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Predicting the Arrival of Spring
Seven Research Questions

(Back to lesson: Predicting the Arrival of Spring.)

Research Question # 1: What things make plants grow?
Under what conditions do plants grow the most quickly? What are the variables the Journey North experiment is trying to control? Reread the planting instructions with this in mind. What variables might have an effect on growing rates and blooming dates for each Original Garden site?

  • What do you know about each of the Original Garden sites?
  • In what ways are the sites the same? In what ways are they different? (i.e. More northern or southern location? Weather is typical/different from your own? Mountains or oceans are nearby, etc...)

Use the KWL process to give your students some structure as to where their inquiry may lead them. (For the KWL format refer to Lesson 4.1 of the Teachers Manual). After the "Want to Know" ("W") questions have been generated, you may choose to have students create a Web using those questions to demonstrate the categories that they can pursue through research. This initial KWL will help give an overall direction to the following series of Research Questions.

Research Question # 2: When do tulips bloom in your home town?
Before investigating further into the unique characteristics of the Original Garden sites they selected, students should find out when tulips bloom where they live. This information can be used as a standard of comparison over the next weeks. Challenge students to come up with as many types of information sources as possible. As a class, come together and review the information the groups have collected. Is there a date everyone agrees upon? Each student group can use this information as they wish as they make their predictions this week and in coming weeks.

Research Question # 3: What is the climate at each of the Original Garden sites?
What is today's temperature at your Original Garden site? Do you think the site is generally warmer or colder than your hometown? What is the average daily high temperature at your Original Garden site in: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, June? What is the average daily low temperature at your Original Garden site in: Jan, Feb, Mar, Apr, May, June? How much rain or snow does your Original Garden site typically have? How might these variables affect plant growth?

Resources: Monthly climate information can be found in most almanacs, the National Geographic atlas, and on the WWW. Make these resources available to all the groups.

Research Question # 4: How long is the growing season at each Original Garden site?
Have students brainstorm about the definition of "growing season"--do not tell them! After a definition is agreed upon and verified with a dictionary or local resource, groups should try to determine the growing season for their garden. Have student groups contact or consult resources such as garden centers, county extension services, or the National Weather Service to find out the average killing frost dates for the area where their Original Gardens are located. Using the frost dates have them figure the length of growing season.

TEACHERS: For your information, the "growing season" is defined as:

  • The number of days between the last "killing" frost in the spring and the first "killing frost" in the fall.

Killing frost is an inexact term, due to the fact that different plants have varying tolerances for cold temperatures. Generally speaking, however, "killing frost" is defined as when temperatures drop below 32 degrees F for an extended period of time (usually several hours), such that it will kill vegetation.

Research Question # 5: In which Plant Hardiness Zone is each Original Garden site located?

Have student groups discuss:

  • The definition of a "Plant Hardiness Zone". What might this mean?
  • What bearing might the information gained in Research Question # 4 have on the definition "hardiness zones"?
  • How do Plant Hardiness Zones seem to be related to (or not related to) latitude?
  • What variables might cause the patterns shown in the Plant Hardiness Zones map?


Research Question # 6: Does Teale's quote help you predict spring's arrival at each Original Garden site?

"The seasons, like great tides, ebb and flow across the continents. Spring advances up the United States at the average rate of about 15 miles a day. It ascends mountainsides at the rate of about a hundred feet a day. It sweeps ahead like a flood of water, racing down the long valleys, creeping up hillsides in a rising tide." Edwin Way Teale North With the Spring (St. Martin's Press, 1951)

Give this quote from Pulitzer Prize winning author and naturalist Edwin Way Teale to students. Explain that one year Teale followed spring's journey in his car! He drove all across the U.S. watching the advance of the season. These are his observations about the rate at which spring moves across the U.S. Teale likens spring to "great tides" and "a flood of water". To help students internalize these concepts, have them discuss the metaphors Teale uses. Then have students write their own metaphors for the feelings they have about spring. To get started, brainstorm the many ways you might complete this sentence: The arrival of spring is like... Students might develop a poem or montage to build on their ideas.

Next, discuss and consider the following questions.

  • Do you think Teale's observations can help you predict spring' arrival at your Original Garden site?
  • Do you want to base your predictions on his observations? If so, what new information might you like to know about your Original Garden site?
  • Are there any reasons why you might not want to rely on his observations?

Encourage students to challenge Teale's conclusions. Perhaps they might come up with these concerns:

  • It is an average, it's for the U.S. only, not Canada or Europe.
  • It hasn't been tested year after year.
  • Spring doesn't only go "northward".
  • There are many ways to define the "arrival of spring", some signs of spring might move at different rates than others, etc.
  • There are variations in weather.
  • What about the effect of unique geography (i.e. oceans, lakes, mountains etc..)

Research Question # 7: Final Pre-Season Predictions
Students should revise their Original Garden blooming date predictions for the final time before Journey North's spring program begins in February. Before making their predictions, be sure the students consider how seasons can vary from year to year:
  • In what ways has weather varied on your birthday over the years?
  • Did you ever have to wear a jacket for Halloween?
  • Do you always have a white Christmas?
  • Is weather on the first day of spring always the same?
  • How does this winter compare to others?

Each group must meet consensus on their final prediction. When all groups have made their final predictions, have each group present their prediction with their rationale. After all predictions are shared, students/groups should be encouraged to revise their own predictions if necessary, and also to question/challenge other groups' predictions.

Then when Journey North begins in February, data from hundreds of tulip gardens will arrive in your classroom. As early as Groundhog's Day (Feb. 2), tulips will have emerged in many locations, and some may have already bloomed. Students will be able to track the time it takes tulips to grow and finally, to bloom.

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