No matter how crazy my week is, I always look forward to Thursday afternoons. This is my weekly science period with our moderate/severe special education class. I’ve been working with Ashley, their teacher, for the last several years, doing science every few weeks–this was the first year that I went every week! It’s always been 100% voluntary, I am paid in smiles and hugs, and that’s all I need.
For the last three years, we have participated in Tomatosphere, a citizen science project! The premise is simple: we are sent two seed packets of tomato seeds, one has been to space and the other has not. We plant the seeds, count how many sprout, and submit the data. The scientists are measuring the effects of space on seeds and food production, for future long-term space travel.
There are plenty of teaching resources on the Tomatosphere website, making it a suitable project for any grade level. It’s perfect for elementary school (especially big/little buddies!), general ed + special ed partnership, or in middle or high school for deeper scientific investigations.
Each year, I have run Tomatosphere differently, mainly due to timing. In year 1, Ashley’s class came to my 3rd period class, and we planted seeds and collected data together. In year 2, I went to them, and we blogged about our experience. In year 3, we had a little less time and the students were a little lower academically, so we did a few learning activities about plants and seeds, planted our tomato seeds, and made a few observations. Next year, we are hoping to create science journals to practice measuring, writing, and (possibly) graphing skills.
I love that no matter the academic and social level, all students are able to participate. We can work on a number of skills, including counting, sequencing, and writing. I love that I bring the science, and Ashley guides the skill-building.
It’s easy to get started with Tomatosphere! Order your seeds from the website and get set-up for planting. We use Jiffy Peat Pellets, and it takes about 4-5 days to see sprouts. The 36 peat pellet trays fit about 3 seed packets. I use two trays, one for each letter packet (one letter has been to space, the other hasn’t).
After we’ve grown our seeds and submitted our data, we plant some of the tomato plants in our school garden and plant the rest in small cups for students (and staff) to take home. Each year, at least one person (not me…) has kept their plant alive long enough to produce tomatoes to eat!
What ideas do you have to build out a meaningful Tomatosphere unit?