Over the summer, a volunteer family helped clean out a raised bed of late season kale. The plants were still growing, but were way past their prime. The leaves and stalks were no longer tender. I know from experience that they would take more effort to prepare and then not taste as good once cooked. They were also infested with Harlequin Bugs. I knew that if we didn’t remove the kale, these “pests” would reproduce to epic proportions. These are the everyday phenomena that makes me excited to connect to Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) in the garden!
Because the return to school typically happens in late summer, the first month of instruction is abundant with seasonal changes worth observing: temperatures drop, leaves start to change color, and last summer fruits and vegetables fully ripen. Any of these phenomena provide a purposeful entry point for next generation science in the garden! Here are just a few of my favorite fall garden scavenger hunt phenomena that connect well to grade-level NGSS topics:
Kinder Weather & Climate
Give each pair of students one half of an egg carton (six compartments) and instruct them to find as many different kinds of seeds as they can. Observe and compare and then discuss the question, How does a plant know when to make seeds? Plant fava beans seeds in the fall and observe changes over time. Record the weather during each observation.
1st Grade Structure & Function
Have students collect materials they think could be used to build a bird’s nest. Bring materials into the classroom or science lab and categorize them by their structure and function. For example, what function do sticks have compared to spider webs? Engineer bird nests that can be used to model strength and safety for baby birds.
2nd Grade Structure & Properties of Matter
Divide the class into thirds by counting off by 3s. Have all the 1s gather together and search for solids (2s for liquids, 3s for gasses, etc.). Then have students make heterogeneous groups (a 1, 2, and 3 in each group). Pose the question, “Was it easiest to find examples of solids, liquids or gases in the garden and why?” Make an anchor chart of all the solids, liquids and gases in the garden. Have each student select one item to observe and record its other properties (e.g., shape, size, color, etc.).
3rd Grade Life Cycles and Traits
Collect evidence that plants are entering senescence. Examples include: berries that are smaller and drier, sunflowers gone to seed, flowering bulbs dying back, and multiple generations of Harlequin Bugs. Alternatively, hunt for snails and observe, compare, and sketch the patterns on their shells. Set up a terrarium that will support reproduction. Compare the shell patterns on offspring and parents.
4th Grade Structure & Function
Gather flowers of different shapes and sizes. Notice features that all flowers have and some they don’t. Conjecture why flowers have different color, shape, size, or smell, but most have all the basic reproductive mechanisms. Connect flower structures to their various functions.
5th Grade Matter & Energy
What better way to ponder matter and energy than the compost pile? Start with “compost bingo” (adapted from Life Lab’s Worm Bin Bingo) to hook students’ interest in the compost pile ecosystem. Then lead students through explaining how decomposers break down matter and what energy transfers and transformations happen in the process. For more general ideas for scavenger huts, see here.
One of the key shifts in NGSS is to integrate the three dimensions of The K-12 Framework for K-12 Science Education in authentic phenomena to investigate. Taking a walk through the school garden at the beginning of the year while thinking, What’s happening here? is a great way to ground instruction in scientific explanation. This approach takes a glance at Harlequin bugs from a reaction of, “Cool!” to one that notices the pattern of eggs and wonders how many times a generation will molt (click here for more information about Harlequin Bugs).