PBS in the Classroom

Appily Goin’ Along - With Nature Cat

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A garden—whether it’s a large plot in a schoolyard or a window box in a classroom — offers myriad opportunities for year-round, hands-on learning: Observe the life cycle of a plant from the sprouting of a seed to the production of a new seed; investigate the garden’s invertebrates and the role they play in the garden’s health; understand what living things need to survive; witness a plant start new growth from dormancy; experience the joy of growing food you can eat, the recycling of nutrients through composting. Truly, the possibilities are endless.

With Nature Cat, we frequently return to Daisy’s garden to explore life, earth and environmental sciences in ways that are easily digestible for young audiences (pun intended!). For this reason, we are excited to share with you a series of garden-centered blog posts to support your various curriculums. But I can’t even keep a snake plant alive! you might object. A garden can seem an intimidating prospect to some but, if that is you, shed your fears! With all gardeners, failures, not just successes, are moments rich with lessons that deliver a lifetime of benefits. We’ll also give you an array of options to accommodate issues of climate and accessibility of materials and space.

We will look at how a plant uses flowers and fruit to produce its next generation. We’ve chosen the Nature Cat episode Appily Ever After that takes place this time of year. We use apples to open doors for different curricular opportunities that will engage your students, from apple picking at a local orchard to exploring the secrets hidden inside the apple’s core. And, since no growing is required (yet), we hope we’ll whet your appetite for more garden fun as the year progresses!

Appily Goin’ Along

It’s early Fall, and Daisy has been harvesting carrots from her garden and tending the pumpkins ripening on their vines. They grow up so fast, Daisy sighs and wipes away a tear. But today, Daisy and her friends are also thinking about another of their favorite Fall arrivals: Apples! Fall is when apples are fresh off the trees and at their peak of flavor. 

What your students already know and don’t know about apples may surprise you, especially if they are used to eating them after they have been sliced, cores removed. Have they ever picked an apple, or taken an apple apart to look inside? Do they understand that those tiny hard black specks inside the apple’s core are seeds? And do they know the purpose of those seeds?    

You and your students may have noticed other kinds of seeds this time of year along roadsides or on the school grounds. Weeds in particular—grasses, milkweed, dandelions etc. —have seeds that are easy to spot and that your students may recognize. Who doesn’t like to make a wish on the wispy seeds of a dandelion, after all? Challenge your students to find some of these seeds by taking a walk with the class around the school or in a nearby park. Once you have some in hand, compare them to each other. How are they alike? Different? What would happen if we planted some of these in a window box next spring?

For many, this is an aha! moment. Other than their physical appearances, and built-in “modes of transportation,” so to speak, the seeds you find in Fall have a lot in common with each other and with the apple seeds.

All seeds contain everything necessary for a new plant to be created, despite looking so different. It shines a new light on the seeds found inside many of our favorite fruits and veggies. They aren’t just something annoying to set aside or spit out. They are tiny potentials for new life. 

Gimme some whaaa-aaat? as Daisy likes to say.

But wait. Now it’s Hal: Just one teeny, tiny question … How do seeds get inside the apples anyway? Does some kind of apple fairy put them there?

Well, Hal, back in the spring, honeybees and orchard mason bees were busy pollinating the orchard’s beautiful white apple blossoms. Then, later in the spring, apple seeds formed within the flowers. (Yes, the seeds formed before the fruit!) After the blossoms’ white petals dropped to the ground, looking like snowfall, the apples began to form around the seeds. All summer long they expanded and became the fleshy, ripe fruit that we love to bite into!

Depending on the variety, the apples are fully-grown and ripe for eating after about three to six months

All of which is to say that apples are seed pods.  They are the “mode of transportation” that will get the apple’s seeds to a new growing place. The flesh of the apple tempts an animal to eat it, seeds and all. The seeds are not digestible and so, after passing through the animal’s gut, they are deposited in poop in a new place where they can grow. (Humans, of course, also play a role in an apple tree’s reproduction for agricultural purposes, but we do so using a technique called grafting, which is faster than planting the apple’s seeds.)

In the Nature Cat episode Appily Ever After, we witness this life cycle and the vital role pollinators play through the story of Johnny Appleseed, as told, and fractured, by Nature Cat. We use the story to make what were once disparate pieces of a puzzle (the apple, the seeds, the flowers, the bees) fit together to form a more complete understanding.

We also introduce vocabulary such as pollen and pollination¾two terms that help build a foundation for a later understanding of how plants reproduce. Children can think back to the yellow sticky substance they see dusting the ground in the spring and summer (and that makes so many of us sneeze!) and start to form an understanding of its importance. Pollen comes from flowers, and pollination makes possible the fruits and vegetables we like to eat.

Isn’t nature grand?

Returning to those ripening pumpkins in Daisy’s garden that are almost ready for Halloween: So many pumpkins, and the Nature Cat gang only need a few! Sigh. We certainly don’t want to waste any.

But before we get ahead of ourselves, stay tuned … for another installment of A Year with Daisy’s Garden.

Suggested Ways for Digging Deeper 

  • Expand into mathematics by measuring and graphing the circumference of the different types of apples. You can also count the seeds when you dissect them.
  • Delve into language arts by drawing pictures that tell a story about the life cycle of apple trees.
  • Dry and save some of the apple seeds and try planting them in a container. If you live in a cold climate, wait until spring. See Nature Cat’s activity for making a container: http://pbskids.org/naturecat/diy.html?ncat-kids-diy-garden-corner.
  • Make a composter (DIY here) and watch the apple cores decompose. (You’ll need to add other natural materials.)
  • Create some nature art with the apple seeds and any other seeds you collect!

Frances Nankin and ​Jesse McMahon Content Producers and Writers

Frances Nankin is an award-winning editor, writer and television/Web producer with more than 35 years experience developing content for children’s educational media. Prior to her current role as Content Producer for NATURE CAT with Spiffy Entertainment, she was Executive Producer/Editorial Director for the CYBERCHASE series with Thirteen/WNET, New York. Before that, she was Co-director of Science Content for THE MAGIC SCHOOL BUS TV series with Scholastic Productions. Nankin, a self-taught naturalist who grew up in the Ramapo Mountains of New York, is the author of several science-related books for children, and was the founding editor of a number of children’s magazines, including COBBLESTONE, a history magazine now in its 39th year of publication. 

Jesse McMahon, Content Producer for Nature Cat, holds a master’s degree in journalism, and brings to the team more than a decade of experience in research and writing in print media and educational publishing. She  telecommutes from Maine, where she lives with her husband, two dogs and numerous chickens. McMahon's other TV credits include Content Brief Writer for Cyberchase and Science Consultant for Magic School Bus Rides AgainMcMahon's byline has also appeared in numerous publications, including The Boston Globe, ProPublica and the Investigative Reporting Initiative at Northeastern University. Her commitment to volunteer work in environmental advocacy and deep respect for the natural world is a passion she is delighted to transfer to young viewers.

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