Polar Plants: Unit Outlines

Feeling overwhelmed by the amount of content in this issue of Beyond Penguins and Polar Bears? Not sure where to begin? We’ve created unit outlines for Grades K-2 and 3-5 using some of the resources found in the Polar Plants issue. Rather than a prescriptive unit, the outlines are intended to spark your creativity and help you integrate these resources into your own particular teaching situation.

The unit outlines follow the 5E Learning Cycle model – engage, explore, explain, expand, evaluate.

Have another idea for a unit about plants? Share it with us – and other teachers – by leaving a comment below!


GRADES K-2 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide primary students with opportunities to investigate the parts of plants and the life cycle of plants. It uses hands-on experiences and expository text to answer the questions How does a seed become a plant? and What do plants need to grow? The unit also develops students’ skill in making observations, and allows students to compare a wide variety of plants. This is helpful in dealing with the common misconception that trees, grass, vegetables, and weeds are not plants.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Employ simple equipment and tools to gather data and extend the senses
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Life Science (Grades K-4)

  • The characteristics of organisms
  • Life cycles of organisms

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Bring in a variety of seeds and live plants. Allow students to observe the seeds and plants, and then ask them to explain if they think a seed can grow into a plant. Accept all student responses at this point. You may wish to record student ideas and explanations on chart paper or begin a KWL chart (or one of its variations). You might also choose to use formative assessment probes from Volume 2 of Uncovering Student Ideas in Science (NSTA Press) that ask students to determine which items are plants or what seeds need to sprout. This type of formative assessment can provide valuable information about student understanding and help teachers target misconceptions that their students might hold.

Explore

In this phase, students will explore the life cycle of a plant and the various parts of a plant. Students should not be expected to have mastery over scientific concepts or vocabulary at this point. Student observations, drawings, explanation, and other data can be recorded in student science notebooks.

Seeds and Germination

Use Part 1: Cool Beans of the lesson Exploring Plants. In this lesson, students view a video that explains how to sprout bean seeds in a wet paper towel. Students replicate the process, testing various locations in the classroom in an attempt to determine what conditions are needed for seed germination. Students also observe the parts of a seed (a lima bean that has been soaked in water and split in half) and measure and observe their beans as they sprout. You might also wish to have students test a variety of seed types to determine if all seeds need the same conditions and if the type of seed affects the amount of time needed for germination.

Plant Growth

Ideally, students should be able to observe the growth and development of plants from seed to seed (or, at least, seed to flower). However, the life cycles of many plants are too long for classroom observation. One popular solution is to use a type of plant that has been bred in the Wisconsin Fast Plants Program to have a very short life cycle. Fast Plants progress from seed to seed in just 35-45 days. Teachers using Fast Plants in their classroom should refer to the Growth, Development, and Reproduction booklet for a number of lessons that can be conducted in conjunction with the growth and development of Fast Plants.

Teachers not using Fast Plants can explore plant growth with Part II: Growing Up of the lesson Exploring Plants. Students discuss what plants need to grow and watch a time-lapsed video of plant growth. Students might also plant seeds and observe their growth and development over a period of time, or observe plants at various stages of development.

Plant Parts

Next, use the lesson What Parts Are There to a Plant? to help students identify the parts of a plant (stem, leaves, roots, flowers), discuss each part’s function, and compare the parts among various plants. In the lesson, students identify and sort plant parts and work with magnifying lenses and tape measures to document their observations. Special focus should be given to roots, as research shows that many students do not identify roots as a common plant structure.

Seed Production and Dispersal

Use Part III: Fruit Wrappers and Part IV: Applying Knowledge of the lesson Exploring Plants to help students explore seed production and dispersal. In Part III, students observe the seeds inside an apple and watch a related video. Teachers might supplement these activities with other fruits and vegetables that contain easily observable seeds, or a sunflower. In Part IV, students watch a video and then collect seeds in an outdoor area by wearing a sock over one shoe and walking through vegetation. Students will then plant and observe the seeds they collected, making predictions based on what they’ve learned throughout the Explore phase.

