Supermarket Botany

Article excerpt

Supermarket Botany is a frequently-used teaching resource or strategy. It draws on a student's existing familiarity with plant-based foods to explore plant structure and life cycles. One of its strongest points is that it is adaptable to many age levels--from lower primary school to university and general interest groups. We have designed a unique web-based resource that features accurate botanical information in an engaging format, combining a tutorial with an interactive test. High-quality photographic images of key morphological features allow students to interpret the structures they are observing. Teachers can use the website as a stand-alone application or as a resource for previewing/reviewing this material before/after a hands-on laboratory class. Evaluations have shown that this web-based application can result in similar learning outcomes to a traditional laboratory-based session.

INTRODUCTION

Supermarket Botany (also called 'Grocery Store Botany', 'Botany on Your Plate', 'Edible Botany', etc.) is an excellent way of introducing various concepts of plant structure and development to students of all ages. Supermarket Botany involves using fruits and vegetables with which students are familiar to help them conceptualise the differences between stems, roots and leaves, to understand the differences between vegetables and fruits and to examine the developmental sequence from flower (with an ovary and ovules) to fruit (with seeds).

As noted, Supermarket Botany is an engaging topic for a wide range of ages. As a part of 'Science in Schools' activities we have given Supermarket Botany presentations to primary school students (Years 1 to 5/6) and secondary school students (Years 9/10). At university we have given presentations to full-time internal students (usually 18-20 years of age) and distance education students (usually 20-60+). We have needed only small changes in content and terminology to effectively bring Supermarket Botany to this wide diversity of students.

A search of the web will show that teachers around the world are using Supermarket Botany as part of their biology curriculum. While a popular subject, investigating Supermarket Botany independently, e.g. preparing a class on the subject, or providing a ready-to-run class resource, is fraught with difficulties. For example, the botany textbook Plant Biology (Graham et al., 2006) has only a single page on the subject, while Smith and Avery (1999) wrote a short paper that generated numerous letters (in 'American Biology Teacher' June 1999) pointing out inaccuracies in the original article.

Two web-based Supermarket Botany applications, based on similar information, are available on the Teacher's Domain and Missouri Botanic Gardens web sites (please see the 'On-line Resources' section at the end of this article for details). Only small images of the different plant-based food stuffs are shown, and little background information is presented about either the basic parts of plants (root/stem/leaf/etc) or the particular species. In summary, Supermarket Botany is a popular and effective science education topic but available resources are generally limited in their information content and/or presentation.

We thought a more interactive and comprehensive web resource would be useful for:

* independent student learning about plant structure and life cycles,

* independent student learning about species of horticultural importance,

* teachers wishing to find out more about the above topics,

* teachers wishing to access pre-prepared resources, and

* students preparing for plant structure practicals and subsequent review.

THE WEB RESOURCE

Our aim was to produce a resource (Fig. 1) that provided background information on plant parts and plant reproduction, and a test in which students could apply their knowledge. We aimed to produce an engaging and interactive resource that had a 'good' depth of botanical detail and accuracy. …