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Learner Description: The students live in a rural community, East Moriches, located on the south shore of Long Island, New York. Their socioeconomic status is predominately middle-class. Second grade students will be in heterogeneous cooperative groupings. These cooperative groups will contain ESL, mainstreamed special education, at risk and general population children.
Teaching the Unit: Each morning Mrs. Lackner's class turns on the computer in their second grade classroom to pick up their e-mail.
Some days there is no mail, but today Serdar found an interesting note written to them from the sixth grade EMO Botanists. As Serdar finished reading the e-mail letter all the students were talking excitedly about the project. Everyone wanted to investigate different plants and ways of growing plants. Mrs. Lackner suggested that they set up a plan to tackle this project. For homework she told the students to think about what plants need to grow and what would be some of the problems they could encounter in growing plants. She said she would put time aside tomorrow for them to plan.
The next day Mrs. Lackner brought in the sick plant and placed it in front of the classroom. The students brainstormed what could have possibly happened to the plant that made it sick. A recorder made a list of the ideas that the students came up with. Ideas included too much or not enough water, too much or not enough sun, too much fertilizer, not enough food, somebody sprayed it, bad soil, too hot, too cold, polluted water, no light and bugs.
The students decided that there were too many reasons why this plant might have gotten sick and that they needed to investigate. They decided that by splitting into groups they would be able to research the ideas they were most interested in. So the students formed research teams, and each team decided what variable they would investigate. Mrs. Lackner explained that each group should write down the problem that they wanted to solve in their design portfolio. Next they should list the materials they would need to carry out their investigation. Finally they should draw their set up or list the steps they would carry out their investigation to find an answer to their question. The students decided they would meet in their groups and report their progress to the class in two days. During this time teachers and volunteers facilitated the groups, guiding them towards investigations and research materials.
Meanwhile a group of students sent an e-mail letter to the botanists informing them that they would like to be part of their project as well as a list of questions that the students had developed and needed to have answered in order to begin the project.
On Friday afternoon Mrs. Lackner gathered the groups together to report on their progress. Each group had developed a design portfolio and listed their questions. They had composed the problem they wanted to investigate and had decided on what type of research they needed to do. The other students gave positive feedback and helpful hints. Mrs. Lackner set up a schedule for using the computer for research with a facilitator. Some of the students had asked to contact Dr. Swyler at BNL, look at plant sites and online seed catalogs to research the subtopics they had developed. Other students wanted to investigate their topics in the library, interview knowledgeable adults and read plant magazines. They all agreed that they would meet as a group on Thursday to report out. The e-mail team reported on the mail received from the botanists that helped the children with many of their questions.
The students in the soil research team were investigating different types of soil such as sand, potting soil, and vermiculite. They e-mailed Dr. Swyler who had helped them with an project last year. He replied that there were some experiments going on at BNL that might interest them. In addition to exploring types of soil where plants might grow best, he asked if they had looked into growing plants without any soil or hydroponics. He gave them the Web address to the hydroponics Web site at BNL and invited them to visit the lab and interview Mr. Hon, the director of the hydroponics lab. This group found a Website called Bradley Hydroponics. The children read about children's hydroponics kits and read the story of two children who grow their food using a hydroponics garden. The students were very interested in the survival garden and the Roots and Shoots program. Mrs. Lackner suggested they e-mail Peggy Bradley for more information on the project.
The temperature group decided to use the information on the EMO Web page to chart the weather and determine growing seasons on Lng Island. They also decided to choose several plants and grow them under different temperature conditions. They decided to have some plants that were grown under controlled conditions so that they would be able to compare them with the test plants.
The water group decided that they had several different types of investigations to do. They wanted to find out how much water a plant needed to grow well. Was it better to start a plant in dry, damp or wet soil? What kind of water is best for a plant? Can plants grow in polluted water? They had looked through online catalogs and investigated plant watering on a CD-ROM in class. They needed to have a facilitator help them find Websites where they could do further investigation.
The light research group wanted to know how much light there is in one day on Long Island. They were interested in knowing if plants could grow without light. They wanted to know if plants would grow in artificial light as well as sunlight. They also used the Internet and classroom CD-ROMs to research plants and light .
The students came together and decided they would purchase a Growlab with their grant money for the project. They also received e-mail from Peggy Bradley asking them if they would like to team up with a class in Africa to grow hydroponics gardens. Mrs. Lackner said that she would be able to set up the project with Ms. Bradley and that the grant project and the PTA could finance the cost of mailing a computer and a kit to the partner class. The class did agree that the hydroponics unit would be too big for the soil research group and that the whole class would need to assist in this project.
Each group decided that they would have to keep journals, charts and graphs on the data. Each group designed a plan with labeled drawings that outlined what they would be researching. Each group would report out on a weekly basis and forward the data to the EMO botanists.
For the next four weeks the students followed their design plans, planted their seeds and monitored their progress. They kept daily records and charted the progress of their control plants vs. their test groups. They had decided to grow extra plants in case some of the plants died. They reported their progress to the class and botnaists each week. Throughout this part of the project they documented any new questions that surfaced.
The Africa connection as it came to be called continued to develop. It took approximately eight weeks for the computer to reach our partner school in Africa. But one day Victoria came to Mrs. Lackner all excited. She had finally received news that they were up and running. We had already received our hydroponics kit and were ready to start. We received e-mail messages from our partner school! They were lucky enough to have electricity in their village. We followed Ms. Bradleys classroom lessons as we developed our hydroponics garden. We received weekly reports from our partner school and compared results of our hydroponics investigations. We were all amazed to see how quickly our plants grew without soil. We felt good to see that we were able to help feed other children across the ocean. We also learned many interesting things about life in Africa. Part of our second grade curriculum is the study of communities. We understood very quickly how different but yet the same our partner community in Africa was. One thing was clear. We were growing plants for knowledge while our partner schools increased knowledge was helping them survive. We really looked forward to hearing from our friends in Africa as well as the botanists at A-NASA. Dr. Swyler arranged for us to meet with Mr. Hon and take a trip to the hydroponics lab at BNL. We really learned a lot about how to adjust our project back at school and Mr. Hon was very interested in our Africa connection.
As we look back at our seed connection project, we can all see how much everything is interrelated, how communities around the world are connected and how everyone learns from each other.