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Science and the city

Volume 7 Number 1 - April 2010

Yu-zhu Cai, Ying-ying Zhao, Mei-ling Xiu

French: La science et la ville

Spanish: La ciudad y la ciencia

With its Energy Plants Show in 2009 Shanghai Botanic Garden (SBG) highlighted the important role of plants in generating green energy. As Yu-zhu Cai and colleagues explain, the event reflects the SBG’s commitment - as the only botanic garden in a mega city of over 20 million people - to remaining a vital hub for science education.

Shanghai is the largest city in China and one of the biggest in the world. Hailed as a green pearl, with its beautiful natural scenery and variety of plant-design, SBG is the only one of its kind in the metropolitan area and it is therefore no surprise that it has become a key location for science education. Last year during a process of curriculum reform, the Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission gave the go-ahead for the Garden to become a Science Education Base.

As a result, the SBG is publishing a series of activity packages for primary and secondary schools and constructing a children’s garden which will be opened in 2011. A new exhibition hall is also being built.

Times change and learning is no longer confined to the classroom, and to purely theoretical knowledge. Nowadays, students like to go outdoors, to see with their own eyes what is described in their textbooks. This heralds the beginning of real environmental awareness. As its gardens are probably the city’s nearest approximation to the natural environment, the SBG has launched a series of educational activities with a number of organizations. They include a gardening exhibition, popular science lectures, ecology talks, production of plant specimens, delphinium painting, and the most successful of all – the sunflower harvesting activity during the Autumn Flower Show which was held in 2008 and 2009.

As such a huge metropolis, Shanghai consumes massive amounts of energy all the time. To raise awareness of the energy crisis, SBG held the Energy Plants Show, and because public awareness of energy plants was low, the sunflower, which is well known to the public, was the main plant used for harvesting. This meant that visitors could enjoy the plant exhibition and at the same time learn how energy plants can be used.

The sunflower is a plant more representative of the countryside than the city. Most city people enjoy experiencing the natural world as relaxation from a busy working life, and sunflower picking is the kind of participatory hands-on activity that is met with enthusiasm from children, young people and older ones. Each person takes a pair of scissors, chooses and cuts a sunflower. Then, holding up the fruiting face of the plant they can take and taste the seeds – experiencing first-hand how the oil they consume every day comes from the seeds of these beautiful flowers.

Sunflower is one of the new kinds of ‘energy’ plant which could play a part in solving the crisis over fossil fuels. Understanding the potential for sunflowers helps to make all of us aware of other energy-related plants. After participating in this particular activity both adults and children will remember the knowledge they gained about the sunflower and be able to apply it in related areas. This type of practical education is very successful compared to just attempting to teach information about energy plants in a traditional classroom way – we consider it to be twice as effective.

Each botanical garden needs to communicate with others about its plan of educational programmes. Firstly, SBG serves mainly the urban population,  especially children and the elderly, whereas Chenshan Botanical Garden, another integrated botanical garden, is currently under construction in a rural area of Shanghai, so duplication of educational resources needs to be avoided and proper targeting of the different sectors to be planned. In addition, the nature of the education programme should also be carefully targeted in terms of selecting educational content and methodology. Only on this basis can there be successful education. Getting the children to enjoy learning is one of the big challenges; and planning activities that will feed the children’s interest while enhancing the features of the garden itself is of prime importance to the development of SBG.

The latest plan formulated by SBG is to bring out a series of activity packages to teach popular science, and to renovate its education facilities. We will introduce these science activity packages for both primary and secondary school pupils, designing them to cater for a variety of different ages, periods of time and needs, and with better quality services. Improving facilities is essential to ensure the best botanical garden education and SBG is in the process of building a new science exhibition hall, using sound, light, electricity and other more high-tech means to demonstrate the processes of plant growth, evolution and so on. Using both everyday and innovative techniques and combining these with features of the botanical garden will not only command the interest of the children but will play a vital role in science education.

