25 May 2016

When greenhouses bring education to life


The use of hands-on course sessions in the greenhouses has proven to be a useful tool when teaching in plants and environment. Both students and teachers find inspiration and improved abilities in these living class rooms.

By Johanne Uhrenholt Kusnitzoff


Twelve students are standing in a circle in the middle of a greenhouse isle. Three boxes with glass frames full of soil and different plants are situated on a trolley, ready for the students to start assessing whatever development the plants have undergone since their last greenhouse session.

“The key thing in this form of teaching is showing the student how plants actually grow. It is very different seeing it in front of you and seeing it on a slide in the class room,” says Lars Pødenphant Kiær, assistant professor in Organismal Biology.

He is very excited to have the opportunity to use the greenhouses in his teaching for the master course Plants in Populations, Communities and Ecosystems.

“We find that working with the students in the greenhouses adds an essential dimension to the teaching on plants. It gives the students a better understanding of science when they are designing their own experiment, seeing their own results grow before their eyes and being able to discuss it in class afterwards. The practical knowledge they gain here is something we can really tap into later in the class room,” he explains and then turns to a group of students to discuss the root lengths of their plants.

The messy method works
The project at hand was extensively orchestrated by the students. Under guidance, the groups have decided which type of hypotheses to test, which plant species to use and how to plan the different steps from sprout to final results.

Rasmus Jensen, a master student in Agriculture, likes this type of session.

“First of all, it is a nice form of recreation and it is fun to be a part of the planning process. In comparison to when we are given tasks with predetermined goals and methods this might appear like a more messy way to do it, but it is a nice way to learn. You feel like you have influence,” Rasmus Jensen points out while his group carries on a discussion about their soil-frame.
This ‘messy method’ is just what Lars Pødenphant Kiær is hinting at.

“The point is that the students do not know what results they will get. In an open-ended format like this, decisions they make in the beginning can have great influence on their findings. In all cases, we use the results and discuss what we see compared to what we know and expect. This science based learning is only possible in a live learning environment,” he says.