Comparing bananas and coffee

Comparing bananas and coffee

(example of use in Kew Gardens)

Mark designed a task which related to the question ‘How and why do humans use plants?’: specifically how do people use plants to make money. In the first part of the task, students worked in small groups to research one of two plants in the greenhouse that are grown commercially on a large scale and which are marketed globally: bananas and coffee. The second part of the task involved students in presenting their findings to one another and a discussion of the ‘best’ crop to grow.

Each group collected a rich variety of information on their crop. Students used the mobile camera to take photographs of their crop in situ – its leaf, plant shape and size, and Google to search for the different stages of the life of the plant, its flowers and fruit. The students used the phone to collect key information on the crop from the signs available in the greenhouse, notably links supplied by the teacher, and YouTube videos embedded in the app. This included the official botanical name of the crop, its country of origin, the countries around the world where the crop is usually grown, climate information on these places, the process of growing and harvesting the crop, and the production of the final product – coffee. The links supplied by the teacher supported the students’ research by directing them to sources of information they may have been unaware of – such as global market sites on the cost per tonne of the crop, and statistical information on the distribution of the crop around the world – showing how the market price of products changes over time.

The students made a short presentation on their findings to make an argument for their crop. In rehearsal, one student interviewed another asking a set of questions in a journalistic style, while a third student directed/video recorded the presentation. This process supported the students to work collectively in-situ to review their information and select their key points to produce a concise presentation. The time constraints placed on the video option on the app were effective in enhancing the rehearsal process –encouraging the students to explicitly reflect on their statements about their crop.

Standing in front of their chosen plant each group delivered their presentation to their peers, followed by spontaneous applause and some questions. The students then discussed which was the best crop to grow: bananas or coffee. This discussion initially focused on the financial income of the crop, before turning to questions of expenditure and investment, transport, environmental issues, and the conditions of labourers.

The app supported the students in connecting the plant in front of them within the UK with how the plant looks like across its life cycle (i.e. over time), across geographical locations, and across different commercial contexts – national and global markets. This enabled the plant to be placed imaginatively in a new context and to connect issues of geo-spatial awareness with inferences concerning climate, finance and global marketing.

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