copyright 2011 by Tim Griffin

Sunflower, sunflower, grow in the ground
Root, leaf, and stem with a composite crown
Water and nutrients, Earth will provide
Sunshine and carbon dioxide

Sunflower, sunflower, what will you be?
No pineapple plant nor a walnut tree
DNA tells you just how you should grow
So you’ll be a sunflower, you know!

Each little seed that we plant here today
Is a package of sunflower DNA
A marvelous macromolecular code
That tells all your cells how to grow

Sunflower, sunflower, sunshine and soil
Learn how to turn it to flowers and oil
DNA tells you just what you should do
Turn carbon dioxide to O2

Sunflower, sunflower, what’s DNA?
A chemical code so you’ll grow the right way
A helical acid that does a great trick:
It’s deoxyribonucleic!

Gregor the gardener grew things and found
That plants are like people but grown in the ground
Babies resemble their parents, you see
The same as for you and for me

Sunflower, sunflower, you and I know
DNA tells all our cells how to grow
Whether you grow to a man or a tree
DNA holds our heredity!


For a while, I taught a K/1 split. I did a lot of gardening with my students and the room always had some botanical experiments going on: vermicomposting, hydroponics, etc… people said they could recognize my room by the smell. My students and I took that as a compliment.

Anyway, we were potting sunflower seedlings one day when a kid asked a great question. He liked sunflowers, he said, but he really loved pineapples. What if we watered some sunflower seeds with pineapple juice? Might they grow into pineapples?

This led to a wonderful debate. Most of the kids were pretty sure all the sunflower seeds would grow into sunflowers but they had to admit they didn’t know why. Naturally, we did the experiment: we set aside some of our seedlings to be watered with diluted pineapple juice, apple juice, or lemonade respectively to see what they would grow into.

Know what we got? Ants. And sunflowers, of course. Finally someone asked the big question: how does a sunflower seed “know” that it should grow into a sunflower and nothing else? Is there a tiny sunflower hiding in there or what? Using a projector microscope and my X-Acto knife, we found no evidence of anything resembling a sunflower… this led to further research. Long story short, the kids did a pretty good presentation on DNA and heredity at their science fair that year. Plus we served toasted sunflower seeds from our garden, which was a nice bonus.

Suggestions for the Classroom:
As Gregor Mendel demonstrated, you can do some seriously awesome science in a garden. Even a few small pots by a window can help you teach many of the life science standards, as well as math and writing, for the primary grades. Some quick tips for school gardening:

  • Keep it small, keep it focused. This is a scientific garden, not a farm, and the last thing you need is one more huge project to suck time out of your day.
  • Kids can draw pictures of the plants as they grow, labeling the parts of the plant and charting growth. A science journal is a great place for kids to record daily observations and to write a sentence or two. A regular composition book makes a great science journal.
  • If you are gardening outdoors, you or your students can research which plants your local butterflies like best. We cultivated milkweed and the kids literally danced with joy when the monarchs showed up.
  • Measure everything: quantity, height, weight, and anything else you or your students can think of. Record your results, graph them, and use them in math lessons; teaching math is way easier when the kids can see what they’re working with.
  • If you are gardening in containers, weigh your potted plants when you first plant the seeds; most of the mass your plants will gain will come not from the soil but from the air.
  • If you build an outdoor garden in a nonsecure area, consider the possibility of theft or vandalism when deciding what to grow. My students in East Hollywood once grew some beautiful corn (maize) and butternut squashes, which were all stolen. Then they grew tea roses, but thieves kept climbing over the school fence on weekends to cut the flowers. What finally worked for us was an aromatic garden; rosemary, lavender, sage, and so on are not so visually attractive to thieves, plus everyone can enjoy the smell.
  • One word: vermicomposting.
  • Do not assign individual plants to individual students. Experimenting on living things often involves killing them. Students don’t like seeing “their” plant dissected, so just grow a bunch of plants that belong to everyone and there will be no tears when you do experiments. On the plants, obviously.
  • See how much of what you need (pots, seeds, tools, etc.) you can get donated. Really, there should be a course in teacher grad school called “Getting Free Stuff.” Set up an account for mini-grants with if you haven’t yet done so.
  • Students should do as much of the work as possible. They will learn far more if they are doing the research, planting, measuring, presentation of data, etc; besides, you have enough to do with your own time already. One of my mottos is, “I don’t work here, I’m a teacher.”

