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Mission Discovery

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Review Synopsis: by science content expert Cathy Smith

While the Mission Discovery's Horticulture Career Exploration Module is a good tool for horticulture science, many afterschool providers might be scared off by its textbook-like approach and language. If I were using this module, I might remove some elements, but the topics are interesting and varied, and the supply list is economical. This curriculum would be most useful for an educator who is comfortable with this kind of science and with the expectation that some setup and planning time is necessary.
Full Review:
Carnegie Science Center's Mission Discovery program hosts a variety of science topics to explore. One is the Horticulture Career Exploration Module. The Module consists of consumable materials and lesson plans for 15-20 activities, each an hour in length. The units are about different topics relevant to Horticulture and come from a variety of sources. The curriculum relies heavily on discussion and ongoing daily experiments. There is also time devoted to nature journaling, which requires time in a natural environment, such as a park or woods. While this would be a beneficial exercise for those who have access to such an area, some urban sites may be unable to supply this.

One of this curriculum's strengths is the reinforcement of discussion supplied by the wide variety of hands-on experiments. Most of the experiments have a real-life application that any student can relate to. For example, the compost experiment asks students to observe the amount of organic matter thrown away by the school cafeteria. One role-playing session has the students act out a skit where they assume the roles of a stomata, water, or carbon dioxide—a charming way to help them digest the different roles of variables in a plant system. Some of the experiments, specifically the hand washing and compost experiments, stretch over several days and require daily observations. This tactic ingrains in the students' minds that science is an ongoing, daily occurrence, and does not end when they leave school.

Another important aspect of this curriculum is that experiments also address technology, ecology, and mathematics standards. The curriculum sets clear goals of attaining understanding in these areas and works hard at achieving this.

I noted that some of the units originated from Project Food, Land, and People ( These units were more complete in lecture, discussion, and research methods. They were also more comprehensive in their material and better organized. Project Food, Land, and People also has a unit on food safety that uses problem solving and critical thinking, though in a dry lab instead of a research format. This food safety unit is very important and relevant for all students. There is also an appropriate emphasis on mindfulness of the environment; composting and acid rain are discussed.

The consumable materials of this curriculum are economical and would be readily available at local grocery and hardware stores. Most of these materials would not be reusable as they are organic in nature. A little planning may be needed for some of the soil chemistry units; one in particular suggests gathering five different soil compositions—some locations in the United States simply do not have that wide a soil spectrum.

I identified a few imprecise statements in the discussion segments. One in particular is in the sedimentary unit, where the large rocks are said to sink because they are denser and require more water force to move. This is accurate; however, the subsequent discussion-question remarks—"potting soil should have been suspended in the water because it has smaller particles and floats more easily—may mislead some students into thinking density is somehow dependent on size. Density, mass, and size of sediments could be discussed further. Also, the exercise of splitting a carnation stem, and placing in two different colored waters to illustrate water transport could be enhanced by a sealant on the split surfaces of the carnation stem. It could be made clear to the students that air must be prevented from entering the tubes of the plant in order to create a capillary action to draw water. This could be reinforced further by asking the students to suck water through a drinking straw that has a hole in the side between the surface of the water and their lips.

There is a further problem with the unit on soil pH and liming of soil. This is of vital importance in soil science; however, the experiment and discussion may involve concepts not easily understood or conveyed by an educator with little to no science background, as they involve some technicalities of soil chemistry. A further suggestion is to add a unit on aquaculture or hydroponics, both areas of agriculture that are undergoing rapid industrial growth.

On the whole, this curriculum has great potential in its ability to kindle interest of horticulture in students otherwise unexposed to this science. It contains a number of fun and interesting experiments that reinforce use of the scientific method. At present, however, this program is aggregated from various technical levels. Some units could undergo rewriting to be more technical, and others made more basic. After some organization and an overhaul to make this curriculum more uniform, this could be an outstanding introduction to the science of horticulture.