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Paula Lourie and Angela Schipper wrote the ferns collection of resources with the aim of creating a botany resource that was uniquely Kiwi in character.

Why ferns?

We were interested in the idea that we could combine two main themes about ferns:

  • Classification, identification and documentation.
  • Life cycle and reproduction.

We were also interested as ferns have a strong sociocultural aspect with links to early New Zealand European history, links to Māori culture and a strong association with New Zealand sporting and cultural identity.

From a practical angle, at the time of writing there was little plant content featured on the Science Learning Hub, so this began to fill that gap. It also works in well with the themes in content already on the Hub, such as conserving native birds and New Zealand's unique ecosystems.

Finally, ferns are ubiquitous in New Zealand, and specimens are easy to obtain and observe.

Links to the curriculum

Research by botany curators Dr Patrick Brownsey and Dr Leon Perrie at Te Papa provided relevant examples to support the life processes, ecology and evolution concepts within levels 4 and 5 of the Living World strand.

Interwoven in the articles and video clips are key aspects of the nature of science, particularly in the area of understanding about science. For example, our content examines the theories behind the origins of our fern species and how these are changing as new evidence is uncovered or presented. This is a way for students to appreciate that science is a way of explaining the world and that science knowledge changes over time. We also have examples of Pat and Leon collaborating and building on each other’s work to find out more about how and when our ferns arrived here. These are examples for students of the ways in which scientists work together and provide evidence to support their ideas.

Inspired by the scientists

This was also an opportunity to feature scientists working at a museum – Te Papa – and to highlight the role museums play in our present society. Science research is not confined to universities and Crown research institutes. Pat and Leon’s knowledge and interest in ferns is evident in the video clips. They put a human touch to the research behind museum collections.

Developing new activities

Hands-on work is the fun part of science, and this was certainly so as we developed the teaching and learning activities. We collected and identified ferns from our local environment. We propagated fern spores, watching them germinate and form gametophytes. (We are waiting for them to become sporophytes so we can plant them out!)

We read that plant life cycles can be complex and hard to understand (and we hear Leon saying this too in the My interest in ferns video clip) and that, if you understand the fern life cycle, you can understand all plant life cycles. Propagating the fern spores enabled us to experience the fern life cycle. It also gave us some insight for the development of the Fern life cycle interactive.

We thought about how students can use technology to collect and study ferns. Digital devices are perfect for creating virtual herbaria – cell phones may be useful in the classroom, at least sometimes.

We devised a new way of storing fern fronds by laminating them. The ferns can be robustly handled and passed around the class to view frond structure and spore patterns.

Becoming more observant

Ferns are ubiquitous in our cultural, historical and physical environments. Now that we’ve had the opportunity to study ferns in greater depth, we are much more likely to notice them, to turn the fronds over and look for spore patterns. We expect the same will be true with your students.

    Published 9 November 2010