Monday, October 29, 2012

Seed Stories: Movement of Bodies, Movement of Seeds

For one group in the classroom, movement of bodies became the most appealing medium through which to tell the story of a seed. 

         O: I’m a seed growing and blooming (stands up from curled up ball) and now I’m
           being cut down (falls to the ground).
Soon after O. demonstrates being cut to the ground, D. develops his own character--a dog that eats through the stems of sunflowers. Soon, the entire group is growing into sunflowers and being eaten down by dogs, standing up and then falling over onto each other.

What interests this group about body movement is not seeds that sprout or flowers that bloom, it is physical contact with each other. Dogs are not essential characters to the story of the sunflower, but they are essential for the choreography of tumbling and toppling onto one another.
O. and D. demonstrate what happens when a dog eats through the stem of a sunflower. Later in the group's  exploration, the dogs will begin to throw up after eating sunflowers because as D. suggests, the stem isn't bad for the dog, but the dog eats too much of it.

To show the life cycle of the sunflower (and perhaps to add even more movement to his work), O. takes off running after he's been "eaten down." 
               O: Then the seeds blow away!
               D: And then it grows again
Running, rolling or jumping away "on the wind" becomes an essential movement for the actors who play seeds. 

After several days of exploration, we film the group's work and play this video for them to watch.                                                                    
 The video sparks the following discussion:  
      Which part of this story would you believe?
      O: The wind. 
      D: The dog. 
      You said the wind, O. Do you really think the wind blows away sunflower 
      O: Yeah, sunflower seeds blow on the 
      D: Heavy wind can blow even a car. 
      Do you know that sunflowers blow on
      the wind or is that your best guess? 
      O: It's my best guess.

The group (now joined by S. and T.) discusses whether or not sunflower seeds really do blow away on the wind. This conversation marks a shift in the group's interest from the movement of their own bodies to the movement of seeds.

T: I don't think that [sunflower seeds blowing on the wind] would normally happen because you don't see seeds in the wind. 
O: You usually don't see them unless it's really really windy, like a tornado or something, and you'd probably be inside. 
T: It could be going too fast [to see it]....But it would have to be a very strong wind like it could go on the ground and it would have to be a very strong wind to lift it. 

When the group decides to test this, K. and S. bring a few sunflower seeds outside and group members begin to blow them out of their hands.

T. and L. give reasons why blowing on the seeds with their mouths doesn't produce the same effect as a blowing wind--

      T: But it can't be in our hand, it has to
       be on the ground! 
      L: But we have to make it blow for a long time 
        and my breath can't go that long. 

--and the group begins to lobby for an electric fan to simulate wind.  T. hopes that the fan will provide lift for the seeds, since an integral part of the group's story includes sunflower seeds blowing a long distance, over a wall, to the new place where they will grow. 

Once the children are in possession of electric fans, they hypothesize about the angles and speeds at which the fan will be able to move the sunflower seeds. 

The children notice that the fans blow the sunflower seeds away, but they are not satisfied. The group has begun to use T.'s language about lift, and is disappointed that, when blown, the seeds simply scatter along the ground. 

    T: The wind doesn't come straight down on it [like the fan does]. And it's not as strong as the wind....and one problem is it hasn't lifted yet. 
    D: We need real wind.
    O: Because it won't go up in the air.

The group finally achieves this desired lift, but only after building a ramp with cardboard. 
 O. suggests that perhaps the seeds in the story can be blown over a hill instead of a wall, but T. seems more interested in testing this further than in changing the story.  

In conversations and drawings reflecting on this experiment, group members determine that they need to use real wind rather than electric fans. 

     T: We could see one time at snack if it's windy then we could put out a seed and see if it blows away. 
     O: We could wait for a tornado. 
     S: We could wait for a windy day and put a seed on the bricks in the garden, because we can't see it on the grass. 
     T: But it'll be better in the grass, cause the grass lifts it up...OH! I have an idea! What if we made a hang-glider for the seed. And tested it on a windy day.

O's drawing: "Fahn: NO! Win: YES!!"

O.'s writing explains the experiment:  "Fan blows sunflower.  But does not blow.  Next time we have a windy day we will test it by putting the sunflower seed on the ground and the wind blows it." 

T.'s drawing shows a fan lifting seeds with the help of the ramp: "It's moving forward on the runway and then it gets a little bump and then it flies up and drops off.  This is the experiment we just did"; as well as ideas for continuing the experiment: "My idea was to put the seed in the grass so that the wind will go under it and pick it up because the only way it will go up in the air is if the wind goes under it.  My other idea is to make a hang-glider for the seed." 

 T. (with his hang-glider) and others (with the ramp) are thinking of ways to force a sunflower seed into flight. This sparks our thinking about milkweed, dandelions, cottonwood and other plants that naturally provide hang-glider-type vehicles for their seeds. 

Do the children know about these seeds but simply want to understand whether sunflower seeds blow away as well? Or are they so invested in the plot of their story that they are not stopping to consider the physical differences between seeds that are made to blow on the wind and seeds that are not?

These questions have been the launching point for a continuing investigation on the movement of all types of seeds. 

-Posted by Mauren Campbell


  1. This is amazing. You have supported the children in the use of so many languages, I love reading and watching this, and will need to do so again and again to get the full impact of this work. Thank you!

  2. I think these are some lucky children to have someone listen so closely and then give over so much time to experiment with their ideas . I am also grateful to be able to see that many of the things these guys thought were fascinating when they were much younger are still important to them.