A Year 9 class visited a local lavender farm as part of a biotechnology unit investigating the production, packaging and marketing of lavender oil for aromatherapy.
The purpose of the field trip
A field trip to the lavender farm was the context to introduce students to the sequence of lessons focusing on the extraction of oil from the lavender flowers before it could be bottled and packaged.
Class and teacher background
There were 21 Year 9 students in the class. They had each elected to take biotechnology as a module for technology. Their teacher, Katy, was an experienced teacher with a background in horticulture and an interest in environmental education and biotechnology education. She taught science, horticulture and biology at the school.
Why choose lavender oil?
Katy originally chose the topic because lavender oil was an ‘up and coming niche market product’ with a local producer. Lavender is also easy to grow, and learning outcomes and activities to do with the propagation and cultivation of lavender are included in the unit, which ran for ten weeks. Typically, Katy taught the unit in the first and fourth terms when students could grow lavender and distil some lavender oil using flowers from the school garden or a local lavender farm.
For Katy, biotechnology involves the modification of living things to produce a product that is of benefit to humans. The product does not necessarily have to be living. In her view, the benefits gained by people provide the reason for undertaking the modification/ manipulation. Katy saw the distillation of lavender oil as the key biotechnological activity within the unit since it involved the processing of lavender flowers to produce lavender oil that has therapeutic properties.
The unit had two broad foci:
- The propagation of lavender for aromatherapy, including methods of propagation, techniques for maximising growth and flower production, and consideration of which species produced the best quality lavender oil quality
- The production, properties, storage and packaging of lavender oil.
Planning the field trip
Katy believes that there are several key factors in organising a successful field trip:
- When she first contacts an outside expert, she is careful to explain why she wants to visit their and what she intends the students to learn.
- If the expert expresses an interest in being involved, she sends them a copy of her unit so that they were aware of the overall goals and objectives of the unit and how the visit to their site contributed to these.
- She seeks feedback about what and how the expert thinks they could contribute to the unit goals, and negotiates with them the actual purpose of a visit so that she and the industry person had a common understanding of student learning purposes for the visit.
- Katy deliberately set up visits with people who were good communicators. She usually visits the business prior to the first student visit to ensure that the businessperson is likely to be welcoming and able to talk with a group of adolescents.
- Because she is constrained by the school timetable it is important that the industry person had some flexibility to negotiate the time of a visit
- Katy is also careful not to take students who might be disruptive, so that the visit is a positive experience for all involved. She and any other accompanying adults always take full responsibility for student behaviour
- To ensure that the students are aware of the goals for a visit, Katy handed out a question sheet. The questions also related to an assessment task for the unit.
The topics covered by the lavender farmer included:
- A welcome and outline for the visit.
- How and why the farm had been set up, and how plants are sourced and propagated (in the field). How flowers are hand-cut to ensure high quality oil (demonstration).
- The quality and quantity of oil produced by the two plant species that were grown (in the field).
- Preparation of flowers for distilling. The distillation process (in the distilling room).
- Range of lavender-based products (in the shop).
The visit was broken up into segments where the lavender farmer would speak, students could discuss the ideas and ask questions, and then the group would move to a different location. This helped to keep students’ attention.
Links between class activities and the field trip
After the visit, Katy and the students discussed what the lavender farmer had told them. As the students researched lavender oil production, they related the pictures in the resource books to the extraction equipment they had seen. While they were designing the labelling and packaging for the lavender oil the students recalled the farmer’s explanation for why brown or blue bottles were necessary and how lavender could be used.
The unit included four assessment tasks:
- A review of lavender propagation methods
- The production of lavender cuttings
- A survey of lavender usage
- A research project on techniques for the production of lavender oil and the production of bottled lavender oil.
The value of the visit appeared to derive from
- A shared a belief in the value of industry-school links
- A shared understanding of the specific learning purposes of the visit
- The farmer’s enthusiasm, timing and structuring of the material presented
- The teacher’s management of the visit – students were aware of the intended learning outcomes and the focus was on these for the duration of the visit. The students were well supervised.
- The visit took place near the beginning of the unit. The teacher made links between what the farmer had said during subsequent lessons.
Lavender oil, essential oil, distillation, aromatherapy, production, packaging, marketing.
What happened when a classroom was turned into a distillation plant after receiving Participatory Science Platform funding? Find out more in the Connected article Making scents.
There is detailed information about this project in the article Distilling oils and hydrosols. Building science capital at Toko School looks at the multiple learning opportunities provided through this project – including video reflections from students, the teacher, the principal and a parent.
This visit was observed and reported on by Dr Bronwen Cowie from the Centre for Science & Technology Education Research, University of Waikato. The study was commissioned by the Ministry of Research, Science & Technology (now MBIE) as part of a study into biotechnology.