With topics in plant science increasingly in the news, the re-launch of the Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS) website seems right on time. The site is well stocked – over a hundred resources for secondary plant science teaching alone, website manager Harriet Truscott says proudly. “We don’t yet cover absolutely all the plant science in the curriculum,” she admits, “but we’re developing new resources all the time. We’re scouring the new GCSE specifications to make sure that we’ve got everything covered.”
For anyone still struggling to demonstrate photosynthesis in the classroom, the SAPS’ ‘algal balls’ and Cabomba practicals are a huge relief. The ‘algal balls’, beads of sodium alginate containing photosynthetic algae, are great fun for students to make, but offer a wealth of opportunities for investigations at all levels. Like many of the SAPS resources, these were developed by a practising teacher, in this case Debbie Eldridge, while on a teachers’ fellowship.
“Most of our new resources at the moment are being developed by practising teachers and technicians,” Harriet stressed. “At the moment, we’ve got teachers who sat in on an undergraduate plant science summer school working on developing new resources on topics including microscopy, plant pathology and extracting plant oils. We’ve also got Vicki Cottrell, a Head of Science and plant enthusiast who’s currently the Nuffield Education Fellow developing new resources for the SAPS website. And as well as all this, we offer termly awards for teachers and technicians to develop new plant science resources for the secondary curriculum. So we’ve got a constant stream of new resources going up into the Pilot Resources area of the site, where members of our Associates scheme can try them out in their classrooms and give feedback. We want to make sure that all our practicals are affordable and reliable in the ordinary classroom, as well as being innovative. ”
For all those taking their students on field trips, and wanting to cover some of the key skills in advance – or even have a backup in case weather prevents the trip at all – the two ecology ‘online practicals’ are a popular resource. The first of the two practicals uses a series of online images taken from a grassland, to give students practice at using random sampling to measure the abundance of different species on an area. “We really don’t intend them as a substitute for fieldwork,” said Harriet. “The idea is to provide an opportunity to introduce some of the more complex ideas and principles in the classroom, before you go out into the field, where pupils can get very easily distracted by all the exciting things around them.” A second resource gives close up images from a transect on a footpath, giving students the opportunity to see how systematic sampling can be used to investigate changes in species richness and the distribution of species across a footpath.
Within the secondary section of the SAPS site, there’s a clear guide as to which resources are linked to which of the current GCSE specifications, which provides a very useful starting point for secondary biology teachers.
“We try to keep all the practicals updated as comments come in from teachers, or people discover improved techniques,” Harriet added. “We’ve just updated our technical notes on cauliflower cloning, for example, because during an ASE Twitter chat, teachers were telling us that their cauliflowers were going mouldy.”
For primary schools, the ‘Plants for Primary Pupils’ offer all you need to teach plant biology in the primary classroom: a series of 6 booklets covering science, literacy, numeracy and gardening, with plenty of thought-provoking and hands-on activities. However, the level of detail in the background notes and the clarity of the explanations mean they’re not just for primary teachers. “I dropped into an adult education class on botany being held at the Cambridge Botanic Garden the other day,” Harriet admitted, “and our Head of Education was using plenty of the plant diagrams and practical techniques to teach a group of horticulture students. She just didn’t let them know they were using primary materials.”
So if you’re looking for ideas for teaching about plants, visit the SAPS website at www.saps.org.uk
and if you’ve got a teaching idea that, with a little time and funding, could be developed into a new resource for the SAPS website, join the free Associates scheme and look out for the termly Associates Awards.