Botanic gardens as teaching and learning environments

Published:

This chapter reviews the literature concerning botanic gardens as teaching and learning environments. Section 2.1 is a historical review of the development of botanic gardens and the change of their roles in serving the human society. In section 2.2, a variety of educationalists' comments on teaching and learning in outdoor natural environments are discussed. Drawing on the previous research on teaching and learning in botanic gardens and settings alike, section 2.3 set out the valid points to guide the investigation of BGEs' pedagogical practices in this thesis.

The development of botanic gardens

Botanic gardens are generally comprise walled gardens in which are displayed a wide range of plants in various environments and appropriately labelled with botanical names. Usually, botanic gardens have long standing affiliations with scientific research organisations which are engaged in researching plant taxonomy and other aspects of botanical science. However, when botanic gardens were initially established their remit was not as complex as it is today, which has extended to encompass the challenge of holding documented collections of living plants for the purposes of scientific research, conservation, display and education (BGCI, 2008a).

Renaissance: the origin of botanic gardens

Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet

Professional

Essay Writers

Lady Using Tablet

Get your grade
or your money back

using our Essay Writing Service!

Essay Writing Service

The origins of modern botanical gardens can be traced to the physic gardens, which concentrated their work on cultivating medical and aromatic plants (Rae, 1996). These gardens were first founded during the Italian Renaissance in the 16th century. Their function was purely for the academic study of medicinal plants (Brockway, 1979) and by the 17th century these medicinal gardens had spread to universities and apothecaries across Europe (BGCI, 2008b). In England, the University of Oxford Botanic Garden was built in 1621 as a physic garden with the espoused goal of growing plants for the glory of God and the furtherance of learning. Similarly, in 1673, the Worshipful Society of Apothecaries set up the Chelsea Physic Garden in London with the purpose of training its apprentices in the identification of plants (Chelsea Physic Garden, 2009).

In fact, botany was not a distinct discipline when the early physic gardens were founded in the 16th century, because the focus of their work was on developing descriptive adjuncts for medicinal plants. When it came to the late 17th and early 18th centuries the botanical gardens began to feature in and contribute to the development of botany as a scientific discipline (BGCI, 2008b). For example, Phillip Miller, the chief gardener at the Chelsea Physic Garden from 1722, had a deep scientific curiosity about plants and in his Dictionary of Gardening (1834) systematically described the methods for the identification of plants and this became the standard reference work for gardeners in Britain and America. Moreover, the seed exchange programme initiated by Miller introduced various crop to America and also brought madder, which is used to produce red dye, as an agricultural crop to Britain (Chelsea Physic Garden, 2009). In sum, Miller's contribution to both horticulture and botany marked a new epoch regarding botanic gardens, that is, their scientific status widened as botany as a discipline asserted its independence from medicine.

Colonial times: the golden age for botanic gardens

Advances in ship building and navigation allowed western countries to sail the oceans and explore new territories in the 18th century, which Brockway (1979) argued "added appreciably to botanical collections and spurred a great interest in botany as a science" (p. 451). As a result, in Britain many botanic gardens were established across the country, founded by universities, horticultural societies, local authorities, and even by notable gardeners. In particular, the worldwide famous botanic garden, the Royal Botanic Garden of Kew, was established during this time so as to cultivate the many new species that were being returned from expeditions to the tropics.

The period between the 18th and the 19th century was an era of expansion for the British Empire and the colonial plantations needed seeds, crops and horticultural advices in order to obtain better yields. The botanic gardens, especially Kew Gardens, "became a clearinghouse for the exchange of plant information and a depot for the interchange of plants throughout the empire" (Brockway, 1979, p. 453). Although botanic gardens had responsibility to serve such colonial botany requirements, their research and education functions were also important. For example, Joseph Hooker, the first official director at Kew Gardens, pursued scientific autonomy for the institute and listed its functions as:

Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet

Comprehensive

Writing Services

Lady Using Tablet

Plagiarism-free
Always on Time

Marked to Standard

Order Now

display and public education;

collection and classification of plants;

research, with a special laboratory for the study of plant physiology, cytology, and genetics;

publication;

information storage and retrieval; and

a training programme … by sending hundreds of botanists and gardeners to all the colonial gardens, to the universities, and to the great commercial nurseries. (Brockway, 1979, p. 453)

Environmental conservation: new agenda for botanic gardens

As decay of the British Empire took hold and the independence of colonies emerged during the 20th century, botanic gardens no longer served their earlier role of addressing the demands of colonial rule in terms of botany. Instead, the conservation role of the botanic gardens became salient, particularly in the second half of the 20th century, when there were growing concerns relating to climate change and the loss of biodiversity.

