Multiple Objectives Achieved with a Germination Experiment in a Science Education Biology Class

By Bergwerff, Ken; Warners, David | The American Biology Teacher, November 2007 | Go to article overview

Multiple Objectives Achieved with a Germination Experiment in a Science Education Biology Class


Bergwerff, Ken, Warners, David, The American Biology Teacher


This article describes a semester-long science experiment and subsequent service-learning project designed to more directly connect our college students to the local landscape within which they are studying. Higher education typically focuses on broadening our students' intellectual and curricular experience, but what is often regrettably lost in this process is an understanding of the applied value of what is being learned (Russo, 2003). Too often learning at the college level seems to occur in a transcendental vacuum where rootedness in a specific place is ignored (Zencey, 1996). In contrast, when we deepen our students' understanding of their relatedness within a particular physical context, we simultaneously deepen their understanding of who they are and the presence of responsibilities they bear as citizens of that particular place (Curry et al., 2002).

This experiment ultimately terminates with a service-learning activity that necessitates the students' involvement in an off-campus experience. This experience provides a meaningful bridge to the community in which our campus resides (Boyer, 1996). Organizational and personal relationships become developed and beyond the science lessons learned, our students begin to appreciate how the information they acquire can be used in ways that promote the beauty and integrity of their social and ecological context (Eyler & Giles, 1999; Plater, 1999). This approach counters classic scientific reductionism and instead emphasizes the place-based context within which all learning occurs (Kloppenburg, 1991).

The class that has been the vector for this activity is our spring term Biology 112 (Life Science for Elementary School Teachers). The activity occurs during the ecology section of this course, in which we initiate an eight to ten week germination trial that assesses the relative germination success of a local, aggressive non-native plant, purple loosestrife (Lythrum salicaria), and compare its germination to that of an assortment of co-occurring native wildflowers. The student learning objectives we address in this inquiry-based investigation include: connecting the students to our local landscape; increasing their appreciation for responsibilities that come with scientific literacy; deepening their understanding of the influence of non-native invasive species; experiencing the process of designing and carrying out a scientific experiment; learning about the genius of seeds--the dynamics of dormancy, germination, seedling growth and development and plant competition; and developing a deeper appreciation for the ethnobotanical uses of plants by indigenous people of this region. These objectives are affirmed by the National Science Education Standards in which the standards, "developing the abilities to do scientific inquiry" and deepening an "understanding about scientific inquiry," are emphasized (National Research Council, 2000, page 18). Furthermore, such a quality inquiry-based investigation engages students in the same thought processes as real scientists (Roth, 1995), which is a final, overarching objective of this activity.

Designing the Experiment

Although this course is taught in the spring term, our experiment actually has its origin during the fall semester, when the seeds we use are collected by different students as part of a restoration ecology laboratory period in Biology 346 (Plant Taxonomy), taught by one of the authors. If means are not available for a class or school to collect seeds themselves, native seeds can readily be purchased from (or donated by) a local native plant nursery. It would also be possible for a class to partner with a local garden club for assistance in obtaining native wildflower seeds. Local seed sources are always preferred--local genotypes will be particularly suited to grow well within the specific context of one's home institution.

The collected seeds, as well as seeds from purple loosestrife, are stored in Hubco Soil Sample nylon bags and allowed to overwinter outdoors in an animal exclosure we have established behind our research greenhouse. …

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