Thursday, August 19, 2010

Palms, Fungi and Insects...Have you thought about how the food supply is affected by fungi and insects? What about laboratory reports...Are they rela

"Date palms were propagated in large numbers clonally through tissue culture technology. Tissue culture derived date palm cultivars planted in the KISR tissue culture orchard showed crown bending at the fruiting stage." Source:; Accessed August 19, 2010.

Do you eat dates? If so, perhaps you will find the linked article informative. Have you thought about how the food supply is affected by fungi and insects? Science study becomes, "relevant," to students when they can connect to ideas with which they are already familiar. They likely have heard of date nut bread, or, eat dates and milk to break a fast, or just pack some dates for hiking trips. So, research on dates can assist students in assimilating some broader concepts on food production, such as, how pests and diseases can affect the food supply.

Here the work of C. Sudhersan, Yousef Al-Shayji, and S. Jibi Manuel of the Kuwait Institute for Scientific Research is used as a way to interest students in science.

In the USA, some people celebrate Ramadan and now it is the time for Ramadan. Since most students do not celebrate this holiday, it might be confusing why some students are using dates and milk to break their fast, so tying in dates in science class might give all students something to share and provide a cultural link to the science class, too. But, lets get back to the science class and think about food.

Plants are what types of organisms when it comes to thinking aboutfood?

Did you say producers? Yes, the date palm uses sunlight to produce the sugar found in the date. We, people, on the other hand, are consumers, we eat dates. Do you have educational standards in your area related to producers and consumers? It is easy to find lessons on this topic, for example, shows a lesson and also has a tab to show the standards related to the lesson. The national standard have often included this topic among the science standards:

"For ecosystems, the major source of energy is sunlight. Energy entering
ecosystems as sunlight is transferred by producers into chemical energy through photosynthesis. That energy then passes from organism to organism in food webs."

In reading about the date palms, students can relate the date palm as the producer and we, who ingest dates, as the consumers. Where do the fungi cme in?

Fungi are opportunists and can cause plant disease. The journal article referenced indicates the role of an insect vector and a fungus in causing a disease in the date palm.

Is the fungi decomposing the date palm, just making it sick, or is it a decomposer/ What do you think? Getting students to think about questions like this can help them appreciate food. Rather than just thinking about food as something available at meal times, students can see that science is involved in getting food to the plate. Of course, there are farmers, and the people that have shipped the food, and the stores or markets that have carried the food, and the person that prepared the food...but, science is also involved. And students will also have their own religions and cultures ideas about food, which are important to them when they are integrating new science knowledge into their thoughts and memory for later use. So what is the science? Let's look further at the article.

In the, "Introduction," students can read that dates are a major food crop of the Arabian peninsula, and link the science study to geography they know. Students can learn there about propagation by seeds (sexual repproduction) or by succkers or offshoots (asexual reproduction). [Note: These ideas cover other educational standards.] Then the introduction may have words that the students don't yet know. They can use this opportunity to build vocabulary or can just go for the gist of the introduction, depending on the student interest and/or grade level. Since this article is a laboratory report on an important food crop, some students may wish to go for the most detail. The, "Introduction," goes on to point out that observations made during a field survey led to the current experiment being reported.

The, "Materials and Methods," section comes next. What did the scientists do? Can you find out? Math can be linked to the science study here:

"Sixty (60) young palms of 12 different cultivars were used for the study.
Among the 60 palms, the trees showing the disorder were identified and 2 trees per cultivar were selected for the study. Later on, one of the selected trees from each cultivar was uprooted completely and the other was dissected out on site without uprooting."

Twelve into sixty is _____. So, How many palms of each cultivar were there? Did you say, "5?"

Try to make a flow chart for the materials and methods that the researchers used. Create the flow chart to simplify reading what steps you would do if you were going to repeat this experiment. If you prefer, you can just number and list the steps in order.

Look over the, "Results," "Discussion," and "References [Literature Cited]" Sections of the article. Do you see that scientists use laboratory report formats that are universal. Scientists around the world use the same type of format. When students write laboratory reports, they are learning what scientists do and how to understand research. Have students go through each part of the article and see what they make out of it. Have them reflect on how the exercise has changed what they think about the food supply and the role of science in it. Ask if they think other crops may have diseases. See where the students go with it. Review experimental design and laboratory report format again. Ask students if they have ideas for experiments related to the food supply.

Enjoy your food. Younger classes may want to recall the story of, "The Little Red Hen []," and discuss where food comes from. The teacher can talk about the role of science, whereas, young children will likely think of parents, stores, and farmers. Religious classes may want to cover the relationship of food to the gifts and blessings they have received. In science, look at the role of science in food production, cover laboratory report format and experimental design. Remember that using prior knowledge and other subject areas can help keep information in your mind in a usable format. Try some dates and milk. Have fun.

(c) J S Shipman 2010

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