Growing awareness of the threats of environment pollution and depletion of natural resources with the rapid development of science and technology, especially after the Second World War, led international organisations and national governments to begin to focus their attention on environmental issues. The World Conservation Strategy (International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources [IUCN], 1980) is one of the key environmental policy initiatives published in the 1980s which advocates conserving ecosystems and natural resources to provide for sustainable development. Further, the World Commission on Environment and Development's (WCED) seminal report Our Common Future (1987) addressed the interdependent nature of the relationship between the environment and development and the authors advocated a stance towards human development which "meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs" (p. 43). This particular report points out that in order to achieve sustainable development specific attention need to be paid to the conservation of species and ecosystems as they constitute the fundamental bases of development. The environmental protection movement reached its peak in the 1990s with the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro setting a working agenda for the new millennium. Agenda 21 (United Nations Conference on Environment and Development, 1992), the policy document which evolved from the summit, presents a comprehensive blueprint of action to be taken globally, nationally and locally so as to tackle the issues brought by environmental pollution.

Against this backdrop the founding of the Botanic Gardens Conservation International (BGCI) in 1987 was a milestone in the development of botanic gardens. This body was established to support the development and implementation of global policies related to environmental protection and as the leading organisation on the global stage for botanic gardens. The BGCI's mission is endeavoured to "ensure the world-wide conservation of threatened plants, the continued existence of which are intrinsically linked to global issues including poverty, human well-being and climate change" (BGCI, 2008c). In sum, the various international campaigns and global agendas designed to promote environmental protection and natural resources conservation in the latter part of the last century have given botanic gardens new agendas, namely, those of plant conservation and sustainability.

The 21st century: more challenges for botanic gardens

Although a range of international environmental movements have been in action for several decades, the progress towards achieving sustainable development is slow. The loss of biodiversity is worsening and it is argued that up to 50% of the 400,000 plant species on earth will be threatened with extinction over the next 100 years (Bramwell, 2007). Therefore, the challenges brought by environmental issues will become more critical in the 21st century. The Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), initiated by the United Nations in 2000 have aimed to establish a new global partnership with the purpose of reducing extreme poverty and consequently set out a series of time-bound targets on specific dimensions of poverty by the year 2015. To support the implementation of the MDGs, more than 180 countries backed the Global Strategy for Plant Conservation (GSPC) in 2002. The GSPC has 16 targets, originally to be achieved by the year 2010, regarding plant conservation and the key policy documents coming from these initiatives require botanic gardens to take plant diversity conservation as their primary working agenda.

The International Agenda for Botanic Gardens in Conservation (Wyse-Jackson & Sutherland, 2000) sets out guiding principles for botanic gardens worldwide to promote plant conservation through research and education. To monitor the implementation of this agenda and the progress towards achieving the goals set out under the GSPC, the BGCI launched a guiding document 2010 Targets for Botanic Gardens, which urges the leaders of botanic gardens worldwide to: 1) understand and document plant diversity; 2) conserve plant diversity; 3) use plant diversity sustainably; 4) promote education and awareness about plant diversity; and 5) build capacity for the conservation of plant diversity. Moreover, the battle against the loss of biodiversity and other environmental problems continue to be pressing issues during the 21st century and for botanic gardens in particular further challenges will be encountered in the struggle for achieving plant conservations and sustainability.

Philosophies of learning in gardens

Lady using a tablet
Lady using a tablet

This Essay is

a Student's Work

Lady Using Tablet

This essay has been submitted by a student. This is not an example of the work written by our professional essay writers.

