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Talking about Plants - Comments of Primary School Groups Looking at Plants as exhibits in a Botanical Garden

Sue Dale Tunnicliffe

Homerton College, Cambridge, CB2 2PH
sue_dale_tunnicliffe@compuserve.com

Paper presented at the British Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Cardiff University, September 7-10 2000

Abstract

Little work has been done on the early experiences of children looking at plants as exhibits in a botanical garden. What do children bring to such visits? How do they interpret and communicate their experiences? How do the accompanying adults enhance or inhibit the children's spontaneous interaction with the plants? When school groups visit a botanical garden, they do so with curricular objectives in mind but are these addressed?

Conversations of groups of primary school children were collected while they visited the Royal Botanical Gardens Kew and looked at plant specimens, the majority of which were displayed in the Princess of Wales Greenhouse. Transcripts were analysed using a systemic network which yielded the major topics of conversations. From the analysis it is shown that children talk spontaneously about the easily observed features of plants such as colour, shape and smell, and offer past experiences with garden plants. When cued by adults or other children in the group, children attend to less obvious aspects. There were no differences between the content of conversations of groups with boys-only or girls-only or mixed groups. Key Stage 2 groups made significantly more comments focused on plants than the younger children. Implications for teachers and parents in preparing and conducting these visits are presented.

Introduction

Living organisms are a key part of the environment, yet we little understand how children perceive them. Moreover, a person's attitude towards and understandings of 'the environment are profoundly shaped by their attitudes towards, experiences and understandings of living organisms' (Tunnicliffe and Reiss, 1999). Plants are key members of the environment. This paper considers the response of pupils to plants in a botanical garden where exotic plants are exhibited. Such a garden is unlike the familiar domestic garden and the plants on exhibit are mostly exotic.

Plants, and to a lesser extent animals, are an important part of the scenery of children's' lives. Children notice these biological organisms as they walk around both inside and outside. They meet plants in the form of pot plants or cut flowers; as vegetables and fruit in food and they see images of plants in a myriad of places such as pictures, fabrics, illustrations in books and on greetings cards. Children have understanding of vegetation which contributes to their understanding of their environment and urban children have preferences for aspects of nature involving plants (Simmons, 1994).

Living organisms have an important place in children's lives. They learn about animals and plants from their earliest moments (Keil, 1979), although animals form the highest proportion of words in a child's first vocabulary (Rinsland, 1946). Children learn to identify an organism using a basic or everyday name of the culture in which they are living (Rosch & Mervis, 1975; Brown, 1958). Tull (1994) found that children from a small university town in central Texas in the USA named plants in the field with a generic name but this term was not one that would be acceptable to science teachers. Moreover, Tull found that the allocation of a name covered up the individual having to admit that they did not know the 'correct' one. However, knowing the accepted scientific reasons for classifying in the scientific manner, as well as the necessary appropriate vocabulary, is a difficult set of concepts over which to acquire mastery.

Ryman (1974) showed that the inability of eleven year old children to classify the biological exemplars they were given as a member or non-member of a taxonomic group suggests that the children had no grasp of the defining attributes required to perform such a task. Moreover, Braund (1998) showed that children's thinking about animals in science lessons change as they develop and that the youngest children are concerned with shape, form and size. Children follow a similar pattern when looking at plants as exhibits as they do when looking at animals commenting upon salient features (Tunnicliffe, 1995, 1999), although comparisons with what they are familiar form a higher proportion of their comments. Striking features, as shape and colour, become criterial for children's constructions of particular animals and plants and become incorporated in their mental models of different kinds of species. Trowbridge and Mintzes (1985) maintain that '... students consider ambiguous and often conflicting pieces of information when classifying animals, ultimately arriving at a decision based on relative size or perceived importance of body parts'. It is likely that children follow the same pattern when classifying plants. Bell (1981) showed that children did not consider trees as plants. Children recognise plants and animals and name them with an everyday name or a descriptive names if they have not the 'correct' vocabulary. When failing to recall or invent a descriptive name, children refer to an unfamiliar specimen as 'plant', although the term 'plant' is used to refer most often to the flowering plants in a manner similar to the usage of 'animal' to mean 'mammal' (Bell, 1981) and to mammals as 'animal' or a family name such as 'cat'. Other vertebrate classes are called by that general class name unless a specific name is known. Hence, penguins and vultures but 'bird' for any unknown specimen , sharks but 'fish' for other unrecognised species (Tunnicliffe, 1995).

