Students go outdoors to be plant detectives by observing closely and gathering clues about common plants. In doing so, students develop a greater awareness about the features and characteristics of plants, including invasive species. This activity may be a jumping off point for further inquiry and can be a step towards building an outdoor learning routine.
This activity is part of the Lesson “Be a Healthy Habitat Hero!” where students engage in discussion, analysis and play interactive indoor and outdoor games to spark their curiosity, learn about the issue of invasive species and how they impact us all. This lesson includes the following activities:
- What plants are growing in my neighbourhood and schoolyard? How did they get there?
- What’s an invasive species and why should I care about them?
- Why are invasive plants so pretty?
- How do invasive species harm other plants and animals?
BC Curriculum Links
Science Big Ideas
- Living things have features and behaviours that help them survive in their environment (Grade 1)
- Living things have life cycles adapted to their environment (Grade 2)
- Living things are diverse, can be grouped, and interact in their ecosystems (Grade 3)
Science Curricular Competencies (Grades 1-3)
- Demonstrate curiosity and a sense of wonder about the world
- Observe objects and events in familiar contexts
- Ask questions about familiar objects and events
- Make predictions
- Consider some environmental consequences of their actions
- Experience and interpret the local environment
- Express and reflect on personal experiences of place
- Clipboards and pencils
- Optional tools: rulers, magnifiers, plant field guides, identification apps or online guides
Documents to Download
- Be a Plant Detective- Observation Sheet
For general information on invasive species and their impacts see Background on Invasive Species for Educators.
Terms and Definitions
Invasive species are organisms that are not native to a region whose introduction and spread– whether intentional or not—harms native species, economy and human health. Without their natural diseases and predators, they are capable of moving aggressively into an area, and monopolizing resources, such as food, water, and space, negatively impacting other species.
Native species are organisms that evolved over eons in a habitat and are found in their region without assistance from people. In British Columbia, native species are those that already existed here at the time of European colonization.
Non-native species, sometimes called exotic or alien species, are those that have been introduced to a new location, intentionally or unintentionally, to which they did not evolve and are not typically found. Not all non-native species are invasive; some don’t spread or survive without being cared for by people.
How to be “PlantWise”
Many invasive plants were originally planted in peoples’ gardens because they are beautiful or are easy to grow. But they also have properties that allow them to spread beyond the confines of the garden, causing potential harm to the environment and economy. The PlantWise program helps gardeners understand which plants are invasive and harmful to our communities and how to make alternative choices. To learn more about PlantWise see https://bcinvasives.ca/play-your-part/plantwise/ and the “Grow Me Instead Guide”, which identifies horticulture’s most “unwanted” invasive plants in British Columbia, while providing a variety of native and exotic (but non-invasive) plant alternatives.
Prepare materials, including copies of the Be a Plant Detective- Observation Sheet. Identify a safe and suitable location to look at a variety of plants in the schoolyard or nearby.
Prior to going outdoors, you could do some of the following activities:
- Read some books to engage children in discovering plants and their features; see the Additional Resources section for some suggestions.
- Watch videos of children asking their wonder questions about invasive species, including “Why are some invasive plants so pretty?” and “Can invasive species take over my park?” Kids Questions videos.
- Look at images of common native, non-native, and invasive species.
- Create a Know/Wonder/Learn chart.
Discuss safety rules and outdoor etiquette, such as:
- Never eat or put any plant parts in your mouth, and avoid putting your hands in your mouth (some plants may be toxic or cause allergic reactions)
- “Petting prevents picking”- don’t pick wildflowers unless told it is OK to do so (for example if they are common non-native or invasive plants, or in a garden where it is permitted)
- Be aware of bees and wasps that may be visiting flowers
If students aren’t accustomed to being in an outdoor classroom, emphasize boundaries and safety rules, behavioural expectations and keep the outdoor time brief.
- If you have shown the Kid’s Questions videos, discuss the following: Why are some invasive plants so pretty? Can invasive species take over my park? Introduce the idea that invasive plants are often planted in our gardens and neighbourhoods and that we might find some today.
- Go outdoors in the schoolyard or a nearby park. Tell students they are going to be detectives. Younger children could make special vests or hats to get into “detective mode”. Provide tools such as magnifiers, rulers, and clipboards, if available. Detectives use their powers of observation to notice things around them and look for patterns. These clues can tell them about things in nature, like what kind of animal or plant it is that you are looking at. Scientists are a lot like detectives too! Remember that it isn’t critical to identify the plant and the most important thing is to make close observations.
- Students gather clues about their plant and record them as sketches and/or with words to learn more about their plant. Some things to notice include: how big is the plant? What parts of the plant do you recognize (leaves, flowers, stems, fruits, etc.)? Is the stem flat or round? Does it have flowers? What colour, shape and size is it, and how many petals are there? Look closely at the leaf shape and how the leaves are arranged on the stem (opposite each other or alternating like steps on a ladder?), their colours and textures. Does your plant have a smell? Are there any signs that insects or other animals have been eating it? Are there any insects on it presently?
- By looking closely, students will discover many interesting things! Share in their excitement and encourage their questions and inquiry process. Students could write down a question that they have about their plant. Ask students if their plant reminds them of anything. This is a way that they can connect with it more and remember it in the future.
- Have students introduce their plant to another student and share what they noticed and wondered about their plant and what it reminded them of.
- Optional: Once they have gathered clues, help students identify their plants using plant identification books, pamphlets, and websites, or an identification app, such as SEEK by iNaturalist. Learn if your plant is native, non-native, or invasive. Many of the plants common in suburban and urban areas are non-native (but not necessarily invasive); some, like dandelions, were introduced hundreds of years ago and are now established (naturalized).
Share with us!
We’d love to have your feedback and see photos of your students’ learning and participation in this activity. Send to email@example.com for the opportunity to win resources and have your class have a virtual visit with an invasive species expert!
- Create a class field guide for the plants of the schoolyard using photographs, student sketches or pressed plants. Have students share their learning by giving a schoolyard plant tour to a buddy class and teach them how to recognize the plants.
- Do further investigation on the plants based on the students’ observations and inquiry.
- Learn about some of the invasive species that are often found in gardens and landscaping. Make a native plant garden in your schoolyard with alternatives to invasive species!
Children’s Books about Plants
- Aston, Dianna. A Seed is Sleepy. 2014. Chronicle Books, San Francisco, CA.
- Galbraith, Kathryn Osebold. Planting the Wild Garden. 2011. Peachtree Publishers, Atlanta, GA.
- Hirsch, Rebecca E. Plants Can’t Sit Still. 2016. Millbrook Press. Minneapolis, MN.
- Lebeuf, Darren. My Forest is Green. 2019. Kids Can Press. Toronto, ON.
Children’s Books about Invasive Species
- Invader Crusaders Activity Guide to Discover BC’s Native and Invasive Species. Invasive Species Council of BC
- Invasive Species on Our Landscapes Activity & Colouring Book, (Ages 6-12), Canada Council on Invasive Species and the Invasive Species Council of BC.
- Invasive Species in Our Waters Activity & Colouring Book, (Ages 6-12), Canada Council on Invasive Species and the Invasive Species Council of BC.
- Von Tol, Alex. Aliens Among Us: Invasive Animals and Plants in British Columbia. 2015. Royal BC Museum, Victoria, BC.
- Wilcox, Merrie-Ellen. Nature Out of Balance: How Invasive Species are Changing the Planet. 2021. Orca Book Publishers, Victoria, BC.