Explain

At this point in the unit, students will have developed a good understanding of plant parts, the needs of a plant, and plant life cycles. Reading expository children’s literature, such as How Does It Grow? by Ian Smith and Seeds by Vijaya Khisty Bodach (from our virtual bookshelf) can help students further develop their understanding. Teachers might also use the pictures from Gail Gibbons’ From Seed to Plant to reinforce learning.

Once students have a good understanding of the science concepts and vocabulary, they can share what they’ve learned about plants through a story. Use the lesson Drawing a Story: Stepping from Pictures to Writing to support students as they move from oral to written storytelling and demonstrate understanding of seed germination, plant growth, flowering, and seed production.

Expand

Ideally, student questions and interests drive this phase of the unit. Some possibilities include conducting investigations with different types of seeds and plants, discussing gardening, cooking, and nutrition, or learning about plant diversity and ecosystems around the world. Teachers might also build a simple plant press and invite students to collect plants, flowers, and leaves to press and preserve. A field trip to a local park, nursery, or botanical garden can also enrich the unit of study and provide new directions for inquiry and investigation.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for both formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Student discussion, completion of the KWL chart, or completion of the formative assessment probes in the Engage phase will provide insight into the ideas students bring to the plant unit.
  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Student discussion, drawings, or science notebook entries during the Explore phase will provide insight into their current understanding of the science concepts.

Summative Assessment

Students’ stories serve as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


GRADES 3-5 UNIT OUTLINE

Summary of Purpose for the Unit

This unit is designed to provide elementary students with opportunities to investigate the plant life cycle. Special emphasis is placed on understanding flowering, pollination, and seed production. It uses hands-on experiences and text to help students make a connection between the plant life cycle and the foods we eat.


Standards Alignment

National Science Education Standards: Science Content Standards

Science content standards are found in Chapter 6 of the National Science Education Standards.

Science as Inquiry (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Ask questions about objects, organisms, and events in the environment
  • Communicate investigations and explanations

Life Science (Grades K-4 and 5-8)

  • Life cycles of organisms (Grades K-4)
  • Structure and function in living systems (Grades 5-8)
  • Reproduction and heredity (Grades 5-8)

IRA/NCTE Standards for the English Language Arts

View the standards at http://www.ncte.org/standards.

1 – Students read a wide range of print and nonprint texts.

3 – Students apply a wide range of strategies to comprehend, interpret, evaluate, and appreciate texts.

4 – Students adjust their use of spoken, written, and visual language (e.g., conventions, style, vocabulary) to communicate effectively with a variety of audiences and for different purposes.

5 – Students employ a wide range of strategies as they write and use different writing process elements appropriately to communicate with different audiences for a variety of purposes.

11 – Students participate as knowledgeable, reflective, creative, and critical members of a variety of literacy communities.

12 – Students use spoken, written, and visual language to accomplish their own purposes.


Unit Outline

Engage

Have students complete the multimedia activity Supermarket Botany, in which they match the food items shown (mostly vegetables) to the appropriate plant parts (roots, stems, leaves). This could be conducted as a whole class activity on an interactive whiteboard, or by students at individual computers. Teachers lacking Internet or computer access could replicate the activity by bringing in the food items and having students group the physical objects. This activity will serve as formative assessment and reveal how much students know about plant parts. It also leads in to the unit focus on the connection between pollination and food production.

Explore

If students need more time to learn about plant parts and their functions, use the lesson What Parts Are There to a Plant? The book A Parade of Plants by Melissa Stewart (from our virtual bookshelf) includes a section on the parts of plants that may also be helpful in developing student understanding. If students were successful completing Supermarket Botany with limited assistance, you may opt to skip this section of the Explore phase.

Although this unit emphasizes pollination and seed (and fruit) production, it also is designed to enhance students’ understanding of plant life cycles. Ideally, students should be able to observe the growth and development of plants from seed to seed (or, at least, seed to flower). We’ve chosen to include activities that use a type of plant that has been bred in the Wisconsin Fast Plants Program to have a very short life cycle. Fast Plants progress from seed to seed in just 35-45 days. The Fast Plants Growth, Development, and Reproduction booklet contains a number of activities and inquiry-based investigations that can be conducted as students plant seeds and observe the first 12 to 14 days of growth. (Teachers not using Fast Plants can substitute other plants into this unit framework, but should realize that the time from seed to flower might be substantially longer. Adjust the unit accordingly.)

