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BYOP - bring your own plant

getting the CO2 down and the learning up!

do click on the links in the text below - all worth a read
hargrave school plant wall

Higher than normal CO2 levels will directly impact badly on human cognition. As more & more research comes in, we realise that the level for damage to occur is lower than was first thought. Many, many children's school performances are currently damaged. As we seek to make learning better, a simple target for improvement and for significant marginal gain is getting the CO2 levels down. There is much interest in plants and air quality - and much good research like this RHS paper, but here it is children's cognitive performance that we are dominantly focussed on. All other associated improvement is a bonus!

Countless studies confirm that the right plants can have an active role in reducing CO2 and increasing oxygen particulalry in any closed space (although plants also respire and are counter effective as oxygen producers at night in the dark). We have been encouraging schools to harness the power of plants through Bring Your Own Plant projects, which really do make things better during the school day. Better oxygen brings behaviour, engagement, wellbeing and other gains. BYOP is currently a wildy viral thing to do, so please join in - better learning, health gains and some science too - what's not to like! This page is a quick guide to what to do:

Firstly - which plants?: helpfully NASA has published their own research (Wikipedia summary here) because colonising Mars et al will need some plants that do a great job making oxygen from exhaled CO2. James Clarke at learniture.co.uk then made some of that list congruent with a list of plants that do not cause irritation or worse in contact with children, and that gives a definitive list (the Clarke List) of these few ideal plants (super sensitive kids, leave out 3 and 4):

1: Dwarf Areca palm – (Dypsis lutescens)
2: Boston Fern (Nephrolepis exaltata)
3: Devil's Ivy (Epipremnum aureum)
4: Chinese Evergreen (Aglaonema commutatum)
5: Spider Plant Chlorophytum comosum)
6: Aloe Vera

You can also contact James for complete plant walls with 30 holders ready to go (see below).

children planting their BYOPs <-- their plants, for their wall -->a plant wall

Secondly having given this list to the children, they buy and bring into school "their" plant, which they should name affectionately. Naming seems to make this a very popular activity but keeps the plants, their welfare and their impact foremost in the students' minds. They often greet their plants in the morning for example and observe / monitor their moisture levels etc.

minica money plant

Ideally, the plant needs to be in a white pot - normally the school provides these for uniformity and to make sure they fit the plantpot holders. Photosynthesis uses light absorbtion, white pots reflect light a little more to help balance this. The data gains for white pots vs dark pots might seem v small but the impact in terms of meta cognition is significant: children think about "Why white?".

A white background behind the plants helps too.

Thirdly, measuring the CO2 at perhaps three points during the day, before and after the plants were added will surprise you. It provides a good data visualisation and graphing task too, of course. Target CO2 is to keep below 1,000 parts per million (ppm) throughout the day, and you will all notice when levels are worse (above) than that. See this report from a school in Dubai where the plants then went on to make a difference in 162 other classrooms (the original school's website here)

Humidity too

The CoVID pandemic has brought a number of problems to schools and working spaces. CO2 spikes can be a useful indicator that you are not ventilating the space well enough to minimise aerosol plumes in confined spaces. But lately the role of humidity has become increasingly clear in research: put simply, moist air (above 40% humidity) helps the body to battle infections and of course with windows necessarily open to ventilate, with dry winter air, and / or with air conditioning too, air can become very dry. Water troughs or even wet towels on radiators can boost humidity, but actually Plant Walls or just lots of plants (1 per learner) with moist soil really do help get the humidity up. Even more reasons for BYOP!

Extension activities:

For Maker philosophy schools there are a number of STEM projects to auto-water plants, to meter the moistrure or growth, or track the CO2 thoughout the day. I've used this one for example for my own "learning plants". But low tech / no tech is all you need for just the BYOP project.

plant care kit electronic

There has been a steady trickle of research reports confirming that the aroma of Rosemary can significantly enhance working memory - see this from the British Psychological Society for example, or see this paper. Or Shakespeare's "There's rosemary, that's for remembrance;...". But also there is a semiotic gain as a quick rub of a Rosemary bush with both hands can be a powerful way to symbolise "important test next, let's really focus"

An interesting debate might be opened with children when they hear that genetic modification of plants is leading to plants that "scrub" the air cleaner for health and cognitive function. Cue conversation about scientifc ethics maybe.

Some schools - the example picture below is Wesley College in Australia's Perth - are putting fully hydroponic walls into their science spaces as science artefacts. If you use the right plants these will have a dramatic impact on CO2, but also make for great science!

a hydroponic wall

This 2010 University of Technology, Sydney study, "Plants in the classroom can improve student performance" took a different direction and found that as few as three classroom plants "consistently led to improved performance in spelling, mathematics and science". The authors suggest wellbeing - the classroom is just a nicer place to be - but it is an interesting conversation for children to explore why...

And finally, a much referenced study by NASA from 1969, suggested that, in addition to absorbing carbon dioxide and releasing oxygen through photosynthesis, certain common indoor plants may also provide a natural way of removing toxic agents such as benzene, formaldehyde, and trichloroethylene from the air. But don't get over excited! To clean the air in a classroom would need a very large number of plants - perhaps whole plant walls. For BYOP we are just pleased to see the CO2 scrubbed out and oxygen levels up.

This is all part of the Learnometer.net suite of research activity.
This page first posted in 2016 & last modified by Prof Stephen Heppell, Friday, September 25, 2020 9:28 AM