This Page: Science

The activities provided on these pages are designed to extend the use of this site. These activities are provided as launch points for teachers to use with their classes, and for teachers to modify to suit the needs of their specific classes. Most of the activities are interdisciplinary and should provide lots of room for students (and teachers) to stamp their own identities on them.

The Virtual Museum is designed so that it can be navigated independently by 3rd and 4th graders with at least some Internet experience. Teacher supervision of any Internet activity, even a visit to this Virtual Museum, is always recommended. I hope you enjoy learning about Luther Burbank as much as I did!

Science - There are three areas in this section: Gardens, Class Discussion Topics, and Plant Species Research


No Garden - Even if your school doesn't have its own garden, your class can create its own mini-garden by using any type of flower pot or planter. Half wine barrels (Boy, can you tell I live in the Wine Country?) are especially good for class gardens.

Burbank-specific Garden - Any school group can create its own mini-Burbank Garden. All you need to do is decide which of the many Burbank species you'd like to include. Remember, although Burbank did his experimenting in Northern California, he purposely created plant species that could be grown in any number of different climates. A Sonoma County teacher, Jeff Tobes, and his 3rd grade class, created a "How-To" book about Burbank gardens. They even created their own Burbank Club. The class sold Burbank Club t-shirts and earned enough money to plan, create, plant, and maintain their Burbank Garden. They even consulted local plant experts and turned out their guide. You can order the guide(shown below) bysending $5 to:


Jeff Tobes

Forestville Union School District

Forestville, CA 95436

There are lots of good gardening sites on the Internet. Here are a few that I've checked out:

There are also some great books about gardening(Emphasis is on K-4 resources):

&Mac183;Bean and Plant, Christine Back and Barrie Watts. 1984. Silver Burdett Co.,Morristown, NJ. (Grades 1-4.) Contains a sequence of magnificent close-up photographs and simple text that follow a bean from seed to fruit to seed.

&Mac183; Blue Potatoes, Orange Tomatoes, Rosalind Creasy. 1994. Sierra Club, San Francisco, CA. Everything you need to know to grow a gardenful of fruits and vegetables in unexpected colors. Detailed instructions for growing eight different "rainbow crops" including recipes for the harvest.

&Mac183; Eddie's Green Thumb ,Carolyn Haywood. 1980. William Morrow and Co., New York, NY. (Grades 3-7.) The story of a boy and his classmates learning about gardening when they begin a Green Thumb project.

&Mac183; From Flower to Fruit, Anne Ophelia Dowden. 1984. Thomas Y. Crowell Publishing Co., New York, NY. (Grades 5-6.) Contains clear explanations and illustrations that explain fertilization, seed production, and maturation of various fruits.

&Mac183; Garden Crafts for Kids, Diane Rhoades. 1995. Sterling Publishing Co., New York, NY. Fifty garden craft projects that encourage exploration, invention, and imagination; and creative ideas for designing gardens. Great for group and family projects.

&Mac183; Garden Wizardry for Kids, L. Patricia Kite. 1995. Barron's Educational Series, Inc., Hauppauge, NY. A colorful, kid-friendly book containing histories and folklore of common fruits, vegetables, and herbs. Includes indoor growing projects and fascinating investigations.

&Mac183; Gardens from Garbage: How to Grow Indoor Plants from Recycled Kitchen Scraps, Judith F. Handelsman. 1993. The Millbrook Press, Brookfield, CT. Ideas and instructions for starting plants from seeds and plant parts found in the kitchen.

&Mac183; Great Seed Mystery for Kids, Peggy Henry. 1992. Avon Books, New York, NY. (Grades K & up.) Explores and investigates the world of seeds, including types of seeds, where they come from, what seeds need to grow, and more. Many indoor and outdoor activities.

&Mac183; The Hidden Magic of Seeds, Dorothy Shuttlesworth. 1976. Rodale Press, Emmaus, PA. (Grades 3-6.) Describes seed formation, growth, transport, and various uses. Also contains some activities for investigating seeds.

&Mac183; How Seeds Travel, Cynthia Overbeck. 1982. Learner Publishing Co., Minneapolis, MN. (Grades 3-6.) A children's science book that describes how seeds travel by wind, water, and on people and animals.

&Mac183; The Reason for a Flower, Ruth Heller. 1983. Grosset & Dunlap, New York, NY. (Grades K-4.) A beautifully illustrated book covering flower formation, pollination, and variations.

&Mac183; The Rose in My Garden, Arnold and Anita Lobel. 1984. Greenwillow Books, New York, NY. (Grades K-4.) Lovely illustrations complement a sequential story about the plants and animals that dwell in a garden.

