Nov 2nd, 2014

Blue Sky Partners with Ginter to Make Hands-On Science Education Fun

by Jonah Holland, PR & Marketing Coordinator, Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden

Tasting veggies right where they grow

Tasting a purple Chinese long bean.

We were delighted to have Blue Sky Fund and Richmond Public SchoolsBellevue Elementary School  5th graders back at the Garden this week continuing their outdoor science learning. (We wrote about their first visit to the Garden a few weeks ago.)
The visit had three components: service (they helped put down mulch in the Children’s Garden), using a dichotomous key to determine the species of a tree, and using scientific method to determine how a tree’s canopy effects soil temperature. The children also tasted peppers and beans, right off the plant.

Charles Johnson, Program Manager – Academics, Blue Sky Fund explains the project,  “The dichotomous key activity was a tree identification activity based on using cuttings from trees close to the Bloemendaal House. Students took the tree leaf/branch cuttings and would start at numbered stations, answering a series of two-option questions (hence the term dichotomous) in order to identify the tree. Each station, once answered, would send the students to a new numbered station, until they had correctly identified their tree. After we realized the students were quickly catching on to how to do the activity, we made it more challenging by having them scatter the numbers of the stations in random order and then racing another team to see who could identify a new leaf first.”

Take a minute to look through the photos, you’ll see some great learning going on!  This program was made possible thanks to a grant from The Dominion Foundation.

Tasting a "snacking" pepper.

Tasting a “snacking” pepper.


5th Grade girls mulching in the Children’s Garden. This was the service part of the project.

Children learning in Grace Arents Garden.

Using the dichotomous key to determine what tree their branch came from.

Bellevue teacher Ms. May helping the students with the dichotomous key.

Bellevue teacher Ms. May helping the students with the dichotomous key.

Kids measuring and taking scientific data

The kids worked in teams to measure the soil temperature at various intervals under and outside of the tree canopy. Here the students are learning scientific method, one of the 5th grade SOLs. Students used the scientific method to determine the effect of trees on soil temperature. Since this was the students’ second trip out to the Garden this year, they worked on evaluating their hypotheses from September. They measured the soil temperature at three different points from the tree (2 ft., usually around 10 feet, and 20+ feet) and in up to four different directions (north, south, east, west). 2 ft. is in the mulch/dirt base around the tree, 10-12 ft. is usually under the tree canopy, and the final measurement is outside the canopy.

boy looking

Exploring with a magnifying glass.

raising hands to answer

These girls know their stuff! The Blue Sky educator was asking what the steps of the scientific method were in order.


Jonah Holland is Digital Content Manager at Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden, where she has worked for 14 years overseeing social media, the blog, and the website. She is also a mom, yogi, open water swimmer, gardener, and seeker. She's been known to go for a walk in the Garden and come back with hundreds of plant photos, completely inspired to write her next blog post.

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