Archive for the ‘Green Plants’ Category

AUTUMNWATCH #3: MAPLE OR SYCAMORE?

IMG_0677So then, on to identification of some common leaves… Today we’re tackling some species that belong in the same genus and are often confused: the Norway Maple and the sycamore.

In fact, our heading is really a trick question; these are both technically Maples, sharing the genus Acer. They are also relatively common, frequently planted in school grounds, and you are likely to come across them during your Autumn leaf searches.

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Norway Maple

The picture above shows a Norway Maple leaf on the left and a Sycamore leaf on the right. The main difference is that the Norway Maple has a significantly more jagged edge, and a glossier surface. In fact, although not the same species, it looks very similar to the Maple leaf on the Canadian flag. In looking at the full trees, Sycamores also tend to grow higher.

In Autumn, the leaves become much easier to tell apart. Norway Maple leaves are some of the first to change  colour, turning a blazing scarlet that illuminates streets, parks and woodlands. There’s a dark side to this beauty; actuall,y this red pigment is produced as a side-effect of something called allelopathy. This is the scientific name for a sneaky trick the tree has up its sleeve to fend off competition for resources from nearby trees. Norway maples produce and release chemicals to hinder the growth of nearby saplings. The blood-red pigments are merely a by-product of this.

Sycamore leaves never turn red. They usually go a blotchy green-yellow. This sample is also adorned with black spots; rather than a consequence of autrumn colour changes, this is actually a fungus that becomes an increasingly common sight. Although it doesn’t look so nice, and the trees probably aren’t too happy about it, spotting this is actually a positive sign. The fungus can only flourish in very clean air, so it’s a great environmental indicator for air quality.

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Sycamore

(OPAL have some tree health surveys based around this that you can do in your school grounds).

So, in summary; sycamores grow taller, and their leaves turn yellow. Norway maples turn red, are a bit selfish, and have glossier leaves. Both trees share the ‘helicopter’ keys beloved by children and so useful when teaching seed dispersal, so it;s worth getting to know their names.

Before we go, there’s one more maple tree to be mentioned: the Field Maple is smaller and less showy than both of the others. Sometimes it is used as a hedging plant. It’s leaves are smaller and more rounded, and turn yellow rather than red. It too produces ‘helicopter’ keys, but they are much smaller.

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Field Maple

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Exploring Plants

We’ve mentioned plants a lot lately. With the topic coming up in Y1, 2 and 3, it’s important to make sure that lessons don’t get too formulaic, or similar, so that children’s progression and interest are maintained. I thought I’d share some of the work produced by children in a recent Y3 lesson. This could be a starting point for a lesson tackling the new focus on classifying and identifying plants. Giving the children chance to explore and use their prior knowledge about plants gave a good insight into how they needed to progress, rather than simply covering the same ground again. While sorting plants could sound like a fairly dry topic, simple things like having real plants and giving children freedom to explore them can really make a difference.

CHILD-LED INVESTIGATIONS.

We were blessed with a nice day and access to school grounds with a good variety of plants – shrubs, trees, grass and flowers of several different species.

I started the session with the children sat in the circle on the grass, and quickly explained that I wanted them to collect any examples of plants that they could find. It’s a good idea to check beforehand to see if there are any thorny/stinging plants around so that you can warn the kids and set boundaries of areas to avoid.

After they had collected an array of leaves, shoots, seeds and flowers, we went inside. I then gave them free time in groups to sort what they had collected. I left this as an open-ended task – the parameters for grouping were entirely up to the children themselves, giving plenty of opportunities for science talk. The groups they came up with were interesting, often based around tactile adjectives.

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Higher ability groups thought to sort them into groups based on different parts of the plant – flowers, seeds, leaves etc. Interestingly though, even the less scientific groupings tended to be grouped this way by proxy. In the pictures above, for instance, ‘ones that fly’ and ‘rough’ ones, equate to seeds, while leaves are smooth. Seeds and flowers were small, but the leaves collected tended to be bigger. With some thinking time and a few leading questions from me, all the children were able to realise this. This got some good questions flying around: why are seeds rough? Why are they dry? Why are the leaves bigger than the flowers?

MODELLED SORTING

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The above nicely led us into the fact that there are many different ways of grouping the plant parts, and that they fit into more than one group. I modelled this on the whiteboard, using my plant samples and some double sided sticky tape. The different colour pens show that different samples can belong to different groups, or more than one group. From there, we led into producing dichotomous keys, which start from a simple point and gradually group more specifically.

The children had a go at producing their own keys for their groups. I gave them ID guides for some of the leaves to enable them to write example names in – the example below includes holly and sallow leaves.

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Even the lowest-achieving children were able to grasp the concept and have a go…

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Giving the children a chance to explore and find their own examples made them feel like experts. There was plenty of room for scientific talk, ‘working scientifically’ and the opportunity to raise questions for our future learning. They were able to revisit previous knowledge of plant parts, and take this further by classifying and identifying some of the plants. By the end, even the boys who had initially groaned “but plants are boring” were asking what we would be learning about next lesson.

As we continue with our plants lessons in the next couple of weeks, I’ll upload some useful resources such as tree ID guides.

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