Examples of our work

The natural environment has been considered as a robust educational site by many educationalists across many centuries, and school gardens and botanic gardens are no exception. A number of the most influential western educational philosophers and pioneer thinkers such as Comenius, Rousseau, Pestalozzi, Froebel, Montessori, and Dewey, viewed gardens as significant educational settings or gardening as an important way of teaching and learning (Sanders, 2004; Subramaniam, 2002). In this section various theorists' comments on education in outdoor settings, especially in gardens are reviewed.

The father of modern education, Czech educationist and philosopher Johann Comenius characterised human life from the mother's womb to the grave as a series of educational stages in which objects from nature could serve as the basis of learning (Comenius, 1660). He stated that "education should be universal, optimistic, practical and innovative, and that it should focus not only on school and family life but also on social life in general" (S. Rowe & Humphries, 2004, p. 19). Further, he argued that knowledge begins from sense, and passes into memory through imagination, then the understanding of universals can be achieved (Boyd & King, 1995). Although Comenius's views on knowledge acquisition are close to materialist sensationalism, his principal belief that teaching and learning should follow a natural process still influences today's curriculum and pedagogy. According to Comenius, seeing, hearing, tasting, and touching are the key methods whereby children become acquainted with water, earth, air, fire, rain, stone, iron, plants and animals, which prepares the way for understanding the natural sciences. Consequently, he suggested that "a school garden should be connected with every school where children can have the opportunity for leisurely gazing upon trees, flowers and herbs, and are taught to appreciate them" (S. Rowe & Humphries, 2004, p. 19). As a response Rowe and Humphries (2004) stated, "Comenius's advocacy of an authentic curriculum led us to develop the outdoor setting as our largest classroom" (p. 19).

Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the French philosopher, believed that the human was good when in a state of nature, but was corrupted by society. Moreover, he contended that nature is the best teacher for children. According to this naturalist point of view, education should "focus on the environment, on the need to develop opportunities for new experiences and reflection, and on the dynamic provided by each person's development" (Darling, 1994, p. 82). Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi agreed with Rousseau's child-centred educational perspective and suggested that teaching should focus on observation and activity rather than only on words. He put his educational thoughts into practice in Yverdon, Switzerland by establishing a school to teach orphans gardening, farming, and home skills. Although Pestalozzi's educational innovation failed as his school went bankrupt his concept of achieving a balance between the three elements, hands, heart, and head still influences the field of education, seen for instance in contemporary commitment to providing authentic learning environments and worthwhile hands-on activities.

Fredrick Froebel, a pupil of Pestalozzi, believed that "humans are essentially productive and creative, and that fulfilment comes through developing these in harmony with God and the world" and through his work he tried to "encourage the creation of educational environments that involved practical work and the direct use of materials, thus through engaging with the world to understand unfolds" (M. K. Smith, 2008, http://www.infed.org/thinkers/et-froeb.htm). Moreover, Froebel viewed play as an important pathway through which to engage children in learning because it stimulates their interest and his first kindergarten established in 1840 was designed to promote children's awareness of the natural world through observing and nurturing plants in a garden. In short, Froebel emphasised doing as well as observing to motivate children to become involved in learning and Sealy (2001) and Subramaniam (2002) concluded that he was one of the most effective proponents of school gardens in the nineteenth century.

Maria Montessori similarly addressed the educational function of gardens and advocated for an active engagement with them rather than a contemplative one (Montessori, 1912; Sanders, 2008). She realised that "children's gardens could be used beyond the standard curriculum to help to develop patience, enhance moral education, increase responsibility and improve appreciation for nature and relationship skills (Montessori, 1912, pp. 156-160). John Dewey criticised her methods because she ignored the importance of the social interaction of participants, despite both of them agreeing that pupils should be at the centre of the whole process of education. Dewey (1938) emphasised the salience of the children's experience and argued that educators must first understand the nature of human experience. He argued that children should be involved in real-life tasks and challenges such as outdoor excursions, weaving, and construction in wood and particular, he noted the potential educational function of gardening. In Democracy and Education, Dewey (1916) highlighted the importance of gardening in a chapter entitled "Play and Work in the Curriculum" as follows:

