EXPERTS IN EDUCATION
New Curriculum Turns Middle Schoolers into Ethnobotany “FBI” Agents
The New York Botanical Garden has published an innovative new ethnobotany curriculum that enables students in grades six through nine to delve into the relationships of plants and people.
Forensic Botany Investigations: Become an Agent of F.B.I. is a classroom resource designed to help teachers improve their students’ science literacy and interest in plants through hands-on and engaging lessons and activities that integrate learning with role play, games, simulations, and student assessments. Students are presented with fun and challenging scenarios and investigations and work in teams to solve mysteries while learning about plant science, ecology, and conservation. Lessons such as “Fruit Autopasy,” “The Case of the Vanishing Stingless Bee,” and “Rice Crop Rescue” teach students how plants and their habitats are affected by environmental changes and how this, in turn, affects people who rely on such plants for their livelihood.
Forensic Botany Investigations explores real life issues that relate to social studies, nutrition, genetics, math, economics, and environmental studies. A documentary-style video component of the program on an accompanying DVD features Botanical Garden scientists talking about their work. Anthropologist Christine Padoch, Ph.D., shares her research on traditional rice farming in Southeast Asia, which explores the genetic diversity and traditional uses of the world’s most important food crop. Additional profiles include Ecologist Chuck Peters, Ph.D., and palm specialist Andrew Henderson, Ph.D., describe their work on a recent expedition to Myanmar to study the sustainable harvest of rattan, exploring the delicate balance between the needs of humans and wildlife.
Funded with a grant from Bristol-Myers Squibb, the lessons were created in collaboration with curriculum developer Education Development Center and employ leading-edge approaches to education such as concept mapping and group learning. Middle school science teachers from around the country who piloted the lessons commented, in questionnaires by the evaluation team at The Goodman Group, commented that the unit employed a “good, hands-on approach” with lessons that were “easy to prepare and implement” and topics that were “easy to relate to real-life issues” and activities that students not only “loved” but that provided “excellent opportunities for student group work, inquiry learning, and hands-on scientific research.”
The curriculum was introduced at the 2008 National Science Teachers Association Conference in Boston, Massachusetts, attended by 25,000 classroom teachers, school administrators, and informal educators.
The Botanical Garden’s Children’s Education department is a leader in the field of inquiry-based science resources for teachers. It recently published the elementary curriculum series SEEDS (Science Exploration and Education Discovery Series) with leading science curricula publisher Kendall/Hunt. A curriculum on ethnobotany for high school students similar to Forensic Botany Investigations is slated for publication later this year. Also under way is an on-line virtual exploration of the rain forest and desert galleries of the Garden’s Enid A. Haupt Conservatory.
Forensic Botany Investigations is being distributed in partnership with Glencoe, the science education division of McGraw-Hill, a leading provider of K–12 curricula. It retails for $19.98 and can be purchased on-line at www.glencoe.com, by phone at 1-800-334-7344, or at Shop in the Garden on site at the Botanical Garden or on-line at www.nybgshop.org
Christina Colón, Ph.D., Curator of Curriculum Development and Evaluation at The New York Botanical Garden, spearheaded the development of Forensic Botany Investigations.#