North Elementary High Tunnel

Gigapan: Kristin Stansbury

In this section, we feature ways that teachers from West Virginia University and North Elementary School have used specific GigaPan images from the North Elementary School garden to bring together garden-based learning and the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS; NGSS Lead States, 2013). In our descriptions, we focus principally on the three NGSS dimensions: science and engineering practices , disciplinary core ideas , and cross-cutting concepts . These three dimensions form the foundation for all of the performance expectations set forth in the NGSS.

In the descriptions that follow, we highlight only some of the features and snapshots associated with each image. For more details, view each of the images (also available in the Stories section of this issue) and click on “snapshots.” Additionally, if you sign-up for a GigaPan Membership (Basic level is free), you will be able to take your own snapshots within these and any other images. You then can add commentary about your snapshots and use them for instructional purposes with your students or to extend the conversation with anyone who views and comments on your snapshots.

‘Tis the Season: What’s Growing On?
Science education professor Jim Rye uses an image of a container garden to explore with teachers the cross-cutting concepts of patterns, cause and effect, structure and function, and energy and matter. The various snapshots embedded in the photo help to answer “What’s growing on?”

Here are a few examples of what we explore:

Patterns This photo was captured at about 40 degrees north latitude in the mid-Atlantic area of the United States. How can what we know about patterns be used to predict the season of the year during which the photo was taken?

Cause and Effect What might be some causes of the effects we see as the seasons change? In what way is “cause and effect” illustrated by the plant in the Garden Kit container?

Structure and Function What are some examples of structure and function in the photo. In what way(s) do you see interactions between natural and human-made structures, and what benefits might be derived by the plants through these interactions?

Energy and Matter How do all of the plants in the photo illustrate a connection between energy and matter? How is this related to energy transfer?

In the physical sciences, the disciplinary core idea of Energy (PS3) is especially present in the micro-climate that has been created through the brick wall and asphalt surface. This photo is useful in teaching about energy in grades 4 and 5 and to meeting the grade 4 performance expectation (4-PS3-2) about energy transfer.

Big Blue on the Move!

This GigaPan illustrates for teachers two of the life sciences (LS) disciplinary core ideas. One of the ideas—From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (LS1)—shares some similarities with the cross-cutting concept of structure and function. This Blue Guatemalan squash plant grown by grade 4 students is “on the move” through its sprawling vines to take over another raised bed. Additionally, it is on the move upwards via its tendrils . Lifecycle also is part of this disciplinary core idea, and zooming in provides examples such as these squash bug eggs . Why are the eggs on the underside of the leaf? The squash bug eggs (fauna) on the plant leaves (flora) illustrate another disciplinary core idea: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics (LS2). The squash bug is a “pest” of the squash plant. If the eggs are not removed and destroyed, they will matriculate into the nymph stage and then the adult , both of which feed on and destroy the plant. The previous provides an example of a fauna-flora interaction. Flora-fauna-flora “pollination” interactions also can be found in our garden GigaPans.

North Elementary School High Tunnel

Current reforms in K-12 science education support a vision of science learning where children engage in the practices of science and engineering (NRC, 2012) in order to construct understanding of why things work and how things happen in the natural world. Science education professor Melissa Luna utilizes a GigaPan image of a high tunnel with preservice teachers to answer the question, “How can teachers use a GigaPan image to engage students in the NGSS science and engineering practices?” The eight science and engineering practices are introduced through the idea that we can do science--ranging from Asking Questions to Obtaining, Evaluating and Communicating Information--with GigaPan images.

Preservice teachers are asked to examine various man-made structures and materials that support plants’ growth in the high tunnel and engage in the science and engineering practice of Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. For example: “Why did the designers of this high tunnel use a translucent rather than transparent covering?” “What problem were the designers trying to solve when they made this decision?” The discussion that ensues as well as other snapshots within the high tunnel to which they zoom brings in the disciplinary core idea of Engineering Design.

Through zooming in on a structure near the top of the high tunnel, preservice teachers engage in the science and engineering practice of Developing and Using Models. When the high tunnel GigaPan is first introduced, preservice teachers are provided with some context: The garden beds were planted when there was still snow on the ground, when nighttime temperatures outside the high tunnel were still below freezing. “Why do you think the plants are growing inside the high tunnel when the temperature outside is still so cold?” The idea most commonly offered is that the plants inside the high tunnel are growing because the air inside the high tunnel is warm enough for the plants to grow.

Preservice teachers then are challenged to create a model of how this difference in air temperature occurs by zooming in on different parts of high tunnel and taking a series of snapshots that will serve as components of their model. Subsequently, preservice teachers are asked to use their snapshot model to explain how the Earth’s atmosphere is like our high tunnel—essentially to use a model of the high tunnel to explain the Earth’s Greenhouse Effect.