Students learn about plants and animals from their family, be it someone trying to eradicate moss from the lawn, planting out flower beds or hanging baskets or just admiring plants and animals seen on walks. We discovered this information from research interviews with two separate cohorts of 36 students from 5 years to 14 years (unpublished data Tunnicliffe 1998). School is not a place identified by the children as a source of their information and pupils admit to learning little from books or the media but a lot from their own everyday observations (Tunnicliffe and Reiss, 1999a). Our research interviews were conducted as structured individual oral questionnaires in a classroom with each child of that sample separately and with six botanical specimens and another set of 36 children with animal specimens. Even though we learnt a lot about the student's knowledge of plants and animals, we did not learn about their spontaneous comments about these organisms when presented as exhibits.

Children have a mental model of items which they express through their conversations and drawings and writing. This expressed model is what we teachers have to base our assessment of that pupils' knowledge and understanding. Thus, the comments of pupils are important (Tunnicliffe and Reiss, 1999a). The spontaneous comments of primary and family groups at animal exhibits are known (Tunnicliffe, 1995) and at skeletons in a museums (Tunnicliffe, 1998) and in botanical gardens (Tunnicliffe, 1999). It is equally important for botanical or zoological garden educators and for school teachers to know what their pupils are likely to notice and comment about when they visit plants and animals as exhibits so that meaningful learning interactions can be planned, based on the spontaneous interest revealed in the comments of the children. Their expressed model is that which catches their attention and can be used as a trigger for a teaching/learning dialogue by educators at the time and subsequently back in class. Likewise, a visit to live animals or plants may be the stimulus which starts children off into the study of biology.

Young children appreciate plants but gradually adopt the adult attitude that vegetation is wordless and utilitarian (Schneekloth, 1989)) whilst it appears that urban children in the USA children do have apprehensions about visiting natural sites and have preferences for certain sites for visits (Simmons, 1994). Thus the children begin their visit with feelings about the sites and the nature of the visit. They also have some knowledge of plants from their own lives. 'Plant' is a term restricted in everyday science to refer to the small herbaceous Angiosperms also referred to as s flowers (Ryman, 1974) and Bell (as Stead, 1980) found that children aged 9-15 had a much narrower meaning of the word plant than did biologists. A tree for example is not considered as a plant and everyday grouping of plants such as weeds, vegetables and seeds were considered equivalent categories to 'plant' not subsets. Moreover, historical ideas which are not part of the consensus of scientific knowledge such that plants obtain their food through their roots (Barker, 1995) persist within society and thus within the children.

As biology educators, it is important for us to know what children and their accompanying adults do notice, and for us to use this information as the baseline about which we design and deliver educational strategies which help children in their construction of biological knowledge. Taxonomy is a key element of biological learning, with its embedded knowledge inherent within the taxonomic hierarchies. Askham (1976) showed that young children can classify plants but do not use one particular method but particular look for salient features such as prominent leaves, colour or tactile features in their groupings. Gottfried, (1981) raised the question as to whether children did learn on school trips whereas Tunnicliffe, Lucas and Osborne (1997) inquire whether the museum visit is a missed educational opportunity.

This paper reports on the content of the conversations generated by school groups during educational visits to a zoos and botanical garden. Furthermore, one of the functions of botanical gardens is to develop public understanding of biodiversity and conservation biology whose foundations lie in identification of specimens and recognition of criterial attributes.

We, as educators, can consider the extent to which viewing plants is enabling visitors to attend to these issues and whether the messages explicit within the exhibits reach the visitors. Listening to and analysing the unsolicited conversations of visitors is one way to ascertain whether or not this occurs.

Methodology

The data were collected at the Royal Botanical Garden Kew, England. In total 412 conversations were collected over a number of days. All the school groups were from primary schools and the pupils were mainly either aged 7 or aged 9 or 11. Conversations of sub groups of a class, pupils and adults or just pupils, were recorded verbatim in a notebook. Tape recording had proved too difficult because of extraneous noises such as a waterfall. Immediately after teach visit the written conversations were transcribed by the same person. Permission to work with the groups had been obtained in advance from the schools involved. To facilitate the analysis of the transcripts the data were considered in terms of units of conversations. A unit of conversation was defined as the 'group conversation in front of any one exhibit from the beginning of the conversation until it ceased'. The units of conversation were identified during the typing of the transcripts from the voices of the different members of the group. Two examples of a unit of conversation are shown below.

