This activity gets kids thinking about seed dispersal from the plants' point of view. It is engaging and students love the challenge. The activity can be modified to fit your setting.
The mechanisms and benefits of seed dispersal in the evolution of plants is a fascinating part of botany. After learning about various methods that plants use to disperse their seeds (wind, water, animals, self dispersal), I then use this activity to ask students to model being plants attempting to disperse “seeds.”
In this activity, students are the plants. They have limited resources to expend trying to disperse “seeds.” The seeds are messages they write on paper to their schoolmates. Their schoolmates are the mechanisms of dispersal. The messages are limited in total size to one sheet of paper. The paper can be used for one large seed or many small seeds. Larger seeds can include more detailed instructions. Success is getting seeds from anywhere in one common area of the school to any of several envelopes in other common areas.
This activity includes many analogies to plants. Students must consider possible ways to disperse seeds. Who in the school offers the best chance for success? How much of their paper should they invest in each message? Students must consider the wording and placement of their messages. Be sure to explain that in plants, all of these decisions are the result of natural selection. More successful mechanisms for seed dispersal result in a greater abundance of those traits in a population. Plants do not “try” to do anything. There is a natural variation in any population of plants, and more successful variations become dominant because they lead to more successful reproduction.
One great enrichment opportunity with this activity is to discuss with students the differences between their coming up with a dispersal strategy versus the evolutionary changes plants undergo that select for more successful strategies. When thinking about evolution in plants rather than animals,
Often times it is easier for students to understand that plants are not trying to change, whereas it may be easier to incorrectly think that animals change over time because they want to, not because some natural variation leads to greater success and abundance.