What Have You Bean Planting?

by Danny Stock

In an interdisciplinary collaboration this month, 3rd graders built leaf-imprinted coiled clay planters during art and potted bean plants they’d germinated in science as part of their study of life in the universe. 

Essential Question: Where is there life in the universe and how would a scientist find out?

All year, with guidance from their LS science teacher Eric Friedenson, 3rd grade students take a detective’s journey through space to discover what ingredients are needed to sustain life. They design and complete experiments in the classroom to better understand how plants grow and reproduce, and explore the woodlands around the Potomac River to see if plants outside and inside the classroom need the same things. This fall, as in years past, they visited Great Falls Park to track down sycamores, sassafras, and groves of pawpaws in order to learn the characteristics of their leaves comprehensively. 

Bonus Quiz: What native tree has leaves that are striking for three major variations in their lobes: three-lobed leaves, unlobed elliptical leaves, and mitten-like two-lobed leaves?

Ashley and Eric's bean plants and planters

Concurrent with their fall forest exploration, students began their first ceramics project of the year in art, crafting coil pots in honor of the trees they learned about. Working with their art teachers Ashley Ortiz and John Headley, they learned coiling techniques to construct their vessels and then carved clay impressions, modeled after those same sycamore, oak, and poplar leaves they had gathered in the forest. Then, they scored (roughened) the clay and used slip (water-thinned clay) to affix the clay leaves to the exterior walls of their pots before glazing and firing them in the kiln. 

Even as they made progress on their pots during art classes, students tested bean seeds with Eric to see if they would germinate under a variety of challenging conditions: without water; without soil (pot of paper towels), without light (dark cabinet), and without oxygen (oxygen burned in a sealed fish tank). They wrote strong hypotheses and made clear observations as they compared the results. The experiment confirmed some things they already thought they knew—plants don’t grow at all without water—and some things they didn’t: plants can grow without soil (they are just shorter) and plants with limited oxygen grow extra roots out of their stems, searching for oxygen the same way trees do in mangrove forests. The seeds that got all four life-sustaining ingredients did grow into the biggest and healthiest plants!

After four weeks of work and study, planting day arrived! Students added potting soil and transplanted their bean plants into their fresh-out-of-the-kiln glossy coil planters. Equipped with the knowledge of what plants need to thrive, students took home beautiful pots full of bean plants or seeds ready to sprout under the attentive care of a 3rd-grade scientist.

Quiz answer: Sassafras!

  • Lower School
  • STEM
  • Think Critically
  • Visual Arts