Here are some standards from the NGSS, Common Core, and the state of California addressed by this song and the activities above.


  • K-LS1-1. Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive.
  • K-ESS3-1. Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants or animals (including humans) and the places they live.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • K.MD.A.1 Describe measurable attributes of objects, such as length or weight. Describe several measurable attributes of a single object.
  • K.MD.A.2 Directly compare two objects with a measurable attribute in common, to see which object has “more of”/”less of” the attribute, and describe the difference.
  • K.MD.B.3 Classify objects into given categories; count the number of objects in each category and sort the categories by count.
  • SL.K.3 Ask and answer questions in order to seek help, get information, or clarify something that is not understood.
  • SL.K.5 Add drawings or other visual displays to descriptions as desired to provide additional detail.
  • W.K.2 Use a combination of drawing, dictating, and writing to compose informative/explanatory texts in which they name what they are writing about and supply some information about the topic.
  • W.K.7. Participate in shared research and writing projects.
  • CA.LS.K.2.a. Students know how to observe and describe similarities and differences in the appearance and behavior of plants and animals (e.g., seed-bearing plants, birds, fish, insects). CA.LS.K.2.c. Students know how to identify major structures of common plants and animals (e.g., stems, leaves, roots, arms, wings, legs).

First Grade:

  • 1-LS3-1. Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like,but not exactly like, their parents.
  • 1.MD.A.1. Order three objects by length; compare the lengths of two objects indirectly by using a third object.
  • 1.MD.A.2. Express the length of an object as a whole number of length units, by layering multiple copies of a shorter object (the length unit) end to end; understand that the length measurement of an object is the number of same-size length units that span it with no gaps or overlaps.
  • 1.MD.C.4 Organize, represent, and interpret data with up to three categories; ask and answer questions about the total number of data points, how many in each category, and
    how many more or less are in one category than in another.
  • 1.OA.A.1 Use addition and subtraction within 20 to solve word problems involving situations of adding to, taking from, putting together, taking apart, and comparing, with
    unknowns in all positions, e.g., by using objects, drawings, and equations to represent the problem.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • W.1.2 Write informative/explanatory texts in which they name a topic, supply some facts about the topic, and provide some sense of closure.
  • W.1.8 With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • CA.LS.1.2.a. Students know different plants and animals inhabit different kinds of environments and have external features that help them thrive in different kinds of places.
  • CA.LS.1.2.b: Students know both plants and animals need water, animals need food, and plants need light.

Second Grade:

  • 2-LS2-1. Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.
  • 2-LS2-2. Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants.
  • 2-LS4-1. Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.
  • MP.2. Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • 2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph (with single-unit scale) to represent a data set with up to four categories. Solve simple put-together, take-apart, and compare
  • RI.2.3 Describe the connection between a series of historical events, scientific ideas or concepts, or steps in technical procedures in a text.
  • W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects (e.g., read a number of books on a single topic to produce a report; record science observations).
  • W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.
  • CA.LS.2.2.a. Students know that organisms reproduce offspring of their own kind and that the offspring resemble their parents and one another.
  • CA.LS.2.2.b. Students know the sequential stages of life cycles are different for different animals, such as butterflies, frogs, and mice.
  • CA.LS.2.2.c: Students know many characteristics of an organism are inherited from the parents. Some characteristics are caused or influenced by the environment.

Third Grade:

  • 3-LS3-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms.
  • 3-LS3-2. Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment.
  • 3-LS4-2. Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
  • 3-LS4-3. Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all.
  • MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively.
  • MP.4 Model with mathematics.
  • 3.MD.B.4 Generate measurement data by measuring lengths using rulers marked with halves and fourths of an inch. Show the data by making a line plot, where the horizontal
    scale is marked off in appropriate units—whole numbers, halves, or quarters.
  • SL.3.4 Report on a topic or text, tell a story, or recount an experience with appropriate facts and relevant, descriptive details, speaking clearly at an understandable pace.

Guitar Chords:
D, A, G, D7.