Lesson 4: What Do Plants need to Grow?/Measuring Height

After scrambling for more volunteers and a driver, we got last minute sign-ups who saved the day! Marisol, a neurology graduate student whom I have previously met, Yuyou, an Environmental Science undergraduate from China, and I (Jessica), a Microbiology graduate student, made this week’s team. We drove from Davis to Lower Lake around 7am where we got to know each other. Since Marisol and Yuyou were new to the KiDS program and last minute sign-ups, we also went over the lesson plan.

Upon arriving and checking in, we go to the first classroom. After our introductions, we get an earthquake drill and a fire drill! Participating in these drills really made us appreciate how teachers have so many responsibilities that come with the job; not only do they have to teach students with so much energy, but also keep them safe in dangerous situations. After the drills, we return to the classroom.

They quickly regain their focus on us where I talked about plant anatomy (leaves, stem and roots), what plants need to grow (sunlight, water, and carbon dioxide) and photosynthesis (the output of the growth requirements). Surprisingly, some of the students already knew about photosynthesis. To be honest, I don’t really remember what I did in the 5th grade so it may not be a surprise that they know.

Now, it was time to measure the plants. I demonstrated how to stake and tie their plants for support and how to measure them. To many students’ surprise, we used CENTIMETERS! This was a good way to teach students about how we need to have a common “language” in science so that anyone can understand their measurements. This portion of the lesson was really the more hectic part. I couldn’t have imagined only two people doing this. There are so many supplies to hand out and also many students who needed help. Fortunately, I had Marisol and Yuyou who did a fantastic job helping the students!

We finished with 15 minutes left so it was question box time! We pulled some questions where we talked about hybrid citrus, difference between male and female snakes and other animals (in the sense of patterns and size!), and how to say “I like science” in Chinese. With that, we were done with our first classroom :).

After our 15 minute snack break, we go to the second classroom. This time, Marisol takes over teaching the plant anatomy and photosynthesis. I demonstrated staking and measuring the plants. Marisol performed quite well for teaching this lesson. I felt that Marisol and Yuyou felt a lot more comfortable which was great! We also had some spare time where the students asked us questions. This time, it revolved around Marisol’s field of study, BRAINS! There were A LOT of question about the size of brains, freezing brains, being grossed out by brains and various other brain questions. As we were leaving , a student approached us to deliver a message to the KiDS coordinator, Allie. A sneak peak revealed that it was an adorable panda! With that, we head back home, but then I realized that we forgot to check-out. I called the school to let them know that we were out of the premises. All is well.

Overall, it was a fun lesson and the kids showed to be extremely appreciative and interested in their experiment. I will admit that it is tiring (for someone who is not a morning person), but completely worth it.

Until next time!

-Jessica Franco


Lesson 2, 2018: Observing Soil, Making Hypotheses, and Coming Up With The Best Bean Name

This week in the classroom the students got to get their hands dirty planting their bean seeds! Myself (Martha), Alisha, and Juliya worked together to introduce the students to making some hypotheses about on which soil type their plants would perform better, serpentine or sandy loam. Most students agreed that serpentine looked too rocky for plants to form roots, but one student pointed out that her grandmother had a garden and that there were rocks in her soil…so I suppose only time will tell!

Next we examined the serpentine and sandy loam soil up close.  The students really enjoyed using the hand lenses to take a look at the small particles in the soil.  I challenged them to find living organisms in their soil samples, which resulted in some VERY excited fifth graders when we found tiny beetles in a few samples of sandy loam.  Next we planted the bean seeds in the two soil types, and discussed what sort of things the soil provides to plants.  Many students named their 10 bean seeds, which was pretty funny!

Kids setting up their experiment, filling pots with soil and planting bean seeds.

My favorite part of the day was answering lots of random science questions. We talked quite a bit about tardigrades (water bears), UV radiation, the Chinese language, and red crossbills (a species of bird I study). We also introduced the question box, which is a box that will remain in the classroom for students to put any sort of questions they might have for the KiDS volunteers. I can only assume it will be filled by next week. We had an awesome lesson, and I am excited to go back and visit again!

-Martha Wohlfeil

First lesson of 2018: complete!

After weeks of preparation–e-mailing with teachers, recruitment meetings, website making, prepping student workbooks, and more–the KiDS 2018 season has officially begun!