Year one children (5 to 6 years old)

105

Adult

You can see weeds in between the plants

 

Boy 1

There's a flower there's

 

Boy 2

I can't see any red ones

 

Boy 1

Ah yes- I can.

Year 4 children ( 7 to 8 years old)

115

Teacher

Through there are lots of flowers- what are they called?

 

Girl

Roses

 

Teacher

We'll see some more later

 

Boy

I had a yellow one in my Grandmas and Grandpa's garden

Teacher

Really? We're going to see them.

There are a great many ways of analysing conversations (Tunnicliffe and Reiss, 1999). A systemic network was chosen. This is a means of grouping or categorising things, in this case conversations, to be a parsimonious representation of the data, while preserving the relationships between categories in such a way that comparisons can be made between groups. It is a type of analysis that changes qualitative into quantifiable data and each topic of conversation was coded according to the systemic network developed from the work of Bliss, Monk and Ogborn (Bliss, Monk, & Ogborn, 1983)and which had been worked out from pilot studies in which 50 conversations about animals had been collected and inspected for patterns of content and form (Tunnicliffe, 1995) and modified for plants by subsisting the categories for the equivalent botanical ones. The preliminary inspection and categorising of the pilot conversations showed that the visitors looked at specific attributes of the plants, asked question and made statements about what they already knew, commented on their own experiences with the plants and talked about their whereabouts and gave instructions to each other. The network can be regarded analogously as the sets of nested boxes into which the researcher puts each part of the conversation and sections are presented in Figures 1. There were 56 categories in this network some of which are shown in figure 1. A bar, '[', indicates that an attribute may be either/or but not a member of both categories, whilst a bracket, '{', indicates one of a number of categories which an animal may have.

The major categories of the network were, 'management and social comments' orders such as 'Come here', or social ones such as 'Sam..........' ; 'ostensive comments' such as 'Look!', 'Where is it?', 'There!'; 'affective attitudes' ; 'exhibit access' or 'orientation comments' in which visitors searched for or located the plants and 'exhibit focused and Interpretative comments, which included knowledge source comments such as questions and references to a source of the information proffered (called knowledge source comments);

A theoretical 'waste basket category' for topics such as security alert announcement comments and which were uncategorised was provided. The comments directly referring to the exhibits were divided into 'other exhibit' comments, such as artefacts which were features of exhibits such as gravel or a statue or animals seen amongst the plants such as frogs in the pond) and those which focused on plants

Exhibit focused comments divided into 2 subordinate categories. Namely, other exhibit comments'-those about other aspects of the exhibit, such as a pond or the label and photograph, and plant focused comments. The plant-focused category was subcategorised into four subordinate groups:

1. Environmental comments referring to the natural habitat or endangered status or conservation issues of the species;

2. Comments about the plants' structure;

3. Comments about the plants' physiology (equivalent to animal behaviour);

4. Comments about the plants' names. These included the everyday names, e.g. pineapple; category names such as 'plant', carnivorous plants, Alpine plant, cactus; common names, for example Living Stone Plants, Giant Amazon Water Lilly and occasionally the botanical name for example Lithops species.

The conversations were coded using the number of the relevant category which was written above the appropriate words on t the transcript. Each category of comment had a number allocated to it. Hence an anatomical comment was number 17 which subsumed more detailed anatomical comments, namely leaves, 18, flower and fruits, 19, stem, 20, form of growth (spiky, sticky), 21, dimensions, 22, other 23. A conversation would be coded as follows. The numbers of the coding system are written over the relevant words. Not all the word have been categorised here for ease of reading. Subsequently an entry was typed into the columns within the spread sheet of Minitab. Hence a sentence from one of the above conversations received the following codings.

115

Teacher

6 19 44

Through there are lots of flowers- what are they called?

 

 

Girl

29/32

Roses

If more than one comment of a particular category (e.g. a name) occurred within a single conversation, it not scored again. Hence the analysis shows the number of conversations within which a topic is mentioned not the number of overall times that a topic is mentioned. issues of the species.

Insert Figure 1

'Oh' is an emotive response, categorised as 39 and in the super ordinate category of affective comments. 'Look' is both a management command (2) as well as an ostensive comment (4) which is part of the category of Exhibit Access comments showing other visitors where to look at an exhibit. The size of the plant, its dimension, is 21, part of the super ordinate category of anatomy, 17, whilst lilies is a naming comments in the super ordinate category names (28) but is an everyday name (32) as well as category name (34)

Results

Two hundred and thirty conversations were of groups with only male pupils, 143 of girls only and 39 were mixed. One hundred and thirty eight of the conversations also contained an adult, 62 of the conversations had a teacher, the otter adults were chaperones, parents, governors for example. Two hundred and seventy four conversations were pupils alone, except the researcher standing nearby but who was not included in the conversations.

