Date of Award

Summer 8-2022

Level of Access Assigned by Author

Open-Access Thesis

Degree Name

Master's of Science in Teaching (MST)


Sara Lindsay

Second Committee Member

Molly Schauffler

Third Committee Member

Franziska Peterson


School gardens provide numerous educational opportunities and many elementary schools in Maine are supporting these nature-based learning experiences. However, there is a lack of information about how school gardens are associated with student learning of plants. This research investigated student knowledge of plant growth and reproduction at a school with a garden and explored how this knowledge is associated with how much time students spend in a garden.

An activity was designed, based on the Next Generation Science Standard performance expectation 4-LS1-1, asking students to draw a plant and label the different structures, including explanations of their functions. The activity also asked students about their experiences in a garden. Thirty-three responses were collected from fifth-grade students at an elementary school in Penobscot County in Maine and then analysed using a tallying system and rubric developed by the researchers in this study. Students were placed into levels of understanding of plant structure and function determined by the rubric.

The results of this case study show that students’ mental models of plants are typically flowers; 64% of students drew flowers when asked to draw a plant. On average, students that drew flowers received higher rubric scores for their understanding of plant reproduction compared to students that drew either trees or other plants. The larger variability in scores for the reproduction section of the rubric as compared to scores for the growth and survival section highlights the impact that students’ reproductive plant knowledge has on their overall understanding of plant structure and function. In terms of overall understanding of plants, most students fell into either the emerging (16 students) or expected (ten students) level of understanding. This study did not find a significant difference in mean overall scores between students who spent different amounts of time in a garden.

This research is consistent with prior conclusions that in students’ mental models of plants are generally flowers. Additionally, the lack of relationship between the amount of time spent in a garden and students’ knowledge of plant structure and function does allow for further exploration of what students are doing when spending time in a garden. The actual activities they may be participating in could relate to the plant knowledge, or even misconceptions, they are obtaining. Further work on this topic could involve deeper research into how students are learning about plants and the differences in their learning of plant reproduction and growth.