At the same time, a second exciting development will be taking place. SBG has the largest hall of tropical and desert plants in Shanghai, the city’s only bonsai garden and orchid room, as well as themed gardens. Currently, these excellent resources are not fully used for science education. This year, SBG has been approved as the new Science Education Base in the second curriculum reform by Shanghai Municipal Science and Technology Commission, which offers an excellent opportunity for the development of the Garden. In this process of reform, we will focus on cultivating a creative spirit and desire for innovation with practical ability, so that the joy of domestic gardening can really touch the hearts and minds of the children.

Long-term planning is always a key factor at SBG. A Children’s Garden is seen as an important requirement for the future, to cater for both the physical and mental development of our children in Shanghai. SBG is planning the construction to begin in 2010 and to be completed the following year. The garden will be constructed with facilities for a variety of age groups, so that the children can acquire knowledge through playing games and carrying out activities in the appropriate areas. Such activities will include on-site talks, interactive workshops, demonstrations, multi-media seminars, signage and outdoor classes. Most areas will be able to accommodate a whole class engaged in collective activity, and in smaller spaces parent-child activities or playing alone can be arranged, allowing a good balance of public and private.

For the future, the Garden will concentrate on providing science education along these lines, with constant evaluation, while carrying out the second curriculum reform and the development of the children’s garden, compiling data, relevant supporting materials, researching and designing further training programs.  Our aim is always to establish a sound scientific education system to foster students’ appreciation of innovation, practical ability and the spirit of research. Our motto is: Turn your steps into the garden, turn your mind to nature.



Shanghai est la plus grande ville de  Chine et une des métropoles les plus grandes au monde avec près de 20 millions d'habitants. Connu sous le nom de perle verte, le jardin botanique de Shanghai est le seul jardin botanique de la zone métropolitaine. Il est donc compréhensible qu’il s’agisse de l'une des destinations éducatives les plus populaires de Shanghai. En 2009, s'y est tenu le Energy Plant Show qui avait pour objectif de faire prendre conscience du potentiel des végétaux comme nouvelles sources d'énergies. Plus de 100 exemples de végétaux « énergie » en ont fait partie, tel le tournesol et le blé. On encourageait les gens à faire le lien entre les graines de tournesol et l'huile qu'ils utilisent pour faire la cuisine.  L'an dernier, lors d'une révision du curriculum, le comité municipal des sciences et de la technologie de Shanghai a accepté que le jardin devienne une base pour l’Éducation Scientifique. Depuis, le jardin publie une série d'activités pour les écoles primaires et secondaires et construit un jardin pour enfants qui devrait ouvrir ses portes en 2011. Une nouvelle halle d'exposition scientifique, aussi en construction, démontrera les procédés variés des végétaux par le biais de sons, de lumière, d'électricité et autres moyens de haute technologie. Il encouragera aussi les enfants à s'intéresser à la science.


Con casi 20 millones de gentes Shangai es la ciudad mas grande de China y una de las mayores áreas metropolitanas del mundo.  Aclamada como la perla verde, el jardín botánico de Shangai es el único jardín en esa metrópolis. Es por ello que no es una proeza pequeña que sea uno de los lugares mas importantes en la ciencia educativa popular en Shangai. Durante el 2009, el jardín tuvo la exposición ‘Energía y plantas’ para concienciar el potencial del recurso energético que existe en las plantas. Con mas de 100 formas de ‘energeticos’ para despertar el interés en la gente, entre estos se usaron como ejemplos el girasol y el maíz, orientando una conexión del aceite que se extrae de ellas y del cual dependemos comúnmente para cocinar alimentos. El año pasado durante la reforma del currículo educacional, la Comisión Municipal de Ciencia y Tecnología de Shangai aprobó que el jardín sea Base de la Educación Científica.  Como resultado, el jardín ha publicado una serie de paquetes de actividades prácticas para las escuelas primarias y secundarias, además de la construcción de un jardín para niños que se inaugurará en el  2011. Al momento está en proceso una nueva área de exposición de ciencias, en esta se usaran temas como  luz, sonido, electricidad entre otros de alto contenido técnico en vías de mostrar los procesos tan variados en los que las plantas participan, animando oportunamente a niños a involucrarse en la educación científica. 

Yu-zhu Cai
Assistant Engineer

Ying-ying Zhao

Mei-ling Xiu

Shanghai Botanic Garden
No. 1111 Longwu Road, Shanghai
Shanghai 200231


Email Yu-zhu