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Wild Flowers of Mercer County

Phyllis Higgins Davis
Princeton Senior High School, Princeton, West Virginia

Subject: Science: Biology and Photography
Grade: 10-12

"Suddenly, I was thought to be an expert on wildflowers. Hardly a day went by that I was not asked such questions as, 'I saw a white flower about six inches tall with a lot of petals. What was it?'"

Purpose and Description of Project

Phyllis Davis started out to have photography students take slides of wild flowers that could be used by the school's biology classes, since their inner city school is far from wooded areas or unmowed fields and field trips for all the classes would be financially prohibitive. She ended up generating "wild flower fever" not just among her students but among parents, grandparents, other community members, and civic organizations.

Not only did the photography students get new equipment and a new unit on developing and mounting slides, they wound up also learning about wildflowers. The biology students not only learned about flowers, they also got in on the photography events, and students in the gifted classes became involved with both the photography and wildflower aspects of the project. The school also now has a Photography Hall of Fame, and the winner of the first annual spring and fall photo contests has been honored with a plaque engraved with his name and the date.

Results of the project -- which will continue and expand -- Davis reports, include the photography contests; a set of 83 slides of 45 species of flowers, which are shown to biology classes and community groups such as garden clubs; and individual wild flower notebooks created by the biology students that include drawings, reports, and information on plants that are edible, poisonous, rare or endangered, used by wildlife for food, and beneficial for medicinal value. A less concrete but equally important result, adds the teacher, is that several classes of students and their families have become wild flower enthusiasts and have gained a greater appreciation for nature in general.

Activities

Davis traded classes with the photography teacher and the gifted teacher so that she could discuss the project with these students and teach them a unit on close-up photography that covered use of lenses, the importance of depth of field, choosing a shutter speed suitable for stopping the movement of windblown flowers, and likely places to find wild flowers.

The photography students were then required to take slides of wild flowers and develop and mount them. Further, any of these students who identified a wild flower for Davis and provided basic information about it could gain extra credit. Since only one student could "claim" each flower, the teacher found students watching for her car in the morning to be sure they were the first for a particular flower.

The slides taken by these students were then used with Davis' biology classes to help them in identifying flowers growing in their county. These students were also required to put together individual wild flower notebooks and to learn about taxonomy (the study of the general principles of scientific classification) so that they could also use a list of key characteristics to categorize flowers. Many students involved their families in the project and were surprised how much their parents, grandparents, and neighbors already knew about flowers. They came back with comments such as "My neighbor said this flower (bloodroot) was used by the Indians to make war paint. Is that true?" These community members also formed an "early warning system" to inform students that certain flowers were beginning to bloom.

As a result of these activities, students produced the core of a growing slide collection and will be participating in twice-yearly photo contests at the school, with awards including both monetary prizes and (for the top winner) a tuition-free photography workshop sponsored by the state Department of Natural Resources.

Materials, Resources, and Expenses

Human resources included relatives, neighbors, and friends of the students who assisted in locating, identifying, and providing information about various wild flowers. The teachers of photography, art, and the gifted also cooperated. From the community, came members of the local camera club, who judged the photo contest and critiqued slides for the students, and a retired botany professor who served as a consultant.

Students used their own 35 mm cameras or borrowed cameras from the school. The teacher purchased for the school KODAK EKTACHROME 64 Film, a bulk loader, KODAK EKTACHROME E-6 Kit for processing, and slide mounts. Students not in photography classes used outside processing. An instant slide printer was used to make prints from slides to include in various products. A school slide projector and screen were also used to show slides at school.

Outcomes and Adaptability

As a result of this project, reports Davis, photography students had a unit on developing and mounting slides that they would not otherwise have had. All students involved learned a great deal about flowers and gained an increased appreciation of nature. The school gained a collection of more than 80 slides on wild flowers, which would be tripled by fall, and these slides are being shared with biology students as well as community groups.

Davis' biology students' ability to identify wild flowers soared, and many earned extra credit-some enough to pull up otherwise failing grades for the semester. The school art teacher will also be using some of the slides from which her students will do drawings and paintings. In addition, the local civic league has asked if it can adopt the school and help students develop a wildflower garden on the campus.

Davis thinks that any school could adapt this project to study area flowers and plants, or use similar techniques to study historical sites, rock and earth formations, or local fauna. If a school has no photography class, she notes, students and teachers in the subject matter areas could shoot their own slides.

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