These plant exhibits are crowded together, except in a few special cases of more defined areas of specific habitats, such as Desert plants, feeding methods such as carnivorous plants or taxonomy of special groups such as orchids. Hence, visitors walk past the crowded plants and comment when a salient feature attracts their attention. Thus, there are far more comments within a given time them there are at animals exhibits. Most school groups at plants talked about the exhibit and all but 7% of the conversations mentioned the plants. Two thirds named the plant in some way. Over half of the groups talked about an anatomical feature of which the dimensions were the largest category,

A year 2 boy: Oh look at these enormous lilies- are those enormous lilly pads?

Adult Yes.

The results for the frequency of occurrence of main categories of conversational topics at least once in an exchange are shown in Table 1.

Insert Table 1

Other exhibit focused comments embrace comments about other aspects such as labels and other features of the exhibit such as a waterfall or pond.

As data in Table 1 show, of the 19% of the conversations were about functions these were mostly comments about growing or about making food, often associated with discussion at the carnivorous plants

Data in Table 2 show that, of the 19% of the conversations about functions, they were mostly comments about growing or about making food, often associated with discussion at the carnivorous plants. For example, a Year 2 boy said 'They eat meat and insects. This one eats spiders, it says so on the label'. A second boy nearby echoed 'They eat flies, its meat'.

Insert Table 2

There were relatively few affective comments (which includes emotive ones of 'Ugh' and 'Ah') compared with similar conversations at live animal exhibits. Such a finding is unsurprising and the comments were generally ones of pleasure at 'pretty' flowers or disgust at a smell or other non emotive comments related to care of the plants, these were few and far between. Discussion of the rarity and conservation of plants is not high on the spontaneous agenda of the groups, only 8% of conversations were on these topics. Plants as exhibits are easily seen so only half of conversations had an 'exhibit access' type of comments (e.g. Where?) and were often related to pointing something out to a peer or looking for something in particular. Other exhibit comments were heard at least once in 40% of conversations and the largest category was that of setting (22%) when the groups referred to an aspects of this such as the heat in the tropical house, the humidity elsewhere.

Touching plants was mentioned in 8% of conversations and the action occurred quite often despite notices telling visitors not to touch plants and gardeners reinforcing this message whenever they saw pupils so doing . Labels were referred to by direct mention in only 5% of conversations. Overall less references were made to the other aspects of the exhibit than were done at animal exhibits. This might be because the plants could be seen without searching for them so there was less need to find something else upon which to comment.

The dimensions of the plants, their colour or size, were mentioned most of all and this occurred in 26% of all conversations. Other comments occurred in 7% of conversations and were about items such as prickles. The most frequent function of plants which was mentioned was growth, in 9% of conversations, followed by food at 3% and 'other' including reproduction in 5%. For example sometimes the teachers gave the children the information but on occasions they drew the information from the pupils.

At Sundew with Year 4 pupils

Adult: There's a Venus Fly trap.

Girl: Oh yes! A Fly trap. It's got stuff on it!

Adult: You can see one closed. It's got a fly in it.

As other researchers have found the opportunity to interact with the plants in a with more than sight is important part of the experience

120

Girl

This is silky, silky leaves

 

Adult

Paliavia

 

Girl

It smells, ugh it smells!

 

Year 2

In the hot house

 

Boy

We're in a jungle

 

Teacher

What does it feel like?

 

Boy 1

A jungle

 

Boy 2

Warm

 

Boy 3

Rainy

 

Teacher

It's not rainy but it's damp.

     

A Year 2 girl remarked, 'Banana and the stem feels lovely!'. Pupils delighted in recognising plants with which they were familiar 6 year old boy, ' I know w that, look at that one there, these little ones. I've got these sort at home.! (Venus Fly traps.)

Teachers did introduce a topic on occasion and cued the pupils in to making observations as in the following two conversations with nine year olds..

Girl: It looks a bit like a fern'.

The data reveal that the groups have an everyday system of classifying the plants. If a name is not known the specimen is referred to as a pant. For example at an Opuntia a Year 6 girl remarked 'Weird plant!'. and at the Amazonian Water lilies a boy from the same group remarked, 'These plants are really cool!'.

