East Grand Rapids — Amid the hula-hooping and kickball on their Wealthy Elementary playground, Willa Norden and Uma Valentine know botany is happening all around them.

It’s inside the grapevines that climb the chain link fence that runs behind the tennis and basketball courts. It’s beneath and on the grass in piles of the seed “helicopters” that whirl to the ground from maple trees, and the veins of an oak leaf the pair stopped to study.

Maria Godlewski beholds the loveliness of a marigold she is about to dissect (courtesy)

Megan Miller used readily available nature just outside school to introduce her fifth-graders to this year’s science unit, as well as some flowers from home to study the parts of plants: roots, stems, leaves, flowers and seeds.

They set up marigold dissection stations with microscopes in the learning commons this year — in order to maintain proper distancing due to COVID-19 safety protocols — but otherwise the lessons were much the same as in past years, she said. 

“They always like that they can actually take flowers apart, which they aren’t usually supposed to do,” Miller said. 

Uma said she used “pointy pokey things,” which Willa remembered are called dissection tools, to prise the marigolds apart. “I didn’t know the seeds would be at the bottom of the flower,” she said.

Seeds harvested from this year’s lab activity will be dried and planted for next year’s fifth-graders.

The activity was part of a science unit that studies how organisms transfer energy from one plant to another. Next, they’ll move on to carnivores and herbivores.

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