A “heads-up” for teachers who like to plan ahead


Survival -- December 2005

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Teachers’ Guide

Teaching Suggestions for
The Secret Lives of Plants

      Article / Page

"Flower Power," pg. 6
  • Appearing as recently as 130 million years ago, flowering plants invaded a wide range of habitats and evolved structures and mechanisms that ensure efficient pollination.
  • Mechanisms of Evolution, Structure/Function Relationships
"Orchids: Trickster Flowers," pg. 10
  • Many of the 35,000 wild orchid species use clever deceptions to encourage pollination, from imitating an aphid infestation to producing the odor of rotting flesh. A sidebar (pg. 11) explains how people transport orchids worldwide.
  • Vocabulary, Adaptation
"The Four Venus Flytraps" (Brain Strain), pg. 13
  • Use geometry and visual imagery to solve this puzzle in a snap!
  • Critical Thinking, Deductive Reasoning
"Are Plants Intelligent?" pg. 14
  • Plants sense changes in their environment and respond to them, but is that a form of intelligence? Some scientists think so. Others are skeptical. A sidebar (pg. 15) looks at two plants: one with a nervous system, the other with a memory. A companion piece (pg. 17) showcases celebrity plants from fiction and film.
  • Inductive Reasoning, Adaptation
"Talking Trees," pg. 18
  • Plants communicate by releasing chemical signals into the air. Changes in these chemical compounds can act as a call for help or as a signal to "stay away."
  • Inductive Reasoning, Adaptation
"Carnivore King: An Interview with Botanist Barry Rice" (People to Discover), pg. 20
  • Rice explains what carnivorous plants are, how they attract and digest their food, and why hundreds of species face extinction. Sidebars (pg. 22) explore the tricks involved in growing a Venus flytrap and the plant preservation efforts of the Nature Conservatory.
  • Adaptation, Cause/Effect
"The Soil . . . It’s Alive!", pg. 24
  • Dense mats of cryptobiotic soil (a weave of tiny organisms, sand, and clay) hold water, slow evaporation, and provide nutrients to desert plants. A sidebar (pg. 26) explores the quiet life of lichens.
  • Vocabulary, Symbiosis
"Close Encounters in the Rain Forest," pg. 27
  • The rain forest is home to more than half of all known species of life, many of which depend on each other for survival.
  • Cause and Effect, Symbiosis
"The World’s Stinkiest Flower Cluster," pg. 28
  • The Titan arum, a rare plant from the rain forest of Sumatra, uses a foul odor to attract pollinators.
  • Vocabulary, Inductive Reasoning
"One Ugly Plant," pg. 31
  • Where does the desert plant Welwitschia fit in the history of plant evolution?
  • Vocabulary, Adaptation
"Flashing Reds," pg. 32
  • The red plant pigment anthocyanin may protect plants against frost, drought, or free radical damage.
  • Observation, Inductive Reasoning
"It’s Not Easy Being Green" (Activity), pg. 34
  • Use chromatography to separate the pigments in leaves.
  • Following Directions, Observation
"What’s So Hot About Pepper?" pg. 35
  • Capsaicin makes peppers hot and stimulates the release of the body’s natural painkillers, the endorphins. A sidebar (pg. 37) tells how to measure a pepper’s heat.
  • Vocabulary, Applications
"A Secret Garden," pg. 38
  • The Harvard University Museum of Botany houses thousands of exact flower replicas, all made of glass.
  • Vocabulary, Historical Context
"A Starry Winter Sky, the Vernal Equinox, & the Full Worm Moon!" (What’s Up and Planet Watch), pg. 40
  • See Mars, Venus, and Uranus in the morning sky. Saturn and Jupiter appear just after sunset.
  • Observation, Following Directions
"How to Make a 3-D Orion Model!" (Activity), pg. 42
  • Construct a model of the Orion constellation in three dimensions.
  • Observation, Following Directions
"Malama Lumahai: Caring for the Forest Family" (Fantastic Journeys), pg. 46
  • Students, teachers, and scientists travel to Kauai to survey the wilderness, weed out alien plant species, and collect and preserve seeds from native Hawaiian plants.
  • Field Techniques, Environmental Activism
Think Tank (Discussion Starters to Use Before Reading the Magazine):
  1. What plants do you have at home, at school, in your yard, or growing in your rooftop garden? Which plants require special care? Which are native to your area? What have you learned about plants from caring for them? Have you had any failures? What would you like to know to avoid such failures in the future?
  2. Pretend you are a detective hired to investigate the "secret lives" of plants. What would you try to find out about them? What methods of investigation would you use?
Classroom "Syzygy":     Talk, Connect, Assess
Pg. 6 – "Flower Power"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. How is plant reproduction similar to animal reproduction? How is it different? How do the structures of a flower ensure that, in most cases, plants have two parents just as animals do?
