2019 HOPS Teacher Institute WOW!! What I Experienced!

I signed up for a two day Hand on Plants Workshop at the National Botanical Gardens. What a great experience it was!! I am grateful for having been a part of it. The workshop was sponsored by the Friends of the U.S. Botanical Gardens.

Outdoors in the Botanical Gardens

The history is fascinating , the HOPS lessons awesome in scope and sequence.


I am late posting about it because I have been reading about , the U.S. Exploring Expedition(also known as the Ex. Ex. or the Wilkes Expedition) would explore and map the Pacific, Antarctica, and the northwest coast of the United States. A tremendous feat of navigation, the expedition broadened knowledge of uncharted areas of the world and helped expand American commerce, industry, and scientific knowledge. I am late posting about it because I have been reading all of the books I can about this voyage.

Some of the plants in the National Botanical Garden are in the collection. I wondered why there is no movie or much of a mention to this voyage which rivals Captain Cook’s voyage. As I read I guess there was strife, and some unhappy headlines. But, it is a part of history.

You need to know about it. I am still reading about it.

I was fascinated by the huge map and the resources. What an encyclopedic story map it could be,

by Nathaniel Philbrick

They called it the U.S. Ex. Ex., or simply the Ex. Ex., shorthand for the United States South Seas Exploring Expedition of 1838-1842. It was an unprecedented naval operation, especially for a nation with a navy that was less than half the size of Great Britian’s. For the young republic of the United States, it was a bold, some said foolhardy undertaking, consisting of six sailing vessels and 346 men, including a team of nine scientists and artists, making it one of the largest voyages of discovery in the history of Western exploration. Here is the map.

Some scholars have talked to me about literary references that profile this journey. I would love to create lesson plans for it, ESRI style, I love the geography of this voyage.

With the U.S. Ex. Ex., America hoped to plant its flag in the world. Literally broadening the nation’s horizons, the Expedition’s ships would cover the Pacific Ocean from top to bottom and bring the United States international renown for its scientific endeavors as well as its bravado. European expeditions-most notably the three voyages of the legendary navigator James Cook in the eighteenth century-had served both the cause of science and empire, providing new lands with which to augment their countries’ already far-flung possessions around the world.

The United States, on the other hand, had more than enough unexplored territory within its own borders. Commerce, not colonies, was what the U.S. was after. Besides establishing a stronger diplomatic presence throughout the Pacific, the Expedition sought to provide much-needed charts to American whalers, sealers, and China traders. Decades before America surveyed and mapped its own interior, this government-sponsored voyage of discovery would enable a new, determined nation to take its first tentative steps toward becoming an economic world power.

But there was yet another reason for America to launch an expedition. Although most of the oceans of the world had already been thoroughly explored, there remained a region that had so far resisted scientific inquiry: the ice-studded mystery at the bottom of the world. Cook had ventured below the Antarctic Circle and found nothing but snow and ice. Given the dangerous conditions and the slender prospect of significant results, further exploration hardly seemed warranted. But by 1838 there was renewed interest in the high southern latitudes. What had once been regarded as a forbidding wasteland was now one of the few places left where a discovery of Cook-like proportions might still be possible. With the U.S. Ex. Ex., America belatedly joined an international rivalry to discover and explore the last unknown portions of the planet.

The Expedition was to attempt two forays south-one from Cape Horn, the other from Sydney, Australia, during the relatively warm months of January, February, and March. The time in between was to be spent surveying the islands of the South Pacific-particularly the little-known Fiji Group. The Expedition’s other priority was the Pacific Northwest. In the years since Lewis and Clark had ventured to the mouth of the Columbia River, the British and their Hudson’s Bay Company had come to dominate what was known as the Oregon territory. In hopes of laying the basis for the government’s future claim to the region, the Ex. Ex. was to complete the first American survey of the Columbia and would continue down the coast to California’s San Francisco Bay, then still a part of Mexico. By the conclusion of the voyage-after stops at Manila, Singapore, and the Cape of Good Hope-the Expedition would become the last all-sail naval squadron to circumnavigate the world.

It deserves its own movie. There were deaths.


Indeed, the ethnographic collection of the U.S. Ex. Ex.-including war clubs from Fiji, feathered baskets from California, exquisitely carved rattles from Oregon, fishhooks from Samoa, and flax baskets from New Zealand-is now thought to be, according to Smithsonian anthropologist Adrienne Kaeppler, the largest ever made by a single sailing expedition. 

