The miracle of seeds has fascinated school children and adults alike throughout the ages. The process of adding warmth and water, and watching as the roots go down and shoots go up, is educational, as well as comforting. By high school age, students are ready for a more in-depth understanding of plants. Projects that relate plants to the students' larger social and community interests will help ensure that the study of botany remains relevant and fresh.
Microgreens are plants grown in a small quantity of soil which are then harvested at the sprout stage. Microgreens are very dense in nutrition and can be grown easily in small, inexpensive aluminum loaf pans purchased in bulk through a restaurant supply chain or at a local discount store. Each batch of microgreens takes only one week to 10 days to grow, with the first four to five days spent in darkness and only minimal light requirements for greening up after their primary vertical growth.
Students can grow their own microgreens for salads while examining the economics of food growth all within the context of a very short study unit. Calculate the cost of the soil and seeds, then weigh the harvested microgreens and assess the cost per pound of food. Then evaluate the caloric content of the microgreens and assess the cost per food calorie. Compare this to data available for other food products, such as hamburgers, then repeat the comparison for various nutritional components.
Have students evaluate whether microgreen production is a valuable or cost-effective means of producing food within an urban environment. Advantages to this project are quick plant turn-around and developing the relationship between food production, nutrition and economics.
Music and Plant Growth
Most high school students can not function without music being piped into their ears, so assessing the effect of music at different volumes and of different genres should strike a chord with young scholars. Choose simple-to-grow, easily available plants like philodendrons, which are successful even in low-light environments with only moderate care.
To insulate the sound from each plant, either employ one plant and one type of music per week over the course of the semester, having students carefully observe and record weekly results; or use thick styrofoam coolers, such as those discarded by restaurants or from mail-order steaks, and set the plants inside, leaving the lids open to the light.
Have students set their own playlist on MP3 players, loop the playlist and play it about three hours each day in close proximity to the plant and record results over time.
Carnivorous plants never cease to interest even those students who might not otherwise be attentive to botany. Use sundews for feed experiments, as it is easier and faster to grow than the Venus fly trap. For a more in-depth project, establish a bog environment in the classroom using a wading pool or preformed pond liner; add a recirculating water-fountain pump, some aquarium soil and other marginal bog plants native to your region, along with the carnivorous plants. Observe the bog plants through the course of the semester, while evaluating the challenges of replacing or restoring wetland habitats such as those which are eliminated during highway construction.