The Big Botany Challenge – promoting passion for plants in our schools!

Jonathan Mitchley on a symposium coming to Reading University in November to help fight plant blindness.

On Friday 8th November 2019 University of Reading will be rounding off its golden anniversary celebrations of 50 years of masters botany teaching with a symposium on the state of botany teaching in the UK, the sub-title is “The Big Botany Challenge! How to promote passion for plants in our schools?” Our aim is to bring together scientists, teachers, education and industry specialists and associated organisations to present and debate the most effective ways to enhance the coverage of plants in secondary biology education.

Plants are of global significance as drivers of a sustainable biosphere and they are also a fundamental part of the solution to every urgent environmental issue on the planet. Plants are also fascinating and beautiful in their own right and their existence can be profoundly comforting, calming and peaceful. Despite this, plants are regularly undervalued across society and often poorly represented in our school and university teaching resulting in the low perception of plants by many students. This concept, often referred to as “plant blindness”, has knock-on implications for a critical botanical skills shortage in ecology, conservation, taxonomy, botanic gardens and other related industries. This also means young people lose out on relationships with plants as an integral part of daily life with amazing stories to tell. The fascination in the awe and wonder of plants is so often missing from plant education at all levels and there is a growing body of evidence that contact with plants and nature contributes vitally to the mental well-being of students.

Our symposium provides a timely forum to debate these ideas and the most effective ways to encourage and nurture the next generation of botanists and plant-aware scientists through the following sessions:

  1. Fascinating plants and their stories: demonstrating how plants make the world go round by introducing some of the plants central to the solution of global environmental issues such as climate emergency, deforestation and ecological restoration and sustainable living, and also those plants which can inspire and get people hooked on the wonder of plant life;
  2. Career scenarios: highlighting the great diversity of plant-related opportunities not always appreciated by teachers and students and even careers advisors, e.g. when students make their higher education choices;
  3. Plants in the secondary curriculum: critical analysis of biology curricula in our secondary schools and asking “is it fit for purpose? And if not, “how we can do this better?”;
  4. Showcasing best practice resources: celebrating great plant resources for teachers and how these interlink with the curriculum and can inspire young students and identifying gaps in coverage; and
  5. Symposium next steps and practical outputs: how to make secondary education a better place for plants!
Image: Canva.

We welcome participation from all involved in all aspects of the design and delivery of plant-related teaching at secondary school level as well as those further up the botanical education pipeline including universities, museums, gardens and plant science employers and publishers.

You can find more information on our website which will be regularly updated over the summer.

Registration is not open yet but for more information or expressions of interest email j.mitchley@reading.ac.uk.