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Learning Activity

Light Gathering



Art Form
poetry or memoir
Science, Art, Social Studies
grade levels
You will need
Time 1 hour, or two half-hours on consecutive days


All plants have strategies to collect as much light as possible. Plants gather photons (light energy) for photosynthesis. Students will explore various ways plants gather light, and then examine themselves as “light” gatherers.


The Activity

Discussion: A plant’s job is to gather light. All plants have strategies to collect as much light as possible. Light gathering strategies are survival strategies. A sphere or ball shape is the most efficient shape for collecting evenly disbursed energy.

Discus how kids first draw trees when they are little. A ball atop a trunk? Why do kids do that? Because the shape is accurate, although the proportions uually are not.

Ask students to think of plant life that forms a ball-like shape, or a half ball (hemisphere, dome).

• (The leaf canopy of most trees and bushes are rounded hemispheres of horizontally arranged leaves.)

Point out that floating algae in water forms spherical cells that gather a lot of light when there is lots of alga for light to bounce off in all directions.
Point out that the basis for animal life in the ocean is the floating alga in plankton, mostly ball shaped.
Ask students to think of another strategy for getting the most light. Get them thinking about leaf shapes. How does grass get enough light?

• (Grasses generally have tall flat blades arranged vertically, so the light penetrates far down the leaf as the sun crosses the sky)
• (Shallow water plants like cattails, reeds, sedges and rushes use the same strategy.)

Ask students who are used to forests or gardens to think about how the woods layer themselves—trees, low smaller trees, bushes, then ferns and non-woody plants. Ask whya forest would develop layers.

• (Layering is plants’ way of arranging themselves so that the local plant community captures the maximum available light.)
Note possibilities for dance here: See variation below.

Distribute Student Source Sheet on plant adaptations.

Now ask students to stretch their minds a little and use “light” as a metaphor or analogy
. Ask: What does “You light up my life” mean? Why do cartoons show a light bulb lighting up in a brain?

List on the board all the meanings of light the class can discover. Elicit some or most of these:

• Energy
• Illumination, Revelation/ Discovery; Enlightenment

• Ignition (as in "Give me a light.")
• Thinking, Ideas (as in the cartoon lightbulb)
• Information
• Knowledge
• Wisdom
• Goodness; Correct Action.
• Joy, Delight, Pleasure

Help from others (You light up my life.)

Discuss Shadow, light’s opposite and complementary twin.

Point out that parts of all plants are in shadow. Is that true of people?

Maybe part of everyone must be in dark, just as with plants.

Or, keeping part of yourself in dark may be counter-survival.

If you find this Shadow direction intriguing, List some social meanings for Shadow as you did with light.

Writing Yourself as a Gatherer of Light

Write about yourself as a light-gatherer. Use these questions to get started.
Look back at the list of meanings for light.

How good are you at collecting the energy you need?
How balanced are your various parts in their light-gathering capabilities?

• Is your mind better at it than your body?
• Is your heart better at it than another part?

What kinds of “light” do you allow various parts of your self to receive?

• As a person in general? (Can you accept compliments?)
• As a growing being?
• As a creator?
• As a child of earth?

This piece of writing could be a poem, a story (Once there was a girl who had to gather light…), a personal essay, a prose memoir.

Simplified Assignment:

Directly metaphor yourself as a plant:

If you, complete with your emotions, suddenly became a plant that would reveal those emotions, what would you become?

• flowering plant, grass, tree (what kind?), seaweed?
• how leafy and in what season? Where exactly are you? What is going on around you?
• are you getting enough light? Or are you yellow with light deprivation?
• How do other living things respond when they encounter you as this plant?

• Does the rabbit eat you eagerly, or does it spit you out and make a face?

This piece of writing could be a poem or a story. Remember, this is about you, and is partly intended to show readers who you are, how you see yourself, and how competent you are at collecting the energy you need.



• Draw or paint yourself as a light-gatherer.

Movement Activity:
Stand. Imagine yourself to be a healthy tree gathering light. Stretch your arms up, move them so your leaves are in good sun. Stretch up as far as you can. Be that healthy tree. (Have the whole class be a forest) Now, imagine that the real-life you is a tree trying to do the same thing: get light. Are you a healthy tree? By the position of your body show what kind of tree the real you would make, how you see yourself as a light collector.
(Have students share their body-sculptures with others—see if the sculptures reveal their feelings.)

• Social Studies and history focus: Think of light as a human species issue over time. How is our kind doing at collecting light? How did we used to do?

• Dance: Improvise movement or a dance around a bright light source in the classroom. Each student becomes a plant of some sort.

• Dance: Go outside and look at trees. When they grow in dense groups they are tall and skinny. When they grow alone in an opening, they spread out into more of a wide ball shape. Find examples, if you can. Back inside, dance the trees growing in openings, then dance the trees growing in a crowd.

• Write: One way to get a lot of energy is to belong to things larger than yourself.
Write about an experience of belonging that you’ve gained energy from.

• A few minutes when a whole team became one?
• When a whole choir or band merged with the music?
• When your family was one?
• When you and Earth were one?

Student Source Sheet

Over vast stretches of time, plants have changed or adapted themselves in various ways so they could maximize their light collection, and thus, their photosynthesis, and thus their growth. Here are a few of those basic adaptations:

• cell structures which allow height

• wood cells in trees & bushes developed for height—now trees get first picks.

• long fibers in sunflowers, corn, nettles allowing their height.

• adaptations for very quick growth:

• corn grows fast to get the jump on competitors

• adaptations for runners and suckers, so more total light is gathered by colonial organisms and clones.

• cattails in marshes, poplar forests, plum thickets, elderberry thickets, fern masses.

• adaptations for germination rates and seed concentration, so competition becomes within the species only—many massed plants of one kind in bottom lands, wetlands—wood nettles, impatiens (snapweed)

• phototropic adaptations

• sunflower leaf stems bend and rotate to collect the maximum light as the sun moves across the sky.
• Many plants turn their leaves to face the sun.
• Some leaves fold in darkness and open in light.

I am a flame
Shining my light on others,
And when I do
I see their faces, their smiling.
When I see that I feel so good
Knowing they have received my light,
Knowing that I’ve received theirs.                Megan Swanson (4)

If I am a plant.
Not all of me receives light.
But what parts of me are yet undiscovered?
What parts am I afraid to show?
When I receive light in knowledge,
is it creativity
or is it borrowed ideas mixed with mine?
                                                               —Lexi Kays , gr 4


Human Energy

When I give light
I also receive,
When I smile
I give light to others,
they give light to me.

It is with the light
all of us give, all,
that we are free.

Hugh Brown, gr 4