Friday, November 24, 2006

A great little study: The Flax bush

The New Zealand flax ,or Harakeke, is an iconic plant of our country. There are few schools do not have flax bushes in their school grounds - or , if not ,they ought to.

November is an ideal time for a class to study them as they are in full flower.

A good idea is for teachers to learn with their class as 'co-explorers' and the easiest way to begin is to simply visit a plant and observe through the senses. Such a first visit might end up with a small three line 'thought poem' ( a simple haiku).

After talking about the shapes, colours and patterns the students can see, the movements they notice, the flower heads ( in flower now), the students could sit quietly and write: one thought about the leaves; one thought about the movement of the plant in the breeze; and one thought about the flower heads. If the class is lucky a tui might be available to add a bit of excitement. Encourage the use of metaphor - what do the leaves remind them of? A digital camera is ideal to collect visual information for use back in class.

Back in class the students could be encouraged to carefully draw a flower ( previously picked by the teacher). This is a good opportunity to encourage them to look carefully as they draw and to take their time. Biros make a good drawing tool but only if the paper is the appropriate size ( a half A4 would be ideal) . Drawings could be coloured in and a background of leaves added.

While drawing encourage question about the flax that come to the students minds.They might notice that not all flax bushes are the same, or that the flowers on some plants are different. They might be interested in how the Maori made use of this plant - and the early colonists. As they draw they might wonder about the parts of the flower they can see and what their purpose are. They also might wonder about what animals cut holes in the leaves. They might also be curious about the vein patterns.

It would be ideal if teachers could access part of a clump of flax to observe the leaf arrangement and root structure.

Students ( with teachers help) can select good questions to research. It is a good idea to ask the what their answers are to their question first to see what 'prior' knowledge they have. Groups of students might research different aspects to contribute to a final class display. This research could include information about the types of environments flax bushes thrive in.

Their research might include a description of the flax bush including various measurements they could make.If there are any old flower stalks about they could estimate how many seeds on a flax stalk and estimate the number on a plant. This will involve opening old pods to count.

Depending on time students could involve themselves with same basic Maori weaving. If so admire pictures of articles made from flax . See if you can find any Maori sayings/proverbs about flax and ,if so , whatt do they mean.

Old stalks are ideal to make into small boats or rafts for floating experiments?

If some of the above activities were to be done then there would be enough visual material for an impressive wall display to celebrate their findings and to share with parents and visitors.

To conclude ask students to write and.or draw all they now know compared to the beginning of the study.By doing this they will appreciate all that they have learnt and, as well, have the strategies to use on any other plant they might want to study.


Anonymous said...

This would make an ideal study at any level - thanks.

Anonymous said...

A simple idea but one easily overlooked as teachers try to do what others think is important.

Bruce said...

Every New Zealand learner should know the flax story!