Teaching & Learning

USU Extension uses Tulips as Teaching Tool

Buried deep under a blanket of winter snow, tulip bulbs are patiently waiting to emerge this spring. Waiting even more patiently are approximately 4,500 Utah elementary students who planted thousands of bulbs last fall, anxious to see the product of their labors as part of the Tulips Journey North project.

Coached by professionals from Utah State University Extension 4-H and Thanksgiving Point Institute, the students are taught about bulbs, weather, climate and gardening. The program is part of USU Extension 4-H and Thanksgiving Point’s ongoing partnership with youth education and is one of many citizen scientist programs USU is involved with in varying Utah communities.

According to Corinne Mayberry, USU Extension 4-H youth education manager, the Utah youths, along with other young people across the Northern Hemisphere, planted Red Emperor Tulips and will record data on when the flowers emerge and bloom. The web-based project teaches how climate differences affect the tulips when spring arrives.

Mayberry said students will track the growth of the same plant as the season changes from winter to spring. They will discover how temperatures, sunlight, geographic location and other variables influence plant growth.

“This is one of my favorite programs as I get to watch young people make scientific observations and have moments of inquiry that really bring this project to life for them,” she said. “The participants become young scientists who can collect data, learn skills and discover evidence that will inspire them later in their lives. And it’s exciting to see interest in the project growing. We’ve heard reports of two schools in Germany that have planted tulips.”

We can answer many questions if we have data from all over the continent, Mayberry said. As scientists, we never know when we collect data how it might be useful to future scientists. As we look at long-term data from Journey North sites, patterns sometimes emerge. Are tulips in different regions blooming earlier, on average, than they were 20 years ago? What does that tell us about the pace of climate change? How could that affect other plants and living things that depend on them?

Thanksgiving Point began the Tulips Journey North project in 2007 with three participating elementary schools. Through a gift from the Burton Foundation, the outreach program is now available to 36 elementary schools in Utah. The gift also provided support for the installation of a webcam and the 4-H Junior Master Gardener program at Thanksgiving Point. The webcam can be accessed from the Thanksgiving Point website.

“The Tulips Journey North project is an example of the unique and meaningful programs the Thanksgiving Point Institute and USU Extension 4-H partnership produce to engage young people across the state,” said Dave Francis of the USU Extension state 4-H office and Thanksgiving Point Institute. “These efforts are part of the 4-H Science Mission Mandate to inspire and prepare youths for careers in these areas.”

For further information about school and youth gardening, visit the website or contact Mayberry at 801-592-9145.

Related link:

USU Cooperative Extension

Contact: Corinne Mayberry, (801) 768-4944, cmayberry@thanksgivingpoint.org

Writer: Julene Reese, (435) 797-0810, julene.reese@usu.edu

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