Whilst many conversational exchange are missed teaching opportunities , some teachers used viewing plants to reinforce other area of the curriculum, particularly literacy. For example at the Giant Water lilies a teacher asked her charges what the label told them. At the Carnivorous plants a teacher asked her pupils to tell her what a carnivorous plant was. When a child shouted 'Look!' her teacher asked what it was and suggested that the girl look at the label and find out what it is called. At a banana plant a teacher asked her group what they could see up there, thus directing their attention to the developing fruits on the plant.

Opportunities for mathematical application were also use from time to time. As other researchers have found the opportunity to interact with the plants in a with more than sight is important part of the experience. Furthermore, pupils delighted in recognising plants with which they were familiar. Pupils frequently opened up conversations with a comment- which sometimes was followed up with an appropriate and developing comment from an adult.

The conversational content was not uniform when different subgroups, defined by the social membership of the group, was considered. (Table 3)

Presence of adults

If an adult is present with the group there are fewer management / social comments than when the pupils are alone.

Likewise there are far more (P<0.025) comments about exhibit access, seeking plants and drawing attention of others to them amongst the pupils alone. It is interesting and counterintuitive to note that the pupils alone also make more comments about other aspects of the exhibit, paths, ponds, and other garden furniture features than do the groups with adults.

Insert Table 3

Similar numbers of comments are made by both groups about plants but significantly more (p<0.005) were made by groups with an adult about anatomical features and plant functions but similar numbers of comments were made about naming. Likewise both groups pass similar numbers of conversations with affective including emotive comments. However, considerably significantly more conversations about interpretations are generated by groups with an adult than without except for the category of realness of the plants and the environmental aspects including conservation.

The data show that without an adult present the pupils make significantly fewer management and social comments (and fewer comments about other aspects of the exhibits The pupils only make fewer comments about physiological functions of the plants but name and comment about the anatomy at similar rates. Pupils alone generate significantly fewer interpretative comments- questions and statements of knowledge- but comment similarly about human/plant interactions.

The groups commented in a similar manner but pupils alone compared plants with other plants and with other items significantly more. mostly about anatomical features of the plants of which 13% of all conversations mentioned leaves, 20% flowers or fruits whilst 4% mentioned the stem. The features mentioned had to stand out from the rest of the plant. A 7 year of boy commented for example, 'Look, snake up there, that plant looks like one'. It was a vine. A Year 6 boy remarked about an Urticularia flower, 'Crocuses. They are crocused shaped!'.

Insert Table 4

These visits were educational ones and not unexpectedly groups with an adult asked significantly more questions and made more statements of knowledge than did groups without and adult (Table 4 ) e.g., an adult asked her group at the Pitcher Plant to observe and see what happened when the fly came. the lid closed. A teacher asked her Year 6 group who knew that banana trees had flowers and what they developed into.

If the numbers of conversations of adults and chaperones are considered separately with those made by pupils only (Table 5) again the pupils make significantly more comments about management and social issues because children ask their peers to 'Come here!' and 'Look!'.

Insert Table 5

The groups with adults mentioned school learning more often but the numbers are too low to be statistically significant. Significantly more reference is made to the human use of plants by adult containing groups although numbers are very small, 9% of total conversations. Likewise 6% mentioned what plants can do to humans and only 4 conversations of pupils alluded to it. Significantly more conversations of teacher groups (61%) asked questions and pupil only groups made few statements and hardly asked any questions!

The conversations of groups with an adult contain significantly more comments (63%) about anatomy than do pupil only groups (52%) (Table 5). Of the subcategories of 'Anatomy'. The dimensions of the plants such as its size or colour and other features such as spines. For example a year 2 girl commented that 'The edge of the leaf is brown', 'Edge' was categorised as 'Other' and 'brown' is a dimension.

Insert table 6

The content of conversations is not absolutely consistent if the group results are considered in subgroups according to the gender of the children in them (Table 6). Most of the adults were female.

There were no significant differences between the different gender groups, boys only, girls only or mixed when the referred to anatomical features. There are no significant differences between what different groups say according to the gender of the groups. However, conversations of mixed groups engendered significantly more statements (Table 6 ) than did those of boys or girls. Far more mixed groups made management and social comments. For example a 7 year old boy shouted, 'Hey look! banana!'. 'Look!' being both a command as well as an exhibit access comment and 'Hey!' being a social comment. Significantly fewer Exhibit access comments were made by groups with only boys. Functional comments were made most often by boy-only groups (65% of conversations compared with 145 for all girl groups and 28% for mixed groups). The functions or physiology mentioned tended to be related to growth such as 'A lily pad grows flowers', or to feeding, particularly with reference to carnivorous plants which was a popular destination for nearly all groups. Such comments as , in response to the teacher's question, 'What's carnivorous', 'They eat meat and insects. This one eats spiders, it says so there' and another boy in the group added 'They eat flies- it's their meat'. Over two thirds of the conversation of all groups referred to a specimen by a name even if it were simple 'plant'. Significantly more of the conversations of mixed groups compared the plants with something else.

