Planting Curiosity

July 24, 2017

Elementary school teachers explore inquiry-based biology education at Itasca

PSI-MN 2017

Despite it being summer break, eleven Minnesota teachers opted to spend half of their June in the classroom studying Investigative Plant Biology at the University’s Itasca Biological Station.

The program, funded by a Minnesota Department of Higher Education Improving Teacher Quality Grant, focused on providing teachers from high-needs districts in north central Minnesota with resources to enhance student’s excitement for science. This meant allowing teachers to have inquiry-based learning experiences of their own through discussion sessions, science experiments, and even field trips to explore the nearby Big Bog State Recreation Area.

At the end of the program, teachers returned to their classrooms with potting material, seeds, light stands, and a microscope— not to mention three graduate credits and plenty of enthusiasm for incorporating plant biology in their classrooms.

Just weeks after the program, one participant, Ruth Tatter, had already made plans to incorporate the new microscope into her classroom at Grand Rapid’s Murphy Elementary School.

“I was amazed at what we could see under the microscopes provided for us to take back to our classrooms. This encouraged me to set up a Science Corner so my young learners can observe what fascinating parts of nature are available for us to explore,” Tatter said. “I want to change my teaching of science from spewing out information to an atmosphere where students are encouraged to ask questions and search for answers.”

Another teacher, Mary Wildes of Virginia’s Marquette Catholic School was so inspired by the program that she couldn’t wait for the school year to begin to share what she’d learned.

“I came home so excited with all the new information that my family banned me from talking about plants. Apparently, that was all I was talking about,” Wildes said, adding that she even went to a local greenhouse to ask a few more questions.

While Wildes’ family may have been exasperated by her newfound enthusiasm for plant biology, College of Biological Sciences Professor Sue Wick, who has been leading the program since 2005, said generating interest and excitement in plant biology is exactly the point of the program.

“We take teachers, many of whom confess to being afraid of science, and make them more comfortable with exploring science topics, open their eyes to the power of using inquiry, and guide them to develop action plans to take what they have learned into their own classrooms,” said Wick. “This is expected to awaken more students to the possibility of pursuing further education in scientific fields.”

The teachers will also further their own education, meeting up twice more during the school year to build on the discussions they had at Itasca. Teachers like Wildes and Tatters will likely have much to report.

“I plan on teaching plants more in depth; not just plant parts and Mother's Day plants. We will incorporate activities we did in class [including] looking under the microscope at sections of plants and growing our own,” Wildes said. “Hopefully, this will encourage a lifelong love of science.”


-Gina Van Thomme