PlantingScience Program Takes An Interdisciplinary Approach To STEM Education

Plant research

Written by: CEHD Communications Staff
Post date: February 19, 2014

In 2006 the PlantingScience project collaboration between the Botanical Society of America, Texas A&M University College of Education and Human Development and the National Science Foundation launched with an initiative to engage the next generation of scientists and provide middle school and high school students mentoring opportunities with plant scientists.

PlantingScience is a free online science resource teachers and students may use in a classroom setting to conduct open inquiry science experiments using plants. The program allows students to explore the nature of scientific inquiry through classroom projects investigating aspects of plant growth and development.

What is unique about the program is that students benefit from being able to post their data and research online and discuss their findings with actual, practicing scientists. The scientists become mentors and develop a relationship with students, as they record their experimental results in online journals.  In return, scientists provide feedback and suggestions while sharing their first-hand knowledge about plant science and their everyday lives working as scientists.

Dr. Carol Stuessy, Associate Professor of Science Education in the College of Education and Human Development has been part of the program from the very beginning and enjoys working as co-principal investigator and director of the research and instructional training workshops for teachers held during summers at Texas A&M.

During the workshops, Stuessy, four grad students and a team of mentoring scientists work with teachers to familiarize them with laboratory procedures, provide instructions on how to best facilitate open inquiry science projects in the classroom and present an overview of the PlantingScience website (www.plantingscience.org) to encourage open communication between students and scientists.

The graduate students who work with Stuessy provide additional classroom support for teachers during the school year. They conduct research on students’ learning outcomes relative to learning the scientific process, gaining knowledge about plants and developing autonomy with their experiments. Scientists who volunteer to mentor groups of students can provide outreach and foster a relationship with students for the duration of the project.  PlantingScience offers more than online resources and summer workshops webinars. Throughout the school year, teachers and scientists can engage in webinars and science education research opportunities.

To date, the project has encompassed 12,000 students, 900 scientist mentors, 38 U.S. states and 4 foreign countries. In 2011, the PlantingScience project was awarded the Science Prize for Online Resources (SPORE) award. The award serves as recognition for innovation and excellence in education, as well as the use of high-quality online resources available to students, teachers and the public. For more information, visit the SPORE website. 

Stuessy said she is delighted with the progress and level of involvement necessary for students to stay engaged in a project that is more interactive and impactful than many science lessons typically offered in school.

The opportunity for students to work with true laboratory science is different than learning to classify insects or memorizing a chemistry chart. “PlantingScience enriches students understanding of science, exposes them to doing research themselves and enables them to learn more about science careers from practicing scientists,” said Stuessy. “In the long run, all of this works to create a science-literate generation who are knowledgeable about plant-related careers.”

PlantingScience is truly an integrative project that incorporates many of the components necessary for science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) education. Students involved with the project use math and science skills within their plant experiments and communicate with their scientist mentor through website technology. Some students have also conducted experiments with FastPlants, which are genetically engineered for short lifecycles.

The project also serves to address the National Research Council (NRC) and National Science Teachers Association (NSTA) Next Generation Science Standards by working to strengthen the K-12 science education framework specifically in the areas of science literacy, career orientation, college readiness and diversity in STEM education. This success is due in part to the program's ability to effectively engage students in an enriched science-learning environment that allows teachers and scientists to collaborate and motivates students to take advantage of a hands-on and technology-enhanced science project.

Overall, the project continues to evolve by incorporating new scientific societies and education research organizations that enhance science classroom experiences ans allow scientists to mentor students on a national and international level. To learn more about the PlantingScience program, visit www.plantingscience.org.

 For more information, contact Carol Stuessy at c-stuessy@tamu.edu or 979-845-8384 or Chauncey Cox at coxch@education.tamu.edu or 979-845-1823.