What plants grow at your school?
A project for the new school year

Jenn Reid is the new science teacher at Gidney Avenue Memorial, a K-5 school in the Newburgh Enlarged City School District. She was previously the science teacher at Woodstock Day School where she helped carry out this unit with her colleague Jennifer Farmer.

In the spring of 2016, fifth graders at Woodstock Day School started a study of native and invasive plant species. Their classroom teacher, Jennifer Farmer, and I — the science teacher — worked together to maximize learning. Students were already familiar with water chestnuts from an earlier trip to Saugerties Lighthouse.

Many times invasive plants are stronger than natives and spread quickly causing competition between the invasive and natives. A good example is mug wort, which grows tall shading out native goldenrod. Another example is the oak tree, which can push out sugar maples. Students participated in a game designed by the Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies to show how invasives can outnumber native plant species in a locale. Students learned that invasive species generally win the game!

Next we researched various native and invasive plants in our area and surveyed our campus. Dan Snider, field projects manager at the Catskill Center, helped us create a GPS map (see a photo here). The Center also manages the Thorn Preserve here in Woodstock, and our newly minted student experts were able to volunteer to help identify species there.

At the school’s STEM Expo they informed other students and parents about the issues our campus faces regarding invasives and natives. Students made interactive board games where parents could win native plants donated by Catskill Native Nursery in Kerhonkson.

Students enjoyed their research and were proud of the final product, Do you have these in your backyard?, a guidebook (pictured below) to educate parents and the public about invasive and native plants growing in the Hudson Valley.

how tos and resources

Jen and Jenn created short “quizzes” to help students consolidate what they were learning about plants in the field. You can use their format (download this 2-page PDF) to create similar handouts for plants at your school. They also shared samples of student work to help you formulate assignments.

Here’s a portion of the GPS map students worked on. If you’re not near the Catskill Center, check with a land trust, environmental group, soil and water conservation district, college geography department, or similar group to see if they can help you create a map.

The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation’s website has a section on invasive species including illustrations and fact sheets. For instance, here is the fact sheet on water chestnut and here is a 14-page booklet with photos of all prohibited and regulated invasive plants as of 2014.

Plant-related activities and lessons

Another activity and lesson by Jennifer Reid:  Water Celery: The Hudson River’s Biggest Secret.

Invasive Species: Water Chestnut & Hypoxia, for high school students, from Cary Institute of Ecosystem Studies

Exploring the ‘Gunks! grades 7-12, by Mike Cooper, Saugerties High School

Land Use Planning Game, grade 6,  Jeff Sniffen, Haldane School, and Susan Hereth, Kingston YMCA Farm Project

Readings in Hudson River Natural History, grades 3-5, from Hudson River Estuary Program of yhe New York State Department of Environmental Conservation

Exploring our Past, Connecting our Future, Preserving our Place, grade 3,  by Kathy Durkin, teacher, and Liz LoGiudice, Greene County Soil and Water Conservation District

Find more in THV’s free online library.