Gardening need not be taught either for the sake of preparing future gardeners, or as an agreeable way of passing time. It affords an avenue of approach to knowledge of the place farming and horticulture has had in the history of the race and which they occupy in present social organization. ... Instead of the subject matter belonging to a peculiar study called botany, it will then belong to life, and will find, moreover, its natural correlations with the facts of soil, animal life, and human relations. As pupils grow mature, they will perceive problems of interest which may be pursued for the sake of discovery, independent of the original direct interest in gardening-problems connected with the germination and nutrition of plants, the reproduction of fruits, etc., thus making a transition to deliberate intellectual investigations. (pp. 163-164)

In the long historical period, during which educational philosophy has emerged, gardens often have been considered as an important place for teaching and learning. The philosophies of the educationalists reviewed above demonstrate a shared understanding of the role education in appreciating and valuing nature, in other words, these theorists have claimed that children's experiences with the natural world would contribute their individual development. However, this contention has been criticised for having weaknesses, such as it ignores children as members of social society (Falk & Dierking, 2000). However this perspective does provide a holistic view regarding how children interact with the natural environment and can contribute to an understanding of the environment-human interrelationship (Clayton & Opotow, 2003).

School groups in informal settings

Informal settings, museums and botanic gardens exist with the same purpose, that is, to: acquire, conserve, research, communicate and exhibit the tangible and intangible heritage of humanity and its environment (The International Council of Museums, 2007). Consequently, the processes of teaching and learning in such setting could be expected to contain similar elements and as limited research on school groups in botanic gardens has been carried out, I first review the literature regarding school visits in museums to highlight those areas that are equally valid when to applied to education in botanic gardens. Subsequently, then the findings reported in the few studies that have focused on school groups in botanic gardens are discussed.

School groups in museums

Research suggests that schoolteachers take pupils to informal settings such as museums, field study centres, and science centres "as a way to teach subject matter that cannot be covered effectively in the classroom, introducing pupils to resources in their community" (Tran, 2006, p. 279). However, many schoolteachers are not familiar with the outdoor settings and have never been trained to teach beyond the classroom and have often reported that lacked the confidence to organise school trips (O'Donnell, et al., 2006). By contrast, the informal educators are normally experienced in designing and delivering educational programmes for a variety of school groups. Although there is a considerable body of literature reviewing the learning experiences of children in museums, little is known about how educators in informal settings do their work, and what body of knowledge they apply (Tran & King, 2007). In this section I discuss the practices of museum educators in order to draw valid points that may imply for the BGEs' teaching practices.

Research carried out in American science museums found that the visits guided by museum educators were mainly educator-centred and didactic in nature (Cox-Petersen, et al., 2003; Flexer & Borun, 1984; Parks, 1985). For example, Flexer and Borun (1984) and Parks (1985) studied the effects of museum educator-led science lessons as a part of visit to the museum by visiting school groups. Although the attention of their research was on the cognitive and affective outcomes of pupils, and not the museum educators, they reported that the teaching methods employed by the educators were lecture-oriented. Similar results were reported in Cox-Peterson et al.'s (2003) study, which focused on the museum educators' guided school tours in a natural history museum in the United States. The researchers observed 30 visiting groups of children from grades 2 to 8 and their teachers (n=30) were interviewed both before and after the visit whilst the pupils (n=85) were only interviewed afterwards. The results of this study indicated that (a) the tours focused on facts or stories rather than scientific concepts; (b) the museum educators used too much scientific jargon but gave limited explanations to pupils; (c) the museum educators asked closed and factual questions rather than open-ended ones; and (d) the structure and content of the tours provided minimal connections with pupils' prior knowledge and experiences. The evidence indicated that the tours tended to be run in a didactic way and lacked of hands-on activities and pupil interactions which lead to the overall impression that this didactic approach to teaching failed to provide pupils with sufficiently demanding, as only 9% of the pupils demonstrated high levels of learning. After noticing such a didactic, instructor-centred model of teaching was being adopted by many museum educators, the authors warned that children's cognitive, affective, and social learning opportunities during the visits would be reduced. In order to provide pupils with meaningful educational experiences, Cox-Peterson et al. (2003) suggested that when instructing to school groups, museum educators should try to achieve the following in their practices: meet pupils' interests and experiences, focus and support their inquiries, challenge them to accept responsibility for their own learning, and encourage discourse among pupils about scientific ideas.