I learned about it at the National Botanical Gardens, but wait, there is more.

About the Expedition.

The Pacific Northwest. An 1841 Map of Oregon Territory

“Andes near Alparmarca, Peru: Sketched from an Elevation of 16,000 Feet”. The Wilkes Expedition played a major role in the development of 19th-century science, particularly in the growth of the American scientific establishment. Many of the species and other items found by the expedition helped form the basis of collections at the new Smithsonian Institution[28] With the help of the expedition’s scientists, derisively called “clam diggers” and “bug catchers” by navy crew members, 280 islands, mostly in the Pacific, were explored, and over 800 miles of Oregonwere mapped. Of no less importance, over 60,000 plant and bird specimens were collected. A staggering amount of data and specimens were collected during the expedition, including the seeds of 648 species, which were later traded, planted, and sent throughout the country. Dried specimens were sent to the National Herbarium, now a part of the Smithsonian Institution. There were also 254 live plants, which mostly came from the home stretch of the journey, that were placed in a newly constructed greenhouse in 1850, which later became the United States Botanic Garden.

The National Botanical Gardens are the legacy piece of the exploration.

We teachers were treated to lessons and resources.

I will feature some of the workshop photos….

This was a life changing experience. I know about plants, I thought. Also funny, I generally go to the Botanical Gardens in DC well, at Christmas or when there is an orchid show. But I was curious about the program as it was advertised for a summer professional development event. I thought I knew a lot. SIGH .

Well, it’s ok to find out that there is much more to learn. I was taking this course to be able to knowledgeably guide students through my favorite place in DC. I found that I did not even know the grounds. I knew the inside of the building well and the various collections but hang on and I will share what I learned after I introduce it to you. I just wanted to be able to guide students passively through it for field trips and anchor learning.

The gorgeous U.S. Botanic Garden conservatory presents botanical variety, from the desert to the tropics, along a series of calm and gently meandering paths. A particular waterfall and garden display the flora of the dinosaur age. Seasonal displays include Christmas greens and poinsettias in December and January, chrysanthemums in autumn and blooming flowers at Easter. A part of the United States Botanic Garden (USBG), the National Garden, was opened in October 2006 and includes the carefully-designed Butterfly Garden.

2019 HOPS Teacher Institute

Fifteen teachers were selected to attend the 2019 HOPS Teacher Institute. Teachers immersed ourselves themselves in the National Garden and experienced the study of 16 modules over the course of two days.

All of us, we teachers successfully completed the Institute ,and received a HOPS box which contains the equipment to carry out these hands-on experiments back in our classrooms 14 professional learning units.

The training occured outdoors.

Outdoors?At the National Botanical Gardens. I had never done anything outdoors there,nor had I any idea that there was a network of gardens to learn in and to observe.It was a treat to see the outdoor part of the garden.

We chose different paths to do our research. Such a beautiful place to learn.

We spread out in the garden and worked to get our results.

On Day One we covered 8 modules. We learned all about water, its importance to plants and plants’ importance to water, the importance of water to all life and the current health of our local bodies of water.

We used microscopes,and tested water for temperature.Outside are gardens and pathways and a bubbling stream where we worked to learn using our tools. What a beautiful setting.

Our Testing tools.

Outside there are rose gardens and walking paths and a stream.

We tested for PH and dissolved oxygen.

learned about watersheds, and build a watershed and water filter.

In the afternoon we learned all about how plants work and photosynthesis.

Participants will perform plant cuttings and see how oxygen leaves the plant and how plants take in our carbon dioxide, learn that sugar really does happen in the leaf using refractometers, create art using the power of the sun and make seed balls.

Day Two explored nature as art in the morning. Participants will have a chance to settle into the quiet of the National Garden and watercolor, use compasses to make sundials and microscopically explore the tiniest of plants.Can you say Stomata? We dissected flowers and learn how pollination works while we keep our eyes out for the many pollinators in the Garden. There were many but they seemed too busy to sting or even be curious about us.

In the afternoon is when we learned using investigations in which we explore seed dispersal,did pollen identification using microscopes, learned that nectar differs from flower to flower, and that different flowers have different pollinators, and that soil is not dirt.

