Mad Scientist & Build-a-Plant: Our First In-Class Visit!

Here at Cody Outdoor Classroom, we have been busy designing unique in-class curriculum for schools around New England. On Friday, February 17th, Cody Outdoor Classroom delivered its first program at Montello Elementary School in Lewiston, ME. 


During the Build-a-Plant (life science) lesson, 4th graders studied the various parts of different plants up close. They focused on an English Ivy and a cactus, first discussing the outside appearance and function, then watching in awe as instructor Ben dissected each plant. The kids were excited to touch (and even smell!) the inside of the cactus and marveled at the complicated root structure of the ivy.

They discovered that though two plants might look very different, they still have the same basic needs and perform similar functions in order to live and grow. 

The students also performed a play about plant structure, then to demonstrate how much they had learned, they broke into small groups with markers and paper to create their own plants. Their pictures reflected needs and structure, as well as the creativity of each group as they decided how their plant could attain the resources it needed. One student proudly held up their picture, exclaiming "This project shows a little bit of all of us. We worked together and made a super plant!"

The 4th graders were active, engaged, and often enthralled; they were particularly excited to see and touch the inside of a cactus. They wondered aloud how a cactus might survive in a desert, and once they had seen the inside, they better understood how a cactus is able to retain water. 

Students listened, asked pertinent questions, and shared their plant creations thoughtfully with each other.  Ben’s favorite part of the day was when, as he cut the cactus open, water poured out from the inside; students shrieked with excitement. This was a highlight for most students, and seeing their enthusiasm was a highlight for the Outdoor Classroom team.

Meanwhile, down the hall, Director K was busy teaching the Mad Scientist (physical science) lesson to the 5th grade students.  Students were introduced to states of matter with a penny melting experiment (don’t worry it’s okay to melt some money for scientific purposes!) and the differences between solids, liquids, and gases were further reinforced by playing the “states of matter game”. When K yelled “solid”, the students got into small groups of 6 – 8 and lined up in two organized and remained relatively still.  This represented that molecules in a solid have low quantities of kinetic energy and they are arranged in a close, rigid pattern.  In contrast, when K yelled “gas” the students tried to get as far away from their classmates as possible and then began jumping up and down.  This represented that molecules in a gas have more kinetic energy than solids and liquids and they are spread out and do not maintain a rigid pattern.

Students explored phase changes by changing water from its solid to liquid to gas form and then experimented with creating a new substance.  They combined a solid and a liquid that produced a gas capable of inflating a sandwich bag and launching a film canister to the ceiling.  These experiments allowed them to draw conclusions about changes at the molecular level during a phase change vs. a chemical reaction. They were eager to learn how they could perform the (safe) experiments on their own, one student saying “I didn’t think science was this fun! I’m going to do this at home and show my friends!”

Throughout the lesson, students asked important questions like “what if we changed…”, “why did that happen?”, and “can we do it again?”.  They used problem solving skills and collaboration to analyze their hypotheses and had fun doing it.  For K, the best part of the experience was watching the students get excited about science and having them ask for more experiments and demonstrations!