Getting ready for the first lesson meant making sure every student has a shiny clean logbook to make hypotheses, record observations, make graphs, doodle and journal. This means making about a thousand photocopies and clipping them into binders for each kid. We like reusing and recycling, so we save the binders and use them each year. It turns out that we didn’t emphasize strongly enough last year that the kids should keep their doodles to the paper pages. So a lot of the kids this year got extra hearts and flowers. As much as I like recycling, I also like that the kids are excited about making their logbooks their own, and I’m thinking that we should perhaps spring for simple binding next year so that the kids can keep their notebooks.

Anyway, we got all the notebooks ready to go and packed into the car. We had our pre-lesson meeting to go over what the day would look like. And at 7 am on Friday, I headed north on I-5 with Jade, a new volunteer who had signed up for the first lesson. In the car, we got to know one another. I always enjoy these rides, whether with folks I’ve been working with for years or with someone I’ve just met. On this ride, we talked about working with kids and our mutual love of pickles.

We arrive at the school at about 8:40, with a bit of time to spare to drink some tea, sign in, and use the bathroom. At 9 am we head to the 5th grade classrooms, which are back in their old location this year. The classes had been relocated in 2017 due to damages from the 2016 Clayton Fire. The classrooms are colorful, covered in book reports and career goals and art made from plants. One class has a pet bird (Birdy?) and a hamster (Mr. Smalls, I think). During the break between classes I peruse the bookshelves and wish I could just plop down and read Animorphs books.

We knock on the door of the first classroom and are greeted by 31 5th graders. Two girls come up to us and shook our hands, introducing themselves.

We get started as we always do, introducing ourselves. Introductions may seem like a small thing, but I think they are one of the most important things we do: by introducing ourselves and sharing our pathways and interests in science, we provide a variety of examples of what it looks like to be in a science career. For the first lesson, I usually describe what a graduate student is, since many of the volunteers will identify themselves this way. I tell them that it’s kind of an apprenticeship where you learn to be a scientist. I also tell them that I’m from New Jersey, and that I study wildfire, a topic that the students are usually pretty interested in given recent fires in the region. Jade, a recent UC Davis graduate, tells the students that she got into science because she loved animals and wanted to be a veterinarian (a goal many of the students share, judging by a display on one of the classroom walls). Now, she says, she is more interested in ecology, and smoothly explains what ecology is to the 10-year-olds. She really likes birds, she says. We ask if any of the kids have a favorite bird, and we get a few answers: robins, blue jays, hawks.

We’re off to a great start. We move into the lesson: what we are going to do over the next 10 weeks, what are the parts of an experiment, why do experiments about plants. Finally we move into the day’s activity: making observations about habitats and the plants that live there. We talk about different types of habitats that the students know. Arctic tundra, forests, deserts. What kinds of habitats are in this region? One student suggests the lake for which their town is named. We distribute the workbooks and photos of local habitats and soils and the kids get to work, making observations in teams. Some kids quickly write a paragraph of observations. Others need a little more one-on-one guidance, and we walk around the room, helping students dissect the similarities and differences in the photos.

We wrap up with a discussion. What’s different about the habitats and soils? How are the plants different? What’s causing those differences? The kids easily get to one of the conclusions we are getting at and that will set up next week’s experiment: different soil types can cause differences in plant growth.

It goes well. We take a short break between classes, then do the same thing again next door. This time, Jade takes the lead on half of the lesson, and does a great job. Before we know it, we’re on our way back to Davis (with a pit stop at Granzella’s, a charming general store/restaurant with shelves and shelves of pickles and olives and whatever else you might want). We get back to Davis around 2 pm, say our goodbyes, and head off to our respective afternoon activities.

Overall, a successful first day! I look forward to many more great lessons this year! If you want to experience the fun yourself, make sure to sign up for some lessons on the volunteers page!

Kidspeak Highlight: the kid who said that deserts have “prickly trees”

Something New I Noticed: this year, several kids made the observation that the forest in one of the habitat photos, of a Jeffrey pine forest, looked “burned.” The photo has doesn’t show a lot of litter on the ground, but it’s not obviously charred. I haven’t heard this observation before and wonder if the kids are thinking more about fire this year than others.

Notes to Self: Kids really want to keep their binders–make this a reality for next year. Make sure to tell the teachers in advance if you want the kids to be in pairs. And even if you’ve taught the lesson several times, make sure to review it so that you stay on track and cover everything.