Friday, July 8, 2011

Dandelions: A Bilingual Lesson on Plant Anatomy and Life Cycles

I have a spot in the back of my yard that I call my "wildflower nursery." I am forever picking up packets of wildflower seeds on sale, or buying packets of ones that I enjoy and want more of, or sowing those free samples that come in the mail when they want you to buy a "Topsy Turvy" or a rototiller. I even spend time transplanting wildflowers from the edge of vacant lots into my garden. Yes, I transplant "weeds."  The baby wildflowers grow up, and I then rearrange them or transplant them in groups to other spots in my flower beds.

Now, I know what I've planted there (sometimes...), what is desirable, what will be gradually culled out (the crop of fleabane needs to be thinned so it doesn't take over) or pulled out immediately (bittersweet and poison ivy). But my husband's untrained eye sometimes sees "weeds" and disorder, and we have a misunderstanding. The weedwhacker is not forgiving.  I have gone out more than once, garden tools in hand, to check on my "babies," to find them leveled. Fortunately, I have sown so much seed, that there are new ones soon. AND I put down mulch in the area, so my husband can see that it is not just weeds. Gotta keep loving him (but I might hide the string trimmer...).

Some people wage war against dandelions the way people wage war against a mouse in the kitchen. I find them cheerful and a welcome addition to the yard (along with the Queen Anne's lace from last month).

We read through Spring Nature Study: Dandelions in the Handbook of Nature Study, and the accompanying pages in the Handbook. We had no problem finding dandelions at various stages, and we made life cycle cards, showing a dandelion in leaf, one with a yellow flower, one with a seed head, and a close up of the seeds. Then we did something different, and followed up our observations with a Spanish lesson on the parts of plants.

Step 1: First, we reviewed the parts of plants in English. We used materials from Enchanted Learning to record our learning. (If you don't have a subscription, do get one -- there is a ton of stuff that you can use to add to your nature study notebook).

Step 2: Next, we reviewed plant life cycles, which we had studied earlier in the year. This time, we applied what we had learned to the dandelion, the subject of our nature study. (The notebooking page, at left, is from The Notebooking Treasury; the mini-book on life cycles is from Enchanted Learning. We stapled an envelope to a notebooking page and slipped the mini-book in, to create a "3D" notebook page).

Step 3: Then we had to learn our Spanish plant parts vocabulary. We did this in a variety of ways.

1. For daily copywork, we used Spanish vocabulary words and simple sentences.

2. We made two-sided (English/Spanish) vocabulary cards that we used in a vocabulary game, called "Firecracker" (directions are below).

3. We also made sure that we practiced saying the words whenever we used them -- even more important than writing them!
Step 4:  We wrote simple sentences about plants using "high-frequency" sentences starters (Yo veo ["I see"], Que ves ["What do you see?"]) and our vocabulary. In the example to the right, we were practicing making plural nouns by adding -s to Spanish words that end in "a". Plant nature study also was a great opportunity to have word study lessons on feminine and masculine nouns, color words, and making plurals by adding -es.


Firecracker: A Word Study Game

When I was a resource room teacher, I learned a game that I have used for spelling, vocabulary and literacy learning centers, ever since. It is called Firecracker, and all you need to make your own game is an empty Pringles container and some small notecards or plastic plant tags.

1. Prepare a container for your game. An old Pringles can works great, is free, and looks like a firecracker. Wipe out the inside of the container with a paper towel to remove crumbs and any residual grease. Cover the outside of the container with a sheet of construction paper and label your game (NOTE: A sheet of 8-1/2 x 11 paper wraps neatly around the container without too much trimming). I label the game "Firecracker," then add whatever the focus is, for easy identification later.

2. Select the material for your word study cards. For vocabulary cards, I use pre-scored business cards (the kind that you run through your printer) -- they're pretty, and just the right size. Of course, you can cut your own -- not a bad option if you have a paper cutter. Cards work best if they are on card stock, and not paper. You could get fancy and laminate them, but I never did -- it was an unnecessary step, I thought. Use marker and bold color to write on the cards.

If you are making a spelling game, I would suggest using plastic garden plant labels. You will want to put a lot of words with the same spelling focus in the can, and plastic tags work perfectly. Plus, they are sturdy, and appeal to the tactile learner. Use a Sharpie to write on the tags.

3. Choose your words, and create the cards/tags for your focus. Write in marker, so it's easy to see quickly. If you'd like to highlight the spelling rule or word study focus, write that part of the word in a contrasting color (e.g., for long vowel patterns with the "a" sound, write the part of the word that makes the "a" sound in a bright color (not red -- we'll need that for the next step!), and the rest of the word in black). You can even have the kids create the game cards as part of their copywork. In the photo above (an animal taxonomy game), you can see that I also included picture cards that came in my son's National Geographic for Kids magazine -- include some pictures when working with younger children or more challenging activities. Try to have at least 30 word cards, to make the game the most fun.

4.  Make 2-3  "firecrackers" to put in the can. Make these the same way you make the word cards, except write "FIRECRACKER!" in red marker.

5. Play the Game! This game works best for 2-4 players. Players take turns drawing one card or tag from the can (no peeking!). After viewing the word, the player must cover the word and spell it out loud (or, in the case of our vocabulary, read the English word, then produce the Spanish word, which is written on the back, or vice versa). If the player is correct, he gets to keep the card. Play continues counterclockwise. The player with the most correct when all the cards are read, wins.

Here's the fun part: if a player draws one of the "firecrackers," everyone shouts "Firecracker!" and the player who drew the "firecracker" must return all his cards to the can (kind of like having to go back to start in Candyland...).

Start saving your Pringles cans -- make a new game for each word study you have!


I know that we are doing some math review this summer -- perhaps you are, too. For ideas on how to use real-life opportunities, such as grocery shopping, gardening, or Bible study, to reinforce important math skills and concepts, see my revised article, Living Math: Beyond Math Facts.

Have a terrific week! Play outside!