Second graders do science!

Second grade kids at the Belle Sherman elementary school.  Learning about scientific hypotheses and data collection!

Science education should start early!  And as part of our collaborative NSF grant on milkweed genetics and ecology (with Georg Jander from BTI and Steve Broyles from Suny Cortland), we are implementing outreach projects in the K-12 Ithaca schools.  Led by research support specialist, Amy Hastings, and inspired by a set of experiments by former postdoc Patty Jones, second graders are conducting real scientific experiments.  In previous work, Patty noticed that monarch butterfly caterpillars much prefer to feed on the swamp milkweed (Asclepias incarnata incarnata) compared to it’s sister species (Asclepias incarnata pulchra).  Pulchra has dense hairs which get in the way of feeding and the leaves also appear to be more toxic to monarchs. 

Click to see Amy’s introductory PowerPoint presentation on interactions between plants and their insect herbivores. And here is the lesson plan for the experiment. Finally, here are the class reflections on the experiment, with some very insightful comments from our young scientists.

Thanks to Amy, Katie Holmes, Jacob Elias, and Lina Arcila-Hernandez for helping to make this happen.  And thanks also to the second grade teachers of the Belle Sherman school, and, of course, to our enthusiastic data collectors!

Differences in foliage of the two subspecies.
A lot of variation within each subspecies for flower color and morphology.
Amy Hastings, demonstrating how to measure caterpillars.
Plant cultivation, rearing caterpillars, taking measurments of size, and having fun.  All possible in the second grade classroom.
Data summary evaluated by the whole class.  Understanding variation in data is a key concept that is difficult even for college students to grasp.  Here we are starting early with experiential learning.
Taking data, always fun to observe living organisms and study their behavior and ecology.
Plant growth cages. Each classroom was give four cages, two each for A. i. incarnata and A. i. pulchra.


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