I asked my students if they thought it possible to regrow stumps of lettuce that were destined for the trash. The stumps were declared garbage—they wouldn’t be used for juicing, compost, vegetable stamp prints, or anything else. Some students thought there was at least a possibility of some activity and some students simply wanted to see what I had up my sleeve. Having been my students for a while, they knew I didn’t ask a simple question.
- Stumps of lettuce
- Spring water
- Clear container (I repurposed an empty fish tank)
- Masking tape
- Large sheet of newsprint paper
- Thin, flexible plastic rulers
- Magnifying glass(es)
I split the class into two or three small groups and designated a leader among them. They were to measure 3″ from the base of the lettuce and mark a line on it (it didn’t have to be perfect, just accurate enough to work with). They laid the lettuce down flat and cut the excess lettuce off with the ruler. This was accomplished by holding the ends of the ruler in their hands—the left hand held the left edge of the ruler, the right hand held the right edge—and pressing down firmly on the lettuce to “cut” through the leaves. Clumsy? Yes. Safer than giving them knives? Absolutely.
When all the lettuce stumps were cut, we stood them upright in the empty fish tank and a responsible student filled the bottom with 1/2″ of spring water (this had to be refreshed daily). We put a piece of masking tape on the outside of the tank with the date we began and a reference mark to show where the water should be.
Growth was apparent a few short days after we began. This appears to be an inch of growth, although the records say otherwise. The water remained clear and the outer leaves began to brown.
The outer leaves browned more and there was significant growth. Some of the lettuce stumps grew over the top of the fish tank.
Excited by the growth, the students were eager to document their observations. Each child was given a plastic ruler and tasked with measuring the current height of the lettuce and comparing it to the starting height of the lettuce.
Surprisingly, the lettuce sprouted roots. The children were mesmerized, confused, and curious about the unforeseen growth. Some wanted to touch the roots and others opted to avoid any contact with the muculent tentacles.
As expected, there were errors in measuring and the occasional rude comment between classmates about their inability to calculate adequately. A few gentle reminders and separating some children fixed this before it became a discipline issue.
By this point our expectations of a reasonable crop came to an immediate end. Two weeks of monitoring and water changing didn’t produce the lush, leafy greens we were expecting. The lettuce was in terrible shape so we officially ceased the experiment.
The water became cloudy and miry, an uninviting environment to eat healthy greens from. The outer leaves browned, wilted, and fell off. Our healthy-looking specimen eroded into an unattractive mess.
Originally, I asked my students if they thought they could regrow stumps of lettuce in the classroom with the rudimentary equipment we had available. By this point we had the answer—no. Our lettuce made a valiant attempt, showed promise, and eventually failed.
This is a project we could try again, albeit under different circumstances. After a reflective discussion, we agreed what worked against us the most was our location. I have no natural light coming into my classroom so the plants were starved of their most important need—sunlight. It was inevitable the experiment would fail without sunlight. Next time we will begin the project in my class and take it to another classroom with sunlight to grow bringing it in to observe once per week.
I wanted my students to experience growing plant life, work on their observation skills, and develop patience so they were asked to monitor the progress of the lettuce. They did that acceptably. While no one knew how well it would grow or how long it would take before we had something satisfactory, they put the time and effort not the project, displaying interest and anticipation for the duration of they project. They should be proud of themselves.