&Mac183; This Year's Garden, Cynthia Rylant. 1984. Bradbury Press, Scarsdale, NY. (Grades K-3.) A beautifully illustrated children's book that tells the story of a garden, from spring planting through preserving the harvest.

&Mac183; The Tiny Seed, Eric Carle. 1987. Picture Book Studio, Natick, MA. (Grakes K-3.) Colorful illustrations and an exciting text tell the story of the life cycle of a flower through the dramatic adventures of a tiny seed.

This book list is from The National Gardening Association's book Grow Lab, A Complete Guide to Gardening in the Classroom.

Provided by NGA - Reprinted with permission HouseNet, Inc.

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Class Discussion Topics


Luther Burbank was a horticulturist who called himself a "plant breeder." He consciously worked to create plants that had specific characteristics. He was also a real pioneer who opened the door for the many, many "plant breeders" who followed. In his lifetime, Luther Burbank was not allowed to patent his unique plant inventions. It was thought that only God could create life and that a human could not patent new life. After his death, Congress changed the U.S. Patent laws, allowing new plant secies to be patented. Mr. Burbank was posthumously awarded patents for several of his plant creations.

Depending upon your class population, this can lead to a pretty interesting discussion. Local 3rd grade teachers assure me that their students can understand the issues and participate in a discussion about who can or should get a patent for creating new life.

A current connection to this idea involves cloning. After learning about Luther Burbank, students could discuss whether or not he would have approved of cloning. This cloning issue could also be used for writing a paragraph, as Luther Burbank, which argues for or against cloning.


When discussing grafting with students, you might try out some physical role-playing. Begin with the "mother" tree; a plant that is nurturing, pest and disease-free. Pick out someone to represent this helpful plant; why, it could even be you! Then "graft" onto the mother plant some different species, each noted for an unusual chracteristic. Each new species can be played by a student. Another student could play the role of Luther Burbank, using one of his famous plant notecards to record the progress of each branch. Students will understand about the large variety of different species that a mother tree can support. When doing this activity, be sure to explain the difference in growing periods between a seed and a grafted branch. Emphasize how grafting sped up the growing process by several years, thus allowing Burbank to really "speed" through his experiments.

Remember, you can get additional grafting info from the sites listed on the Background Info Page.

Plant Characteristics

When discussing plant characteristics with students, start by reviewing the 5 senses. Then ask the students: which of these senses might be important when examining a plant? Students should end up focusing on the senses of sight, smell, taste, and possibly, touch. Brainstorm plant characteristics for each of the senses. For example, if brainstorming the sense of sight, students should come up with color, petal shape, height, etc. After you have finished brainstorming, you can then bring up specific examples of plants that Luther Burbank bred for specific characteristics (fragrant roses, white Shasta Daisies, juicy Santa Rosa plums, etc.). Burbank also took into account factors such as pit size, the "ship-ability" of a plant, the growth period before maturity, etc.

This discussion could lead into the "Create A Species" writing activity found on the Language Arts Activity page.

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Science Research Projects

Plant Research Projects

Using the Famous Burbank Plants List, students can choose a particular plant variety to research. Most of these plants are still arund today, in one form or another. Many are still easily found in food stores or plant nurseries. Each student can pick a different Burbank variety and find out : What makes this Burbank Plant special?

Some questions to consider:

Plant Characteristics:

  • Appearance (color, petal size, foliage, etc.)?
  • Scent?
  • Taste?


  • Food for humans?
  • Food for animals?
  • Easy to grow (Which climates, areas of the world?)
  • Easy to ship?
  • Can products that can be made from the plant?

This Species Today:

  • Is this a big agricultural crop in California? (Anywhere else?)
  • Can you find this plant in local markets? Can you find this species anymore?
  • Have you ever had any experience growing, seeing, or eating this plant species?

Students can present their results in a couple of major formats:

Written: If you choose to use a written format, you may want to create a form for them to use. This form should include the critical questions for this project, with room to write down answers. You can choose some of the questions from the list above, you can create your own questions, or you can guide your students in a brainstorming session to choose their own questions as a class.

Oral: If you choose an oral presentation format, you should still generate a critical questions list for students to use as a guide. Oral presentations may be very new to your students; it is a good idea to focus on 3-4 critical questions, so that students won't be nervous talking in front of the class. If you have an "adventurous" class, the students can even come dressed as the Burbank species they are reporting about.

For either format, students should include a student-drawn illustration of their chosen species.

An end of the research project party could include the "adventurous" concept of everyone dressing up as the Burbank species about which they reported.

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