Tal and Morag (2007) have investigated the guided school visits to natural history museums in Israel and reported similar findings to their counterparts in the United States, that is, lecture-oriented activities were commonly observed in all the museums that they studied. Moreover, the authors noticed that although some museum educators endeavoured to engage their pupils through questioning, most of the questions they asked were factual information recall and thus provided inadequate opportunity for choice and social interactions, which blocked the meaningful learning experiences of the pupils. Consequently, these researchers and others have recommended that when instructing school groups museum educators should provide children with more opportunities to take a proactive role in exploring and investigating the relationship among science, technology and society, so as to challenge their ideas related to the nature and social perspectives of science (Tal, Bamberger, & Morag, 2005; Tal & Morag, 2007).

Teaching in museums is not always didactic and lecture oriented, as the above research reported, however, creativity, complexity and effective skills should be qualities assumed by the museum educators in their teaching practices. In a study on the goals of a group of American science museum educators, Tran (2006) found that the school visits led by them were driven by the desire to offer positive experiences to pupils. Many of participating educators believed that their "nurturing an interest in science to prompt pupils to return to the museum was more important than content acquisition from their one-off lessons" (Tran, 2006, p. 292). Drawing on observations of their teaching practices, the author pointed out that these museum educators "operated the lesson from a perspective, which integrated a school field trip to the science museum, not as a one-time event, but as part of a continuum of visiting such institutions well beyond school and childhood".

The factors such as time constrains, pupils' preparation work and group management approach can impact on children's visiting experiences (Dowd & Dillon, 2005; Glackin, 2007; Lai, 1999; Orion & Hofstein, 1994). In their research on schoolteacher-guided school trip to science museums, Griffin and Symington (1997) noted that the schoolteacher's participation and guidance of pupils' activities have positive effect on maintaining engagement. Stavrova and Urhahne (2010) investigated the school trips to museums and found that pupils' attitudes and understanding of science from a museum visiting experience were significantly improved when their teachers gave them more opportunities to work together. However, inappropriate grouping may spoil pupils' visiting experience. For example, in their investigation of pupils' experience on visiting zoos, Davidson et al.'s (2010) found that the pupils who were forced to work with the people they did not want to collaborate with failed to obtain an enjoyable learning experience. This finding indicates that educators who are responsible for teaching in informal settings should be trained how to manage the lesson in terms of supporting their pupils' visiting experiences.

As discussed above, it seems that researchers in museums have different perceptions of the nature of teaching: teaching can be didactic, educator-centred, and task-oriented or alternatively it can be enquiry-based, pupil-centred, and learning-oriented when educators can engage their pupils in the learning processes. Further, much of the literature has suggested that teaching in museums can be more effective when there is appropriate preparation and follow-up work, interest stimulation, and rich communication. The above findings regarding school groups in museums have relevant for school trips to botanic gardens as well, which is discussed next.

School groups in botanic gardens

Botanical gardens offer good locations for educating the public for the following reasons. To start, many gardens implement educational programmes based on the National Curriculum. Furthermore, botanical gardens can foster intimate links with the rest of the planet as they house plants from every corner of the world which in itself provides an example of a global network of ecological interdependence whereby people and places are linked through the garden. School trips to botanic gardens provide valid opportunities for learning such things. For many teachers, the most important reason for undertaking visits is the chance to address topics listed in the science and geography curricula (Jones, 2000). Often the learning activities organised either by schoolteachers or BGEs are focused on investigating issues such as plant adaptation, measuring different temperatures and humidity, and observing plants from all over the world. During the visits children not only obtain the knowledge regarding science and geography but also develop their sense of social justice and moral responsibility and begin to understand that their own choices and behaviour can affect local, national, and global issues (Qualifications and Curriculum Authority, 2000).

