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Leaves in our Lives: A Living Lab Historical Perspective
By Barb Williams, former manager of the Living Lab Program

In the Pacific Northwest, deciduous and evergreen leaves are an integral part of our lives. They provide shade, oxygen, shelter, scientific discoveries, art forms, nesting materials for animals, a symphony of sound and so much more. For these reasons I chose leaves as the topic for the first activity that I developed in 1999 as the new Manager of the Bellevue Botanical Garden Society (BBGS) Living Lab Program. Living Lab is a field trip program for elementary school students at the garden. In my activity, “Leaves in our Lives,” students learned the difference between palmate, parallel, and pinnate leaf vein patterns. They did this through hands-on activities such as: a Leaf Tic-Tac-Toe game, identifying and comparing the three leaf vein patterns, and using a graph to measure the area of cardboard leaves. Students made predictions based on their observations and looked at leaves in the Garden while learning about photosynthesis and how leaves manufacture food for the plant.

To add a little color to the program, Nancy Daar, myself and a parent dressed up as leaves. We wore green felt tunics. Each of us had one of the leaf vein patterns drawn on our tunic. It was fun and something the students remembered long afterwards. We know this because students would come up to us when we met them in the grocery store or elsewhere and tell us “You were the pinnate leaf, right?” It made our hearts sing to think our one-hour activity had been fruitful with our young learners.

I wanted students to take away something tangible that they could share with others after the program. Therefore, each student got a Leaf Tic-Tac-Toe game board and leaf cards to take

home along with written directions for pressing leaves to put in a scrapbook or table mat. As for the staff teachers and myself, we were noticing Palmate, Pinnate and Parallel leaf vein patterns long after the class was over.

It is fun to look back and see how far the BBG and the BBGS have come in the world of Education since 1999. Hopefully, leaves shall always remain an important part of the lives of those who choose Bellevue as their community and those who choose to visit the Bellevue Botanical Garden.  The garden is a wonderfully leafy experience no matter what time of year.

If you are interested in learning about the trees in Bellevue, please see  Tree Tours on the City of Bellevue website, produced by Bellevue’s Neighborhood Tree Ambassador program. There is one that I wrote for the Wilburton Neighborhood, which starts at Wilburton Hill Park adjacent to the Garden.

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