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Students like messy, open-ended greenhouse projects

Hands-on course sessions in University of Copenhagen' greenhouses are popular with both students and staff

Twelve students are standing in a circle in the middle of a greenhouse isle. Three boxes with glass frames full of soil and plants are on a trolley, ready for the students to start assessing the plants’ development since their last greenhouse session.

“The key thing in this form of teaching is showing the student how plants actually grow. It is different seeing it in front of you than seeing it on a slide in the class room,” says Lars Pødenphant Kiær, assistant professor in Organismal Biology.

He uses greenhouses in his teaching for the master’s course ‘Plants in Populations, Communities and Ecosystems’.

Photo: Mette Buck Jensen

“Working with students in greenhouses adds an essential dimension to teaching on plants. It gives students a better understanding of science when they are designing their own experiment, seeing their own results grow before their eyes and being able to discuss it in class afterwards. The practical knowledge they gain here is something we can really tap into later in the classroom,” he explains, and turns to a group of students to discuss the root lengths of their plants.

Messy method

The project is put together by the students. Under guidance, the groups decide which type of hypotheses to test, which plant species to use, and how to plan the different steps – from sprouting to the final result.

Rasmus Jensen, is a master’s student in Agriculture:

“It is a nice form of recreation and it is fun to be a part of the planning process. Compared to when we were given tasks with predetermined goals and methods, this appears more messy, but it is a nice way to learn. You feel like you have influence,” he says, while his group carries on a discussion about their soil-frame.

Live learning environment

It is the ‘messy method’ that Lars Pødenphant Kiær is looking for.

Photo: Mette Buck Jensen

“The point is that the students do not know what results they will get. In an open-ended format like this, the decisions they make in the beginning can have great influence on their findings. In all cases, we use the results and discuss what we see compared to what we know and expect. This science-based learning is only possible in a live learning environment,” he says.

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