and buy-in from the public and governments. This buy-in is based on
perception, communication to the public, and opportunities for the
public to participate in conservation activities (Schenk et al., 2007).
Public support for such efforts is difficult to obtain when much of
the general public is not familiar with core ecological principles
(McBride et al., 2013). In addition to a working knowledge of ecological concepts, a feeling of connectedness is pivotal to the type of attitude that people develop toward the environment (Louv, 2008;
Schultz et al., 2004). Several studies spanning multiple generations
concluded that early childhood interaction with the environment
through leisure and structured activities influence adult attitudes
toward the environment (Awert et al., 2005; Corcoran, 1999; Tanner,
1980; van Weelie & Wals, 2002). These findings influenced the 2013
Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The NGSS for the life sciences focus on several core ideas, including biological evolution, both
unity and diversity.
Biodiversity can be an abstract concept that is challenging for
teachers to convey and students to comprehend (Lude, 2010). To
make biodiversity easier to understand, we conducted a hands-on,
investigative activity to expose middle-school students to differences
in biodiversity between native and invaded landscapes. We hypothesized that:
1. students would observe more plant species in the native than
invaded landscape; and
2. as a result of higher primary producer diversity, students
would observe more primary and secondary consumers in
the native habitats.
Creation of the KIND Garden
A demonstration garden was created at the USDA-ARS Invasive Plant
Research Laboratory in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, USA. The garden
was designed by Eileen Pokorny to fulfill requirements of her Master
Gardener’s certification program. The Keep it Native Demonstration
(KIND) Garden showcases native Florida plant communities and
highlights differences between these habitats and one dominated
by some of Florida’s most problematic non-native invasive weeds
(Figure 1). Installation of the KIND Garden began in 2010 and it
is continually evolving. New plantings and ongoing maintenance
are performed by USDA-ARS employees, Master Gardeners, boy
scouts, and student interns. The KIND Garden is used for a variety
of outreach activities to educate the public about native plants and
engage them in a discussion of the impacts of invasive plants.
Methods and Results
Twenty-five school children (grades 5–7) participating in a science-based summer program visited the KIND Garden in July 2015.
The short activity (~2 hours) began with a brief classroom introduction about the importance of native organisms, diversity, invasion
of habitats by exotic organisms, and how these topics are related.
Specifically, we surveyed the class using a show-of-hands to gauge
impressions regarding biodiversity and invasive species. The students
were then split into small groups (4–5 students), and each group was
Figure 1. The Keep It Native Demonstration (KIND) garden layout. (A) Invasive plant species are shaded, and native communities
are described using the Institute of Regional Conservation designations ( http://www.regionalconservation.org/). (B) An aerial view
of the KIND garden (26.083806°N, –80.240612°W, Google Earth, August 22, 2016).