Upside Down Peppers and Red Noodle Beans

Ashley Murphy, WVU Instructor, models for preservice teachers in her science methods course how a GigaPan image of a variety of Chinese peppers can be used to help grade one students meet the NGSS performance expectation, Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs (PE 1-LS1-1). She begins by stimulating preservice teachers’ thinking about animals--a topic with which most students have greater familiarity:

  • Why do turtles’ shells help them survive?
  • How do animals’ tails help them meet their needs?
  • Why do porcupines have quills?

After some discussion about how animals have external parts to help them survive and grow, she asks: What about plants? Do you think plants have different parts that help them survive and grow? Why or why not? Students are then directed to explore the full image respond to: “What external plant parts do you see that you think would help the plants survive and grow?”

Through examining the remaining snapshots within the full image , students learn more about the different external plant parts and how they help the plants survive, grow, and produce more plants. For example:

Why do plants need stems? They provide support and hold up other parts of the plant, like leaves, flowers, and/or fruit. The stem acts like the plant’s plumbing system as it carries water and nutrients from the roots to the leaves. The stem also takes food from the leaves to other parts of the plant as needed. Stems can be bendable like the stem of a flower or woody like the trunk of a tree. I do not know about you, but I never thought about the trunk of a tree as its stem!

How do fruits help plants? Have you ever wondered why plants produce fruits? Is it only because plants want you to enjoy eating them? The answer is no. Plants actually use us, animals, and birds to disperse their seeds. The fruit is important to the plant because it protects the seed as it grows. That’s why if you eat a fruit that is unripe it tastes sour. The plant does not want you to eat the fruit before the seed is ready to form a new plant. So, fruits only become sweet when they are ripe and the seeds are ready to grow a new plant. The ripe fruit wants you to eat it and throw the seeds on the ground to allow a new plant to grow. Well, all this makes me think that plants are smart!

Think about a plant part that you can’t see! What external part provides the plant stability for it to grow and takes up water and nutrients from the soil? That’s right! THE ROOTS! Plant roots have two main functions. Roots provide the plant with stability and keep it from being knock down or blown away by strong winds. Roots are also important to the plant, because they take up water and nutrients from the soil. These are essential for the plant to survive and grow!

Harmonie and Excelsior Cucumbers

Grade 4 teacher Kristin Stansbury uses GigaPan to engage her students in critical thinking and to observe detail about cucumber plants. Her use of GigaPan is part of an extended learning experience, “Investigating cucumbers: A cucurbit ripe for building vocabulary,” published in Science and Children ( Stansbury et al 2017.,). The snapshots that she provides in the GigaPan of cucumbers all relate to the disciplinary core idea, From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (4-LS1-1 ).

Fruit or Vegetable? Botanically speaking, the fruit is the part of the plant that contains the seeds and develops from a flower. The main function of fruits is to protect the seed by serving as a barrier between the seeds and the external environment. Cucumbers are technically fruits. Additionally these fruits can have another function, providing our bodies with energy as we ingest them. The fruit pictured here is of the Harmonie variety. This variety is often used for pickling. Mature Harmonie cucumbers are between 3-5" in length.

Leaves: True or False? This structure is known as a true leaf. When seedlings start to grow, the first two oval shaped leaves, called cotyledons (also known as seed leaves) act as a food source for the plant. After a few weeks, new leaves, known as true leaves begin to emerge. These leaves grow very large as the plant matures. The presence of these true leaves indicate the process of photosynthesis is occurring. As the true leaves take over, the cotyledons will eventually fall off.

Female Flower. Female flowers are one structure produced as cucumber plants mature. This easily can be identified as a female flower because of the small cucumber growing behind the flower itself. Female flowers bear the fruit on a cucumber plant. The small cucumber you see that has just started will grow into a mature cucumber over time. Additionally, some cucumber plants can also produce male flowers and require pollination before fruits emerge. The Harmonie and Excelsior varieties are parthenocarpic, meaning they do not need to be pollinated. Therefore, no male flowers are needed in order for fruit to grow.

Strawberry Terrace

Grade 2 teacher Melissa Forinash utilizes GigaPan as part of an extended investigation of strawberries, which has been described in Science and Children (Rye et al., 2015; for full unit, see Grade 2: Just the Berries). Here, students presented their investigation to parents through a GigaPan of their outdoor strawberry garden. Her second grade students came up with areas to zoom to convey what they had been learning in class about strawberries. Honing in on the leaves, students queried parents: What do you think this is? Roving and zooming to a blossom, students posed: What do you think the bloom might grow? Zooming out, students continued: Now put the leaves and the bloom together. What kind of plants are these? What will we be able to pick soon?

In addition to targeting the disciplinary core idea of From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes (LS1), students also learned about Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems (LS2) and Engineering Design ( K-2-ETS-1-1). For example: Why are the strawberry plants covered with netting? Ah, birds like berries just like we do!