We learned about pollution and runoff in our watershed.

Here are the references to programs for schools, and field trips.

They offer classroom resources here.

Here is a little video about some of our work.

Looking for more classroom resources? Contact USBG Children’s Education Specialist Lee Coykendall.

The Field Trip to SERC in Summer!

Do you know about this part of the Smithsonian? SERC ? You should!! The Smithsonian Environmental Research Center is near Annapolis, Maryland.

We had a great field trip with kids from the neighborhood of James Creek Southwest DC that was funded by the SWNA Youth Activities Task Force. I can still hear them asking as we left the center , “Can we come back again?”


They had an all day learning adventure!! Leaving ,they had homework.

Students were clutching the cooked crab I had prepared for their at home” Eat-a-Crab” sharing with family. Some homework!!

But let me explain the day!!

I prepared in the usual way with paper resources ,pencils,and maps and folders. I am a STEM advocate but I did not know what the children knew of water study.

I love the inquiry approach to learning and TPack. I was taking an online course from the National Geographic and this was a part of my “Capstone” lesson. My teaching skills and ideas are supported and enhanced by the Smithsonian Environmental Research Center program. No teacher’s closet ,or even the Internet can match the vast resources in this learning space. So well thought out and planned.

The kids piled into the van. We were going to learn about the Chesapeake Bay!

We had our water bottles and lunch! Why water bottles? Here’s a fun way to learn about getting ready for the trip. Getting ready for a SERC outdoor trip?

We live in Washington, D.C. The Potomac and the Anacostia are two rivers that are a part of the Chesapeake Bay watershed!! We were going to learn about rivers to the sea!!Estuaries. You may want to check the video there.

The staff met us and engaged us as Otters and Eagles in groups.The learning was on from the first moment. My group went to learn about oysters and the oyster reef.


Shoreline Connections

This program can be adapted for a range of ages. It focused on science as narrative, and a collection of facts, procedures, and observations that lead to understanding the world. The guiding question of the trip was, “How do scientists tell the story of clean water, and how do people fit into that story.” We focused on science as fact based, though hands-on inquiry at each station.

Oysters and Model Oyster Reef Sorting

Students began by exploring the different types of bivalves that live in the Bay, and then learn about how oysters live together and their biological function. They attempted to build a model oyster reef to determine its habitat structure and then sort through a model reef that has been colonized by fish and invertebrates from the Bay. They then sorted the organisms and learn about the role that oysters play in clean water and Bay habitat. pictures here ( a video)I had never done this lesson on the pier.


Students began by discussing how researchers might study nearshore organisms, and learn how SERC researchers use seining nets to catch fish and invertebrates. They learned the term “biodiversity” and how biodiversity might be an indicator of water’s health. They then collected data by donning waders and use seining nets to sample the populations. Students had a short discussion about their findings and what they might mean. They loved this lesson.

Blue Crabs
At this station students were introduced to the anatomy and biology of blue crabs. First, they were asked to draw a blue crab. Then they learned in various stations.

They learned about the natural history of a crabs life, from what they eat to when and where they migrate. Students then visited with live blue crabs and studied their anatomy and movement up close.

Need more?Inquiry-based science is sometimes conflated with “hands-on” science. While we know that actively engaging children with “hands-on” science is important, it isn’t enough. Inquiry-based science employs the diverse practices scientists use to study the natural world. A well-designed, inquiry-based curriculum is appropriate for all ages of learners and effectively teaches science content while developing scientific habits of mind at the same time.

SERC Science Saturdays

Join SERC for explorations of research with our Science Saturdays.Bring the family for a day of hands-on activities alongside Smithsonian scientists! 


Saturday, June 22, 2019 10am-1pm
Learn about marine biodiversity with marine biologists. 

Saturday, Aug. 24, 2019 10am-1pm
Discover how the atmosphere interacts with the land and water. 

Saturday, Nov. 2, 2019 10am-1pm
Learn about microbes that are invisible to the naked eye and how DNA is uncovering some of the Bay’s greatest secrets. 

Cost: FREE and open to all
Location: SERC campus. We’ll show you where to park when you get here. Directions can be found on our website.
Bring: No food will be available for purchase, but you are welcome to bring your own lunch or snacks.

We hope to see you all there!

If you have any questions please contact Karen McDonald at mcdonaldk@si.edu or (443) 482-2216.