The Biodiversity Logbooks project is a response to “Plant Blindness” (Wandersee & Schussler, 1999), more recently renamed “Plant Awareness Disparity” (Parsley, 2020) which is the tendency to overlook plants and perceive them as less valuable than animals. This is connected to inability to recognise plant features, plant needs and the value of plants. The project sought to investigate how to design pedagogical tools and processes that could help children notice features in the environment that would otherwise go unseen.
In this ESRC Impact Acceleration Account funded work, Serena Pollastri, a researcher from ImaginationLancaster and Liz Edwards from the Ensemble team ran a cross-curricular pilot project with two Year 3 classes at a primary school in Morecambe, to encourage plant-noticing and awareness of habitats and the influence of microclimates. The activities draw on theories to do with the interrelationship, between skill, interest and attention, and the importance of local placemaking in developing connection with non-human nature.
The project ran across 5 weeks, in a combination of remote and in person, outdoor learning. The introductory activity involved drawing a plant from the school grounds and locating it on a map. This baselining activity drew on research that showed that children carry over-simplified mental models of plants and to revert to these models even when drawing from direct observation (Comeau et al., 2019).
In the second session children learnt to make and program digital compasses, using Micro:bits, ready for fieldwork in a later session. This was a new technology for all involved, including teaching staff. Next we used image-matching activities in conjunction with actions introduced by class teachers to identify different leaf types and leaf arrangements, and to reinforce technical descriptive language. We also introduced selected plant families in the same way.
This work prepared the children for fieldwork in which they visited two sites near the school, a local park and a pocket of sheltered ground with trees and shrubs wedged between the rail tracks and a busy road. At each site the children recorded their observations in logbooks that reinforced earlier learning. They used their compasses to note direction and the affect of aspect on the plants, to draw attention to relationship between plants and environmental conditions. The children collected a plant from each site.
On return to school the children made cyanotypes of the plants they had collected. One of the oldest photographic techniques, making a cyanotype involves exposing paper that is treated with a photosensitive chemical solution to the sun. Areas of the paper that are hit by sunlight turn blue, while those that are in the shade remain white. Plant samples placed on photosensitive paper appear as white silhouette on the cyanotype. Exposure times vary greatly, and on cloudy winter days the process requires time, patience and care placing samples. This makes it a good tool for slow visualisation. The children found the feature os the plant easier to differentiate on the cyanotype image, making them helpful for reinforcing knowledge about plant features.
The children tried to map digital scans of their prints to look for patterns between the two fieldwork sites, however the Miro software was challenging and we plan to revisit this using other methods. They also made another drawing, and these second drawings tended to be ‘less pretty’ than the originals but showed more details and plant features.
Teachers reported that children were using the word ‘notice’ more and were applying it in other parts of the curriculum. They also described some children’s pride in teaching the technical language and plant features to their parents. They found the cyanotype process magical and memorable.
We plan to deliver an adapted version of these activities to a Year 6 class in another school and will return to work with the original Year 3 classes to look for seasonal changes and develop knowledge about plant families. In this work digital technologies were used as a prompt to notice things that might otherwise go unnoticed. We hope to build on the Micro:bit activities by using them to log data about plant diversity in relation to site and land use.
We presented this work at a very interesting British Ecological Society event about Plant Blindness, where it was positively received.
Subsequently, with fellow Ensemble team member Claire Dean and Robert Barratt (Eden Project North Chair of Education and Engagement) we wrote a paper which has been accepted for the ACM Interaction Design and Children (IDC) conference in June 2021 titled, “How Can Digital Education Contribute To A Pedagogy For Environmental Care?”. In this paper we unpack the theory and application of a pedagogy for environmental care and the place of digital technologies and interaction design within this pedagogy, illustrating with projects that have been part of Ensemble activities including Digital Boggarts, The Lost Sounds, Biodiversity Logbooks and the Fungi Tell the Tales.
Serena Liz and Robert, writing with Headteacher Linda Pye have also been accepted to present, “‘Design for Noticing’ with Biodiversity Logbooks” at the Nordes Design Research conference in August 2021. Links to these papers will be posted upon publication.
More about this project can be found on the ImaginationLancaster website: http://imagination.lancaster.ac.uk/update/biodiversity-logbooks-outcomes-from-the-first-pilot/
Comeau, P., Hargiss, C.L., Norland, J.E., Wallace, A. and Bormann, A. (2019). Analysis of Children’s Drawings to Gain Insight into Plant Blindness. Natural Sciences Education, 48(1), pp.1-10.
Parsley, K.M., (2020). Plant awareness disparity: A case for renaming plant blindness. Plants, People, Planet, 2(6), pp.598-601.
Wandersee, J.H. & Schussler, E.E., (1999). Preventing plant blindness. The American Biology Teacher, 61(2)