Sep 9, 2010 5:53 PM by Ashley Korslien (KRTV)

Great Falls students explore plants through ethnobotany

A recent grant from the Cascade County Historical Society to the Lewis & Clark Interpretive Center and the Gifted Education Program of the Great Falls school district is bringing seven elementary schools together for a special project.

On Thursday, a group of 36 students kicked off the first of several special classes as part of the program. Mary Rearden, coordinator of the Gifted Education program, explained, "We have chosen an ethnobotany unit, which is the study of our native plants in Montana and how different tribes use them, in the past as well as the present."

One of the students, fifth-grader Charlie Halcomb, is learning the ins and outs of making rope; he said, "First you go out and find the dogbane, then you go back and put it on a little mat becuase it gets messy, and you snap it with your foot."

Mary Ellen Ergle, an Interpretive Center park ranger, noted, "We have done plants that are edible, plants that are medicinal, and plants that are utilitarian."

The students learn about the scientific benefits of each plant, and their importance to Native Americans, by seeing it for themselves.

Charlie noted, "Hands-on gives children their own experience to learn, all they have to know is what to do, and they can learn by their own by just experimenting by themselves."

Ergle concurred, saying, "They get outside and get to see the world around them. They are seeing the whole big picture of how the world fits together."

After the project, the students will create an encyclopedia and a display for teachers and museum staff to use to teach others about ethnobotany.

In a few weeks, the students will travel to Fort Belknap and continue their plant research with students at the White Clay School.

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