Insert Table 7 

Groups with older children make significantly more management and social comments but fewer Exhibit access ones and more comments focused on plants but within this category there are no significant difference

Unlike the case at animal exhibits here is no difference in the number of conversations containing emotive and affective comments between the two age groups

Insert Table 8

 

In summary, the pattern of conversational content is overall similar amongst primary school groups although there are some differences according to whether there is an adult in the groups which focuses the conversations more on knowledge sources and on the age of the children which results in less management and social comments and looking to specimens and drawing attention to them amongst older children who talk more about the plants than do the younger children.

Discussion

Primary school groups look at the noticeable features and do not use these observations when they do justify the name of the plant. Their looking is haphazard but they do recognise familiar plants and have an anthropocentric view about them- eating or cultivating them for pleasure or maintaining them also for their pleasure. Functions of plants are hardly talked about although as few conversations mention about seed production and obtaining food. As Askham (1976) found in the USA ,pupils and their accompanying adults focus on particular parts of the plants such as leaves, prickly stem, colourful flower or an obvious fruit or pattern on leaf of the veins. There is no pattern to the observations other than it is prominent and different features that catch their attention. Not unsurprisingly, given the attractor power of movement, if an animal appears amongst the plants, for example the fish under the Amazonian lily pads, the animal takes the attention of the children away from the plants.

The data show that the term 'plant' is used in three ways. Firstly to refer most often to the flowering plants (Bell, 1981) but also to cultivated 'domestic' plants as opposed to trees and weeds, which are not plants. This belief is illustrated by the comment from an adult with a group, 'You can see weeds in between the plants'. Thirdly as a ontological category (Keil 1979). 'Plant' is the name used when no other name is forthcoming.. However, the pupils could identify within their own lives through recognising different plants and other items. School groups comment about the obvious features and name the specimens to the best of their ability. Using their everyday knowledge they seek to interpret that which they notice in terms which they can understand. As children grow older their focus becomes less restricted .

If botanical gardens were to pay more attention to the attitudes and knowledge which visitors, particularly school groups, bring to the exhibits, it is my belief that they would be more effective in developing the public's understanding of the science of biology in its relevant spectrum. Firstly, if schools and initial teacher trainers were to pay more attention to the relevant knowledge and understanding about living organisms that pupil and practising teachers possess. Secondly, initial teacher trainers and in service courses could ensure an understanding of fundamental botany, biodiversity, ecology and conservational issues as well as the role of pant in everyday life. Thirdly, if teachers and trainers were to consider more carefully the methodology of teaching on school visits plant collections, it is my belief that the teachers would be more effective in influencing the content of conversations of all their pupils on field visits to such collections toward a science education orientation. If this were to be the case, the implications for preparing chaperones to fulfil this role also need to be assimilated and acted upon. If chaperones are not effectively prepared, the pupils in their charge are deprived of the educational experience to which they are entitled. Furthermore, if teachers, and botanical garden educators, were aware of the few gender differences and those of age groups, they could take measures to use the interest in the groups possessing it and develop it in those groups without them. Moreover, these interests could be channelled into effective biological learning rather than casual comments. Asking children why they particularly liked or disliked certain animals or plants for example provides an introduction to describing and matching anatomical features and behaviours and is important in classification.

