Academic journal article Science Scope

Botanical Scavenger Hunt

Academic journal article Science Scope

Botanical Scavenger Hunt

Article excerpt


I can remember my excitement as I was handed a list of wacky, unrelated items and then asked to collect those items as quickly as possible for my summer camp's scavenger hunt. My bunkmates and I scrambled to fill our pillowcases with items we had either packed from home, such as bug repellent, or natural things found outside our cabin, such as prickly pinecones or bird feathers. Once we completed our task, we raced to be the first group to present our collections to our smiling camp counselor.

Many years later, as a science teacher, I have taken my computer-driven students on internet scavenger hunts to gather various pieces of life science information, but one important element always seems to be missing. Although internet adventures allow students to visit new places virtually, students remain behind their computers, without interacting with their natural environment outdoors. In fact, I would venture to say that after the first week or two of school, most students are desensitized to the flowers, trees, shrubs, and animal life surrounding them as they go about their everyday routines.

Then one day I had an "aha" moment about how to include the ingredient that was missing, the natural element. Why not combine the use of technology with the excitement of a scavenger hunt that moves middle-level students out into the "wilds" of their school campus to classify plants? As Bob Regan (2008) stated in an article entitled "Why We Need to Teach 21st Century Skills--And How to Do It," "Educators must find ways to incorporate multimedia technologies into everyday activities, and help students explore and master new ways to communicate what they are learning." He added that "group work and social skills, vital to the functioning of a globalized economy, need to be honed through collaborative learning projects."

The lesson plan was designed to allow students to not only understand the concept of classification, but to incorporate 21st-century skills such as collaboration, public speaking, problem solving, and creativity. As we proceeded through our plant unit, the scavenger hunt facilitated students' familiarity with how different types of vascular plants and plant anatomy are classified. This was achieved by recalling the distinguishing characteristics between monocots and dicots, gymnosperms and angiosperms, and spore-bearing versus seed-bearing plants. Once the project has been completed and class presentations made within a four to five-day time frame, students should be able to observe and recognize specific anatomical differences between vascular plants and use a simple dichotomous key to classify specific plant species.

Stalking the wild botanicals

During our 60-minute block schedule, before the scavenger hunt project begins, students are exposed to botanical terminology and how a dichotomous key is arranged. I incorporate a website designed by Oregon State University (see Resources) as a homework assignment to help students practice using a dichotomous key, designed for trees of the Pacific Northwest, to uncover the scientific names of eight mystery trees. Students are also given several diagrams of basic plant anatomy and terminology. There are several helpful plant diagrams found on the internet that can be used to create a student primer (see Resources).

Once the groundwork has been laid, the scavenger hunt takes place. Figure 1 provides a day-by-day schedule of the entire project. Before you start your hunt, you may want to enlist the aid of other teachers or parents to help oversee the activity. Also, if you plan on leaving school grounds, make sure all permission slips and paperwork have been completed.

Instead of collecting scavenger hunt items in bulky pillowcases, students collect digital photographs of plants. A week before the actual botanical scavenger hunt occurs, students are asked to bring digital cameras or cell phones with a camera from home (with parental permission), along with the USB cord to download images onto their computers. …

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