Thursday, September 16, 2010

There is just time for a Kowhai Study before the holidays

When I visit schools I often see teachers involved in ten week inquiry studies which seem all process and little real content. Good inquiry studies should result students uncovering some real in-depth content. With the holidays coming up there is just time for a 'mini study' based on one of New Zealand's iconic plants - the Kowhai. How much do your students know about this amazing tree? How much do they look at a kowhai and see very little except yellow flowers. In one week of a focused in-depth inquiry a lot can be learned. Through poetic language and the expressive arts children's creativity can also also be celebrated.

Creative teachers should always be on the lookout for ideas to introduce their students to.

This time of the year it almost impossible to ignore the kowhai which is now in full flower.

The kowhai is an ideal integrated study that can involve many areas of the curriculum.

So if there is a kowhai near you this is the time to take your class out to take a close look at a native tree that we often take for granted. And as well, if you are lucky, you might also see that other native icon the tui.

Introduce the tree by bringing in few flowers for students to observe closely. Using a pencil or biro and a small piece of paper encourage students to draw what they see carefully; when finished their drawing can be coloured in with coloured pencils. There is an important learning lesson to be gained in the process. Students need to take the time and regularly look at what they are drawing. This seems obvious advice but all too often children look once and then draw from what they thought they saw. Close observation is a learnt skill – ‘slowing the pace of work’ is important if students are to gain a quality result.

After drawings ask the students what questions came to mind. Drawings, questions, and later their researched answers, can be part of a growing kowhais display.

Visit the tree and sit quietly by it. Get the students to think of a phrase that describes the flowers, another about the trunks and branches and a third about the fallen flowers on the ground. These can be drafted up into simple three line haiku poems to add to the display. Some children will need a little help to learn to value their own ‘voice.

When at the tree think about how you could measure the height, the ‘drip line’ ( the distance from the trunk to the outer branches) the circumference and, back in class, pull apart a flower and count the petals, the stigma and the stamens ( after you have sorted them out yourself!). Work out the function of the stamens and the stigma.

Collect up a 100 kowhai pods if available from last years flowers and in group remove the seeds noting how many seeds in each pod – leading to developing ideas about percentages.

Try germinating some seeds. Soak some for few days, burn a few pods and recover seeds, carefully chip a few seeds, and plant some just as they are. Plant 10 of each and work out percentages that germinate.

When flowers eventually lose all the petals and stamens tie a piece of cotton to the remaining stamens and measure growth over a week or so. Graph the results. You will be surprised.

If possible introduce children to other leguminous plant flowers (beans, peas, etc) and help them understand that plants are classified by their flowers and not their shape.

As the study processes students could research up information about the Maori and scientific names and whatever else they can research.

A concluding activity could be doing a larger drawing of a tui feeding on a kowhai (you will need some photos of tuis to refer to). Use pastels to colour in.

The ideas above are only suggestions but indicate all sorts of possibilities for students to use during other environmental studies.

In the process of such simple study you will have developed your children’s awareness and knowledge, used ‘real’ maths, and extended their vocabularies.

After such an experience keep your eyes open for other environmental or seasonal possibilities to introduce to your students


Anonymous said...

Most parts of the kowhai are poisonous

Bruce said...

Wow! Make it all the more memorable. A lot of garden plants are poisonous. Check out, with google, the Duchess of Northumberlnd's poison garden!! Very popular with kids! Be a great inquiry research study -what common plants are poisonous - includes green potatoes and tomatoes!