    2. How are plants classified? What characteristics are used in the classification process? How do we use a similar process in everyday life to organize different but related items?
  • Connections:
    1. Visual Arts: Make a poster identifying the parts of a flowering plant and explaining their functions.
    2. Web Research: Search the Internet for information on medicines that come from plants. Find pictures of these plants and prepare a display for your class or school on the medical benefits of plant research.
    3. Creative Writing: In the movie Innerspace, the main character, played by Dennis Quaid, is placed in a "spaceship" and miniaturized to nearly microscopic size. He is then injected into the bloodstream of another character. Pretend that you have been miniaturized and injected into a sunflower. Describe your journey through the "innerspace" of this flowering plant.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. In a brief essay, use your own words to explain how flowering plants produce seeds. In your essay, include the following terms: ovule, carpel, anther, stamen, pollination, style, and micropyle.
    2. Should the government spend tax dollars on DNA analysis and scanning electron microscope studies of plants? Write and/or deliver a speech to persuade a congressional committee either to spend money on plant research or not to. Support your opinion with information from the article.
pg. 14 – "Are Plants Intelligent?"
  • Talk It Over:
    1. State Trewavas’s definition of intelligence in your own words. Do you agree with it? What evidence would prove to your satisfaction that plants are indeed intelligent?
    2. Have you read any of the stories or seen any of the movies mentioned in "Plants Star in Fiction and Film" on page 17? In your opinion, does such fiction contain a germ of truth worth considering seriously, or are the stories and films just for fun?
  • Connections:
    1. Visual Arts: Create a poster to advertise a movie about the real intelligence of plants. No fantasy, horror, or science fiction, please. Pick some famous plant actors, hint at a plot, and make people want to see the film.
    2. Mathematics: You raise Venus flytrap plants, and you feed them flies. Your plants love flies and reward you by producing one more "trap" for every four flies fed to the "parent" trap. You start your collection with five traps to feed, and you feed each trap two flies per day. How many flies will you need on your 10th day to keep every plant happy? (Answer: 160.)
    3. Science: Buy and raise a Mimosa plant. (Many garden centers sell them as houseplants.) Once your plant is growing well, do some experiments with it. For example, you might see how long it takes collapsed leaflets to open again under varying conditions of light, temperature, or moisture. Or you might measure how far and how fast the wave of motion travels through the plant. Present your findings in the form of a research paper or poster.
  • Student Assessment:
    1. Do you think plants are intelligent? Why or why not? Write a persuasive paragraph to support your point of view. Don’t forget to send it to ODYSSEY. (See pg. 16 for instructions.)
    2. Give an example of a "behavior" or other change in a plant that might be considered intelligent. Tell why you think it is or is not, and state a definition of intelligence that supports your view.

Far Out!: Moving Beyond the Magazine (Famous Plant Songs Edition)

"Don’t know why there’s no sun up in the sky . . . stemmy weather"

Whole-Class Project: Create a display for your school titled "Plant Superlatives." Present the biggest, smallest, smelliest, most poisonous, and other record-setting plants.

"The first time ever I seed your face . . . "

Community Connection: Invite a speaker from a local flower shop to visit your class. Ask your visitor to tell which flowers are the most popular, how florists obtain them, and how they are distributed. Write an article about the visit – complete with quotes – and submit it to your school or community newspaper.

"I’ve got planty of nothing, and nothing’s planty for me."

Collaborative Project: Publish a class newspaper about plants. Work in groups, with each group responsible for one page of the paper. One team can make crossword puzzles, quizzes, or comics. Another can interview a botanist or write a travel article on a trip to a botanical garden. Another can research and write about interesting plant research projects that are going on in your state.

"If ever I would leaf you, it wouldn’t be in springtime."

Individual or Small-Group Activity: Go on a plant scavenger hunt. Make a list, and then give everyone 24 hours to find seeds, fruits, pits, flowers, sprouting potato eyes, and much more. The first person who collects the most items wins a pack of seeds to plant.

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Last modified: May 1, 2003