excel, though, and feel that everyone needs to be able to use spreadsheet software, this is a great time to use it. If you don’t have Excel, you can also use Google Docs free spreadsheets or Open Office, also free.
Have students create a spreadsheet for a virtual plant collection. Either have one for the whole class, with each student researching and contributing a few plants, or have each student build his or her own virtual plant collection.
- Decide the characteristics that should be included on the spreadsheet. Have students look at various sources of information (California Wildflowers is a good example, and the Lazy Gardener’s Guide is a nice example of a spreadsheet) about plants and list the items of information they include. Possibilities might be the common name(s), the Latin name, the color, the size, the uses, where the plant grows, its place or places of origin, the kind of growing conditions it prefers, and the number or location of a collected specimen or photograph.
- Build the spreadsheet with spaces for the pieces of information you’ve decided to include. At this point, students can practice design and layout of their spreadsheets, considering things like the size of the cell needed for each piece of information.
- Input the information for all the collected plants.
- Try out different ways of sorting the data and decide on the one you’ll use when you publish the spreadsheet.
- Decide how to publish the spreadsheet. Possibilities include keeping it as an ongoing group document to add to in future, printing out the spreadsheets and adding them to a physical plant collection, or including them in a document with photos either on the class computer or in a notebook.
Once students have created their spreadsheets, learn more about how working scientists use the same kinds of skills and procedures the students have experienced. Read about the Field Museum’s plant collections, and how they’re using modern technology to create a database and to make the collections easier to use, while also protecting them. Students are involved in this project, and the article at the link is accessible for high school or middle school students. Check out their searchable databases and discuss how botanists (plant scientists) might use the information they contain.