Think like a scientist

Things are not always what they seem in the world of science. That was the lesson on Tuesday in Anna Boucher and Christie Carter’s 3rd grade science class. The day marked the conclusion of a two-month experiment that sought to answer the question, “Will Wildwood’s soil grow healthy plants?” The answer, kids discovered, was not a simple “yes” or “no.”

Back in September, students planted three of the new garden beds with broccoli seedlings. One bed used Wildwood soil; another had a mix of Wildwood soil and Bumper Crop, a soil amendment product; and the third combined Wildwood soil and organic fertilizer. Like good scientists, students put forth several hypotheses as they pondered which planter would produce the healthiest plants. They observed and measured the seedlings, then entered the data into Google Docs.

Students converted the data from their broccoli experiment into bar graphs.

In the weeks that followed, each student had a specific job associated with the care of the seedlings. They watched the plants grow and made more observations. Last week, it was time to take final measures. They counted leaves and measured stalks. More data was entered into Google Docs.

Now it was time to draw a conclusion.

Anna handed out their data. According to the bar graphs, the planter that had organic fertilizer had the biggest, leafiest plants by far. Anna asked students why they thought that was the case, and five hands shot up.

Third graders debate the reasons why one planter box yielded healthier plants than the others.

“Maybe it was better soil,” answered one boy, and other kids voiced their agreement.

But wait, Anna said. “See if you can be really smart scientists,” she challenged the class. “Do we know for sure that it was just the soil that made those plants healthy?”

Brows furrowed. “Maybe there was more shade,” said one boy.”

Yes, Anna said, sunlight could impact growth. But she pushed them to keep thinking. One girl noticed there was another plant in the box with the broccoli. Hmmm. Maybe that had something to do with it?

Anna agreed. The plant was a marigold, which is a natural bug deterrent.

“We know that the Wildwood soil is OK for plants, because we were able to grow our broccoli,” Anna told the class. “And we know that the plants in planter C were even bigger. Is it the fertilizer? Is it the sun? Is it the marigold?”

Puzzled faces stared back at her.

“There’s only one way to find out,” she said. “We need to do another experiment.”

Ah, the work of a scientist is never done.

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