Wake up! It’s your favorite – plant classification!
It’s hard to think of a more dull part of my biology training. Oh, forgot memorizing mitosis and meiosis. But what if you actually want to identify plants outside? If you link it to how we sort and classify our clothing? Could it be interesting then? Especially underwear (early morning rake through the giant sock drawer with no two socks alike. How does that happen? A secret stash that the washing machine hoards?).
Lots of kids sharing stories of their collections (rocks, Lego, Pokemon cards. Not that they play with them anymore. Really.) and how and why they organize their stuff – to find stuff quickly, to know what they have and what they are missing, for making good trades and to coordinate our outfits, naturally. I should post a pic so you can see how much time I spend on that!
Made a link to the voyages of discovery and bringing back the spoils, then the collecting expeditions sent by European nobles, filling up their country houses with STUFF.See the full story in Daniel Boorstin’s “Discoverers“, a well written book of great stories for science and history classes. They needed to know how to classify their collections of stuffed anteaters and armadillos, the drawers and drawers of bugs on pins and all the jars of wierd invertebrates and fish for pretty much the same reasons kids classify their stuff. Think Magic Cards for really rich guys.
So Karl Linneaus filled a real need. Unlike today’s taxonomists, he classified stuff based on it’s external resemblance with not much thought for the relatedness of the plants he was classifying. (He used the morphology of flowers to start with – the reproductive structures are still used by botanists. The pollinators and animal seed dispersers tend to keep those structures similar between individuals. They vary less than leaf morphology for example.)
We did a very fun toy sort. They naturally start by sorting things into multiple groups. Had to push them to ask a yes/no question (ex. Is it a car?) and then make sub groups with more yes/no questions. So they all made a dichotomous key for Jamie’s giant box of K-nex, Zoobs, cars and assorted plastic junk. Which is only junk when it’s NOT sorted.
Today, they applied that technique for sorting and identifying trees growing within the school grounds. They all got to run around collecting a bouquet of as many species as they could in 5-10 minutes. Then intent sorting, observing and asking yes/no questions. By then, they were interested to find out what the trees really were using book and arborday.org online keys. Really cool to see them so engaged with botany. Really cool because botany was up there with cell division for me at school.