On the scientific method

dh321 at excite.com dh321 at excite.com
Mon Mar 26 03:35:48 EST 2001

I've examined problems in botany education but I'm not convinced that
students who do botany projects are less likely to want to do a good job on
their projects than those who do physics or chemistry projects. I have been
in contact with numerous students who do seem interested in their botany
projects. I think it probably is correct that high school students doing
botany projects are unlikely to have a biology teacher with botany expertise
who can provide them guidance. That can have a negative effect on their
project. Compared to high school students with botany projects, students
with chemistry or physics projects are more likely to have teachers with
physics or chemistry expertise. Biology does have a zoochauvinism problem
that has negative effects on botany education. Also, the professional
organizations in chemistry and physics seem to be much more unified and
interested in education than those in the plant sciences. That has a
widespread positive effect on chemistry and physics education. 

Botany education is hampered by a lot of misconceptions (politically correct
term for errors) that are widespread in the teaching literature, not to
mention the bestseller on plant pseudoscience, "The Secret Life of Plants,"
that is in so many libraries. Another problem is that the majority of plant
science project books are written by people with no college degrees in plant
science and are, not surprisingly, often riddled with errors.

I think you may be correct that there is a perception that plant projects
are easier than physics or chemistry projects. I don't think it is true. In
fact, plant projects are often harder because it takes longer to grow
plants, plants need regular care, and plants may die, which can wreck the
project. Chemistry and physics experiments have an advantage that they
typically take less time to run after they are set up and can often be
easily and quickly repeated, unlike plant growth experiments. 

Gardening has long been the top leisure activity in polls, so it doesn't
seem reasonable that few students like plants. Especially in elementary
schools, it seems that plant activities are common and fun for students.
Model plants, such as Wisconsin Fast plants and C-fern, have enjoyed
widespread success at both college and precollege levels. 


Hershey, D.R. 1996. An historical perspective on problems in botany
teaching. American Biology Teacher 58:340-347.

David R. Hershey
dh321 at excite.com


Original Message From: Robinson, Dr. David (drobinson at bellarmine.edu)

Of course, no one has really mentioned the BIGGEST problem with the botany
projects that students do at science fairs....the fact that the students
themselves do not put their "heart" into the project. Very few of the
students actually "like" plants, or botany....rather they chose that field
because they perceive it as being easier than physics or chemistry or
because their teacher/parents won't let them do animal studies. 

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