Flowers should appear on the Fast Plants after approximately 13 to 15 days. At this time, students should begin to explore the parts of a flower and their functions. Begin with the Flowering activity on page 14 of the Growth, Development, and Reproduction booklet. In this activity, students dissect a flower from one of their plants and label its parts. You can enhance this activity by providing a variety of flowers for students to dissect and examine. Large flowers like lilies have easily labeled parts and are thus excellent for study. A local florist might be willing to donate older flowers to your classroom for study! You might follow this with the Flash-based activity Life Cycles, in which students dissect a virtual flower.

Next, students explore the concept of pollination and pollinators. In the Fast Plants Pollination activity (see page 18 of the Growth, Development, and Reproduction booklet), students learn about a honeybee’s body structure, its ability to transfer pollen, and its role in pollination. Students then create “beesticks” and pollinate their plants. If you aren’t using Fast Plants or don’t have the materials needed to create “beesticks,” you can substitute Lesson Plan 1 from the Partners in Pollination three-lesson series.

Next, all teachers should use Lesson Plan 3 from the Partners in Pollination three-lesson series. In this lesson, students learn about adaptations that flowers have developed to “encourage” pollination and consider the complementary relationship between pollinators and the plants they pollinate. You might supplement the lesson by asking students to examine real flowers or photos of flowers and identify adaptations that encourage pollination.

At this point (18 to 35 days after planting), seeds will develop on the pollinated Fast Plants. In the Fertilization activity (see page 24 of the Growth, Development, and Reproduction booklet), students dissect and measure the pistils several times to observe seed development. Supplement this activity with pictures and discussions of fruit-bearing plants to help students connect what they observe with their plants to some of the food items they classified during the Engage phase. You might also bring in fruits and vegetables that contain seeds for students to dissect and observe.

Explain

In this phase, nonfiction children’s literature helps students solidify and extend their understanding. Books such as From Seed to Plant and A Parade of Plants (from our virtual bookshelf) can be used as read-alouds or independent reading.

Students can then share what they’ve learned about plant growth and development through a creative writing assignment. Students might create a comic strip showing the stages of germination, plant growth, pollination, and fertilization. You might group students into pairs and have each pair write a story from the perspectives of a plant and its pollinator. Or students might write and act out a Readers Theater skit that explains the scientific concepts in dramatic fashion.

Expand

Ideally, student questions and interests drive this phase of the unit. Some possibilities include conducting investigations with different types of seeds and plants, discussing gardening, cooking, and nutrition, or learning about plant diversity and ecosystems around the world. Teachers might also build a simple plant press and invite students to collect plants, flowers, and leaves to press and preserve. A field trip to a local park, nursery, or botanical garden can also enrich the unit of study and provide new directions for inquiry and investigation.

Assess

This unit provides opportunities for formative and summative assessment.

Formative Assessment

Formative assessment is conducted throughout the unit. For example:

  • Student completion of Supermarket Botany during the Engage phase will provide insight into their understanding of plant structures and functions. Reteach as needed, as this understanding is foundational for the rest of the unit.
  • Observation of students’ participation in class activities throughout the unit will provide insight into their current understanding and engagement with the topic.
  • Completion of drawings, graphs, and other activities during the Explore phase will provide insight into students’ understanding of the plant life cycle.

Summative Assessment

Student work from the Explain phase (comic strips, stories, Readers Theater scripts) serves as summative assessment for the unit. Student work can be assessed with a rubric that includes criteria for scientific accuracy, use of vocabulary, and overall quality of work.


This article was written by Jessica Fries-Gaither. For more information, see the Contributors page. Email Jessica at beyondpenguins@msteacher.org.

Copyright March 2009 – The Ohio State University. This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 0733024. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. This work is licensed under an Attribution-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported Creative Commons license.

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