Botanic gardens are resources for environmental education in its broadest sense as various environmental education elements can be integrated within an excursion, for example: ecological literacy, environmental awareness, and environmental sensitivity (for example, Emmons, 1997; Hargreaves, 2005; Tal, 2004). In this regard, research has suggested that a school excursion to a botanic garden should include "not only knowledge and understanding of animals or plants groups, but also the process of science and general aspects such as care for the environment and communication" (Tunnicliffe, 2001, p. 33). Further, Jones (2002) argued that "a school visit to a botanical garden can encourage young people to think through their identity and place within society, both at the local and global level" (pp.279-280). Moreover, a botanic garden can serve as the context for making these links and for implementing environmental, global and developmental education, a point illustrated by Jones (2003):

Certainly the children that went to the garden were eager to think about where lots of products were from when they got back to school. They linked material products with plants and places, and considered how these places were linked to both their schools and their homes. The other side of the world was seen as intimately linked with their everyday world, and the botanical garden offered an exciting, interesting, and colourful resource through which these experiences could be engaged with. (p. 29)

Most school visits to botanic gardens are usually one-day trips or last just a few hours in duration and because of this limited period of time the question arises as to how can such a short experience impact on children's learning, both cognitively and affectively. The literature reviewed here addresses this matter. In order to discover whether pupils' attitudes towards plants could be changed by visiting a botanic garden on a school trip, South (1999) asked primary pupils to draw a leaf at the beginning of a garden workshop and again after it. She found that "there was an increase in the percentage of atypical leaves in the second set of drawings in all the classes" (p. 72) which she concluded that the botanic garden visiting experience had expanded pupils' observational view about plants with the impact on children in the age group 5-7 years being less significant than that observed for the 7-9 year olds. From this research South (1999) suggested that if the botanic garden experience is to produce any significant impact on schoolchildren's environmental awareness, BGEs need to stimulate pupil interest by challenging their conceptual thinking.

Bowker and Jasper (2007) explored the conceptual learning of pupils who attended the BGEs' guided visits in the Eden Project in Cornwall. They adopted a personal meaning mapping (PMM) tool to measure how "a specified learning experience uniquely affects each individual's meaning-making process" (Bowker & Jasper, 2007, p. 139). These researchers asked 30 primary school pupils aged between 10 to 11 years old to describe a tropical rainforest by writing and drawing on worksheets administered before and after the lesson. The instrument used for this (PMM) was based on the child-centred principle which focuses on the knowledge, feelings and perceptions that the children consider important. Furthermore, with regards to the PMM, Adams et al. (2003) have outlined its usefulness in measuring children's understanding along four semi-independent dimensions, those of extent, breadth, depth and mastery. In the work of Bowker and Jasper (2007), the analysis of the concept maps showed that children's understanding of tropical rainforests increased comprehensively as they participated in the BGEs' guided lessons. In light of these results, they drew the conclusion that children can achieve learning even in the short amount of time available on a visit.

Some researchers have investigated the processes of how children learn about the environment during school trips to botanic gardens. For example, Jones (2003) tracked more than 150 young people who visited the Birmingham Botanical Gardens and Glasshouses with schools, with families, and with out-of-school leisure groups and applied a range of qualitative research methods, such as participant observation, focus groups, and text analysis. The findings of the study suggested that children learned better when teachers, BGEs, peers and chaperones were engaged in children's activities. Furthermore, it was revealed that young people can use their previous knowledge to decide where to focus their attention so as to gain new knowledge and to decide what they find more or less interesting. Overall, the experience in botanic gardens has a positive impact on young people's environmental understanding but of most significant is the part played by personal experience for developing a better understanding of the environment, as one child who participated in the research reflected:

I think to learn you've got to have hands on experience. If you just learn from textbooks about the environment, say about how plants are grown, you don't actually look at them, and you don't experience them. (Jones, 2003, p. 2)

Similarly, Stewart (2003) investigated the experiences of seven groups of primary and secondary children aged from 5 to 18 during their school excursion to the Royal Botanic Gardens in Sydney. Both pre- and post-visit interviews with pupils (n=50) were conducted and a survey (n=284) about their visiting experience was carried out. The author reported that school trips to botanic gardens usually involve two types of learning: learning for cognitive gains and for "scheme-building" with the former referring to the measurable cognitive outcomes that pupils can achieve during tightly-structured activities such as visits to specific displays to conduct specific tasks whereas the latter is achieved when pupils demonstrate long term recall of plants, plant displays and specific locations at a botanic garden. Furthermore, these recollections are linked to specific outcomes sought by the classroom teacher and can contribute to pupils' deeper understandings of plants, especially plant structure and biodiversity. In sum, Stewart (2003) proposed that practical activities, especially sensory experiences form a key part of pupils' long term recall of their botanic garden experiences.