Cucumber Bed

Veteran kindergarten teacher Laura VanHorn views the North Elementary school garden as an integral part of school life. Laura is committed to developing her students’ understanding of the natural world (High & VanHorn, 2012). She describes her young learners and how GigaPan helps: “Curiosity and excitement? Got it! Engagement and dialogue? In bunches! Quiet focus in order to listen to your kindergarten teacher’s instructions? Not so much. I rely on this Gigapan image to account for that.”

Through the use of this image, Laura engages her students in the science and engineering practices of asking questions, using mathematics, and obtaining and communicating information and targets the cross-cutting concept of structure and function. In advance, Laura pulls up the image and zooms in to one flower on the cucumber plant. When the projector displays the image on the classroom screen, questions and comments begin to fly. Laura poses: What is this? Where do you think the flower is? What kind of flower do you think it is? As she zooms out a bit, she continues with: Now what do you think it is? What else do you see? What parts of a plant do you see? As she continues to zoom out, the students make further observations on what they see in the photo and where the photo was taken.

Eventually, enough familiar landmarks appear that they realize the picture is from the garden right outside the school doors. Laura conducts a discussion on what they might find and the safety and limits on how they’ll act in the garden. She asks several focus questions that will be discussed when students return to the classroom, such as “How many different shapes and colors do you think you’ll find?” They prep their science journals and off to the garden we go. Time for curiosity, excitement, engagement, and dialogue without stopping to listen to the teacher.

Grapes Arrive

Teacher Sara Pennington and her grade 4 students decided that grapes would make a great addition to our garden. They consulted local vineyards and planted a variety recommended to achieve success in our region. By the second year, there was quite a crop coming on!

By zooming into one area showing bunches of grapes on the vine, students may wonder if the garden contains different types of grapes. But remembering that we only planted one variety (Concord), they realize they are seeing different stages of maturity or ripeness…which is another excellent example of “processes” in the natural world. While roving and zooming the image, students posed comments and questions that moved learning into the disciplinary core ideas of interdependent relationships in ecosystems (LS2) engineering design (3-5-ETS-1-1 ):

I know that grapes are vines and are supposed to climb things. These are on the ground. What can we build so the bunnies don't get them.

I know that grapes need to have a trellis. I know we learned about structure and function. Can we use this fence to help build a trellis? This way the grapes won't be on the ground.

Students began the process by searching GigaPan images that illustrated a variety of gardens, arbors, and trellises—some of which were supporting other types of plants in our own school garden (e.g., EarthBoxes ) and some of which were built in other gardens. We also had to consider our budget and looked at images that showed trellises that were built with resources that we already have available (e.g., bamboo in High Tunnel bed ). Thinking like engineers, students created blueprints, models and an action plan to convince others that their design would be the most successful. With the help of parents and community members, students will transform their model into a functioning structure and see their planning and work come to life with a small vineyard at their school.

Sara’s grade 4 students also have learned to be producers of (their own) GigaPan images! These same students are now in grade 5, and they will hone their photography skills and meet “tech steps” in the curriculum. Watch for their work to appear at!

Using Mathematics to do Science

Photo by Brian Persinger

Using mathematics and computational thinking is one of the science and engineering practices that can help to integrate the study of science and mathematics. Teacher Hannah Stone has engaged her 5th grade students in composing fractions to make meaning of the experimental results (shown in the GigaPan below), from germinating two different lettuce varieties: Flashy Troutback Romaine (FTR) and Butterhead Oak (BO). For example, students can zoom to the data collected by group D in the Wednesday afternoon class, quantify the results as fractions, and compare the results to those obtained by group F in the same class. Students also transplant seedlings of different lettuce varieties to our high tunnel and continue to use mathematics in monitoring their growth.

Mathematics also can be applied through examining geometric shapes within GigaPan images, such as various components of an EarthBox container gardening system.

VanHorn, L, et al. 2015. Garden Project-Based Learning Units. West Virginia Department of Education, Office of Child Nutrition. Available here
(NGSS Lead States. 2013). Next Generation Science Standards: For States by States. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press. Available here .
Rye, J., et al. 2015. Garden-based learning: Its just the berries. Science and Children 52(8), 58-67.
Stansbury, K. et al. 2017. A cucurbit ripe for building vocabulary. Science and Children 55(3), 51-59.
Thorn, C. et al. 2017. Zooming in on science. Science and Children, 54(5), 45-53.
Guest Editor:

Jim Rye is professor emeritus in the Department of Curriculum & Instruction at West Virginia University (WVU), Morgantown, WV. His emphasis is science education, and for the past seven years he has focused on developing a garden-based learning program at North Elementary School. North provides practicum experiences to preservice teachers who attend WVU.

Teachers contributing to this issue are Melissa Luna and Ashley Murphy (WVU); Sara Pennington, Kristin Stansbury,Laura VanHorn, (North Elementary); Melissa Forinash (now at Morgantown High); and Hannah Stone (now at Fredericksburg Middle).