This is certainly a belated post, delayed because we’ve been working hard nonstop over the past several weeks to make sure that Plant STEM for K-12 Education began smoothly and hit the ground running when school started on September 6, 2016. Upon receiving our Biology Learning Objectives, Outreach Materials & Education (BLOOME) Grant from the American Society of Plant Biologists (ASPB), we began installing our native plant and carnivorous plant gardens at Riverside School and Johnson Park School, both in Princeton, NJ. These two will serve as models for what the other schools included in our grant might do, as well as our initial “testing ground” for projects that will be aligned with the 12 Principles of Plant Biology and Next Generation Science Standards.
The vision for our native plant courtyards is that they may allow students in grades K-12 to study and interact with plant species that are so often ignored by traditional science curricula, not to mention landscaping projects and home gardening. Our hope is that these locations might serve as community models for how natural areas can be designed and maintained for the benefit of local wildlife–not only for the plants and people, but also pollinators, caterpillars, amphibians, and, of course, turtles!
As mentioned above, another feature of these gardens are containers with carnivorous plants. We planted native purple pitcher plants (Sarracenia purpurea), spoonleaf sundew plants (Drosera intermedia) and the “near-native” yellow pitcher plant (Sarracenia flava) and, of course, Venus flytraps (Dionaea muscipula). Not surprisingly, these have quickly become the most popular inhabitants of our gardens, and students certainly enjoy getting close (but maybe not too close) to these plants!
During the first two weeks of school, students at both Riverside School and Johnson Park School have been making observations of native plants, learning to distinguish between them, and investigating their importance for other native species. In addition to the box turtles and garter snake mentioned above, we have also started to find birds and pollinators in our gardens, including goldfinch and monarch butterflies!
In coming weeks, we will start connecting our courtyards with interactive Bluetooth beacons, which will stream information to mobile devices about our plants. As with every aspect of this program, students will be heavily involved in the creation and design of all content. We will also install wireless temperature gauges throughout our gardens, which will allow us to collect data on air, soil, and water temperatures over the course of this year. The data will help us understand the conditions under which native species flower, seed, grow, and enter dormancy at different times throughout the year. Everyone is looking forward to all we can accomplish, especially those student who want to make plant-themed “apps.”