The overall impression gathered from the data presented in this present study of school groups is that both children and adults make observations and name the plants. They interpret them from their own experiences and memories. However, there is little 'talking science' (Lemke 1990) of predicting, hypothesising design observational protocols gathering data and evaluating it (Tunnicliffe, 1996b). Whilst this is may be an acceptable state of affairs for families whose educational aspiration of the visit is likely to be to see a range of animals, or plants, it is not so for schools when children are visiting as part of their curriculum entitlement to introduce or reinforce some of their science learning, which includes not only knowledge and understanding of animal or plant groups, but also the process of science and general aspects such as care for the environment and communication (DfEE 1995). Children are not asked to make predictions based on a set of observations or previous work carried out in school and then find out from further observations whether their prediction is valid. School groups look at animal exhibits in turn, in isolation. They view plants exhibits generally en mass and scan the array of exhibits for something that attract their attention and in so doing comment less upon other aspects of the exhibit. The visitor views plants as serial exhibits serially and not relationally. Nor do they refer back to other specimens they have seen. However, teachers and botanical educators could encourage a comparative, interpretative and adaptive approach to plant observations by helping the children (and their accompanying adults) to focus on a particular set of anatomical features, such as body covering, number of legs, number of petals, leaf shape, and their functions in structural terms. Then pupils might start comparing and relating one specimen with another building up a first hand repertoire of biologically pertinent observations.

However, visits to biological specimens on display also have aesthetic and affective aspect which, whilst less pronounced at the time amongst plant specimens than at animal ones (Tunnicliffe, 1995), but as important as the factual observations made. Indeed, Stevenson (1991) showed that for family groups visiting an interactive science centre it was these very affective memories that, six months later, triggered of any recall about factual maters in these visitors when re interviewed. Enjoying the ambience and aesthetics as well as the emotional response elicited by exhibits is critically important, albeit perhaps unfashionable in science and education worlds. Feelings not facts are I believe the key to further understanding of biological phenomenon and hence to an increase in public understanding of science. If we are to develop and encourage environmentally literate citizens, we need to encourage the affective domain in partnership with the cognitive. If people do not know, appreciate and feel for what is in the environment, which includes living organisms and how these organisms intact with the non living environment as well as each other, including human kind, how can they feel concerned about conserving it? Perhaps the development of environmental awareness and feeling for it are the important aspects of visits out of school?

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Figure 1

Part of the network used in the analysis of the conversations about plants. This section is about plant focused comments

   

Leaf

mention 18

no mention

       
       
   

Flower/fruits

mention 19

no mention

       
   

Stem

mention 20

no mention

       
   

form of growth

e.g. spiky creepy

mention 21

no mention

       
   

dimensions

mention 22

no mention

 

Anatomical 17

   
 

No mention

other

mention 23

no mention

Plant specimens focused 8

     

no mention

 

growth

mention 25

no mention

       
 

Functions 24

Food/Photosynthesis

mention 26

no mention

 

no mention

Other

mention 27

no mention

       
   

Everyday

mention 29

no mention

       
   

Common

mention 30

no mention

       
 

Naming 28

Compare

mention 31

no mention

 

no mention

   
   

categorise

mention 32

no mention

       
   

mistake

mention 33

no mention

       
       

Table 1

Main categories of conversation at plants as exhibits

 

Topic

percentage

n = 412

 
 

Management/social comments

52

 
 

Exhibit access

49

 
 

Other exhibit

40

 
 

Affective

28

 
 

emotive

27

 
 

Environment

8

 
 

Plant focused

87

 
 

Anatomical

56

 
 

Functions

19

 
 

Naming

67

 

 

Table 2

Plant Focused Topics

 

Plant focused Topic

Per cent

n=412

 
 

Anatomical

87

 
 

leaves

12

 
 

flowers and fruits

13

 
 

stems

3

 
 

Form of growth

23

 
 

dimensions

23

 
 

other

22

 
 

Functions

19

 
 

growth

3

 
 

food/photosynthesis

6

 
 

other

11

 
 

Names

66

 
 

everyday names

44

 
 

Common or scientific

10

 
 

categorisation

10

 
 

mistake

2

 

Table 3

Content of conversations of groups with an adult and groups without.

Category

of Comment

All

n= 412

no

All adults

n=138

no

Pupils only

n= 274

no

Ch2 1df( adults/pupils)

probability

Management/Social

213

93

120

20.46

p<0.005

Exhibit Access

200

55

145

6.27

p<0.025

Other exhibit comments

164

66

98

5.57

p<0.025

exhibit focused

388

128

260

0.76

plant focused comments

358

114

244

3.35

Anatomical

232

88

144

4.69

p<0.05

Functional

80

47

33

28.43

p<0.005

Naming

277

91

186

0.16

Affective

116

34

82

1.27

Emotive .

113

32

81

1.87

All interpret.

275

132

143

78.10

p<0.005

Interpretative

275

132

143

78.10

p<0.005

Knowledge source

209

105

104

53.39

p<0.005

Human plant

56

49

15

63.08

p<0.005

Real/live

6

3

3

N/A

Environ-ment

33

16

17

N/A

Table 4

Content of conversations of groups with an adult and groups without.