Although botanic garden visiting experiences have a positive impact on children's cognitive learning, some researchers have found that inappropriate teaching may lead to a low level of pupil learning. For example, Bowker (2004) studied a group of primary aged (7-11 years old) children who were led by a schoolteacher to the Eden Project in Cornwall. The purpose of his study was to elicit the most effective methods of utilising a teacher-led school trip so as to enhance children's perceptions of plants and their understanding of people's relationships with them. In total, 72 participating children were interviewed within one month of the initial visit and the researcher discovered that they were affected by the sensory experience of being immersed in a garden with such a profusion of plants from around the world. Although most of the children showed an interest in the plants that were relevant to their lives, it emerged that they were often unsure of the relationship between plants, people and resources. For example, just over 50% of the children were able to articulate the link between plants and food, but only 33% could make an unprompted link between plants and clothes. In light of this outcome, the researcher contended that to facilitate children's understanding of plants and the relationship that human society has with them, it was essential for the educator who is guiding the group during the visit to challenge pupils' ideas. This can be achieved by asking "quality questions that will focus children's attention on important aspects of plants such as plant adaptations to their climate or how people have used and cultivated certain plants" (Bowker, 2004, p. 240).

Similar results were reported by Tunnicliffe (2001), who explored the quality of primary school pupils' (aged 7-11) learning when they were looking at plants exhibits in the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew by collecting and analysing their conversations during the visit. The author found that their level of cognition was low as they only "talk spontaneously about the easily observed features of plants, but "the functions of plants were hardly talked about though a few conversations mention seed production and obtaining food" (Tunnicliffe, 2001, p. 32). In order to promote higher-order learning on the visits, the author proposed that teachers and BGEs' teaching could focus on a particular set of anatomical features and encourage pupils to construct their understandings through "predicting, hypothesizing design observational protocols, gathering data and evaluating it" (Tunnicliffe, 2001, p. 33).

Chapter summary

In past centuries botanic gardens were institutes for researching plant taxonomy and training botanists in the past centuries however, nowadays promoting biodiversity and conservation has become their main working agenda. The review of the historical institutional development of botanic gardens has indicated that in the 21st century they have a major responsibility for engaging the public in understanding plants and their living environments through various education programmes, including those of school visits for children and young people. The review of the relevant limited literature regarding botanic garden education for visiting school groups that has been reviewed here justifies the need to further investigate this issue. Most specifically, the following reasons have been identified:

Firstly, the outdoor learning experience is significant for young people's development. Learning outside the classroom has been shown to be an efficient way of engaging pupils to learn in authentic contexts (Osborne & Dillon, 2007). In particular, the main themes of environmental education can broaden their understanding of science, by putting their classroom learning into a real world context and consequently, stimulate their desire to study.

Secondly, botanic gardens can provide a rich setting for conducting environmental education (Johnson, 2004). Botanic gardens have been identified as providing learning settings for centuries and learning in garden environments has been advocated by many education philosophers. In recent decades the educational role of botanic gardens has been enhanced as the development of environmental education and education for sustainable development has grown in significance. The analysis of the literature on educational visits to botanic gardens involving schoolchildren has confirmed the potential for such botanical experiences to facilitate pupils' academic learning and engagement with the environment.

Thirdly, to date, informal educators' teaching practices have been relatively overlooked by education researchers. The literature regarding school trips to informal settings reviewed here has revealed that most of the researchers focused on children's experiences during the visits and only a small proportion of studies have investigated schoolteachers or informal educators' teaching. That is, the other side of how the educators create the learning experience and endeavour engage their pupils in the subject matter in such settings, which is main aim of this research, has received scant attention to date