Saturday, April 11, 2015

Tomatoes in Space?

In first grade enrichment students are learning about plants. One essential question of our unit is:
How do plants change through their life cycle?

 A few weeks ago we planted bean seeds in window greenhouses and we are watching them grow (this type of planting allows us to see every part of the plant from the roots to the leaves and flower!)  We also dissected lima bean seeds to see the very beginning of a plant with our own eyes AND with a digital microscope. Students were excited to find the tiny root and stem system already growing underneath the protective seed coat. By magnifying our findings under a microscope students got a true sense of their tiny plant.  One student even became very sad at the thought that by opening the seed she had stopped the tiny plant life that was about to grow!  This hands on experimenting and observation is critical to foster meaningful learning.

BUT, experimentation is not just about looking at static things, or even growing things with expected outcomes. I also want our first grade scientists to wonder and inquire about plants and see how their learning is connected to many different things.  This goal brings us to the title of this post, tomato seeds in space. Several months ago, I saw a post on twitter from a fellow educator encouraging people that wanted to complete a real inquiry project to check out the Tomatosphere™ project.  I was intrigued and after some reading I signed up my classroom to receive seeds and become part of a blind study project.  I agreed to plant seeds with my students--one which had been exposed to space conditions, and the other which had not. 

When I shared our goals with the class, student engagement was amazing.  We had a great scientific discussion about why space travel might require us to look at seeds for a food source.  Students also argued logically about which seeds might grow better (or worse!) and why.  Some students were convinced that the 'space seeds' would be mutants---perhaps yielding better results, while others were convinced that they would not even grow at all!  This discussion allowed us to understand and participate in a true science experiment. We were learning alongside hundreds of other student scientists about a topic that was important not just to our classroom learning, but to the future of space travel (in FIRST grade!!!).

Stay tuned to this blog to find out our experimental results.

Here is more information from the Tomatosphere website ( ) on our project:
Tomatosphere™ uses the excitement of space exploration to teach the skills and processes of scientific experimentation and inquiry. Students investigate the effects of the space environment on the growth of food that will inevitably support long-term human space travel.  The program originated in Canada and involves over 17,000 Kindergarten to Grade 12 classrooms across Canada and the United States.  In 2012, Tomatosphere™ was honoured by the National Science and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) as the best project promoting science in Canada.
Tomatosphere™ has strong connections to science curriculum and helps students develop science process skills through inquiry. The project enables students to make a contribution to real-life research related to the development of seeds with a high germination rate for prolonged space travel.
The project enables students to make a contribution to a real science experiment involving research related to the development of seeds with a high germination rate for prolonged space travel.

Food availability and life support are major limiting factors in extended space exploration. Plants will be needed to provide a source of fresh, nutritious food and to produce a vital life support system - including oxygen, fresh water and carbon dioxide uptake. Scientists need to know if space travel affects plant germination and plant growth, before these extended missions can take place.
Students will use two groups of seeds – a control/untreated group and a group of seeds that have been treated (exposed to space or space-like conditions).
The students will observe:

  • The time required for each seed to successfully germinate.
  • The per cent of successful germination in each treatment.

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