Category

of Comment

All

n= 412

no

All adults

n=138

no

Pupils only

n= 274

no

Ch2 1df( adults/pupils)

probability

Management/Social

213

93

120

20.46

p<0.005

Exhibit Access

200

55

145

6.27

p<0.025

Other exhibit comments

164

66

98

5.57

p<0.025

exhibit focused

388

128

260

0.76

plant focused comments

358

114

244

3.35

Anatomical

232

88

144

4.69

p<0.05

Functional

80

47

33

28.43

p<0.005

Naming

277

91

186

0.16

Affective

116

34

82

1.27

Emotive .

113

32

81

1.87

All interpret.

275

132

143

78.10

p<0.005

Interpretative

275

132

143

78.10

p<0.005

Knowledge source

209

105

104

53.39

p<0.005

Human plant

56

49

15

63.08

p<0.005

Real/live

6

3

3

N/A

Environ-ment

33

16

17

N/A

 

Table 5

Knowledge source comments for groups with and without an adult

Category

of KNOWLEDGE SOURCE Comment

All

n= 412

no

all adult

n = 138

no

Pupils-only

n = 274

no

Ch2 1df

(adults

/pupils)

probability

Questions

86

67

19

96.23

p<0.005

Statements

153

64

89

7.59

p<0.01

Schools

21

16

5

N/A

home ref.

11

6

5

N/A

Imagine

7

1

6

N/A

Human use

35

17

18

3.90

p<0.05

Do to humans

25

15

10

N/A

 

Table 6

Main categories of comment made by school groups when looking at plants as exhibits in Kew Gardens by gender

Category

of Comment

All

n= 412

no

male

n = 230

no

females n= 143

no

mixed

n= 39

no

Ch2 2df

probability

Management/Social

213

123

59

31

18.59

p<0.005

Exhibit Access

200

59

69

23

28.64

p<0.005

Other exhibit comments

164

99

48

17

3.56

exhibit focused

388

221

131

36

3.50

plant focused comments

358

202

125

31

2.09

Anatomical

232

120

87

25

3.75

Functional

80

149

20

11

96.98

p<0.005

Naming

277

150

99

28

1.05

Affective

116

60

43

13

1.26

Emotive .

113

57

43

13

1.99

Interpretative

275

158 8

93

24

1.06

Knowledge source

209

125 3

66 16

18 4

2.73

Real/live

6

4 1

2 0

1 0

N/A

Environment

33

25 6

6 2

2 0

N/A

1 'For tables larger than 2 x 2 the mean of the expected values should be six or more for tests at the 5% level; for tests at more demanding levels, like 1% or 0.1%, the minimum expected value should be somewhat higher' (Erickson and Nosanchuk 1977:255). Therefore the Chi squared value is not given for results that fall into this category of below minimum number expected values.

probability.

*= p < 0.05, ** = p < 0.025; *** = p < 0.01; **** p < 0.005

Table 7

Knowledge source comments according to type of adult with group

Category

of KNOWLEDGE SOURCE Comment

All

n= 412

no

chaperones

n= 76

no

teachers n= 62

no

Pupils-only

n = 274

no

Ch2 2df

probability

Questions

86

29

38

19

107.30

p<0.005

Statements

153

38

26

89

8.54

p<0.025

Schools

21

9

7

5

N/A

home ref.

11

5

1

5

N/A

Imagine

7

1

0

6

N/A

Human use

35

7

10

18

6.01

p<0.05

Do to humans

25

11

4

10

N/A

Table 8

Content of conversations engendered at plant exhibits according to different age groups

Category

of Comment

All

n= 412

n

Key stage 1

n = 164

no

Key stage 2

8-12

n= 248

no

Ch2 1df( Ks 1 & Ks2)

probability

Management/Social

213

99

119

6.07

p<0.025

Exhibit Access

200

90

110

4.38

p<0.05

Other exhibit comments

164

69

95

0.58

exhibit focus

388

152

236

1.10

plant focused

358

135

123

45.15

p<0.005

Anatomical

232

88

144

0.77

Functional

80

26

54

2.21

Naming

277

102

175

3.14

Affective

116

49

67

0.40

Emotive .

113

47

66

0.21

Interpretative

275

105

170

0.93

Knowledge source

209

74

135

3.43

Real/live

6

3

3

N/A

Environment

33

8

25

3.62

 

 

This document was added to the Education-line database on 11 August 2000