example of a regional extirpation of the African elephant, shifts in
plant community composition were shown (Beaune et al., 2013).
A Fruit “Good to Think”
Student behavior and engagement suggested that M. pomifera and
its “story” were suitable to trigger substantial interest, evident not
only in the students’ questions, but also in their taking pictures
and picking up fruit from the ground, weighing it in their hands,
smelling it repeatedly, trying to open the fruit, or dropping it on
the ground to listen to the sound. One student wanted to know
how the plant could be grown from seed. Others asked whether
they could taste the fruit, indicating a strong curiosity. I discouraged them from doing so for general safety reasons, saying that
this plant and its fruit were “chosen not because they are good
to eat, but because they are good to think,” to paraphrase a dictum by Claude Lévi-Strauss (1963 , p. 89). Some students
immediately, when walking on, used their smartphones to check
the “story” and to find more pictures of the tree. These observations are in accordance with results published by Strgar (2007),
in whose work the fruit of M. pomifera triggered in pupils and students ages 9–23, at first sight, more interest than a choice of
unusual plants and plant parts that included the carnivorous sundew (Drosera aliciae) and the sensitive plant (Mimosa pudica).
Striking features may be a key not only to a successful exploration and accessibility of content, but also to positive attitudes in
students. Schussler and Olzak (2008) found that students
recalled “atypical” carnivorous plants particularly well, making
these species suitable to motivate students for plant work. Strgar
(2007) found in work with plants that the element of surprise
substantially raised the level of interest in learners. Surprise can
be caused by plants that look unfamiliar or offer unusual multi-sensory experiences (Robischon, 2016), a story, or unexpected
insights. Generally, “cognitive novelty” is believed to be an
important factor influencing students’ experience of fieldwork
(Cotton, 2009) and can be expected to both stir “epistemic curiosity” and reward that curiosity with the satisfying feeling of having learned something new.
Considering that interest in animals has been found to be
greater than interest in plants (Lindemann-Matthies, 2005), botani-
cal interest may be enhanced by an ecological connection to the
animal world. This may be especially fruitful if a gigantic creature
is part of the “story,” as large body size appears to add to animals’
appeal to people (Ward et al., 1998). Apparently, the allure of
“giants” to some extent carries over to large plants too. Lückmann
and Menzel (2014) found that teenagers knew trees better than
herbs, suggesting a stronger interest in larger woody plants. Fur-
ther, a link to large creatures of the deep past has frequently been
pointed out as a factor that can create fascination and hold atten-
tion (Chang, 2000; Vujakovic, 2016 , p. 214; Salmi et al.,
2017). The paleoecogical dimension in this work was clearly new
to most students, who also appeared not to be used to linking
information from other dimensions of knowledge to “school” or
“college” biology. In any case, it appears to be fruitful for there to
be a “story” to the plant, and even more so if some element of
the story becomes tangible in the object. Finally, all these “factors
of fascination” are brought together in plants with traits that are
thought to be adaptations to the impact of extinct large animal
species – an invitation to the learning adventure of making sense
of the seemingly nonsensical.
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