Day One of Joey's Plant Lab

45 teachers like this lesson
Print Lesson


SWBAT explain how plants acquire their material for growth; describe basic plant structures; and explain how matter cycles through ecosystems.

Big Idea

What materials are absolutely necessary in order for plants to grow? Students construct hydroponic systems and set up a treatment to investigate the effects of sunlight and no-sunlight on plant leaves.

Setting Up the Investigation

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students begin the work that will lead them to explore the Disciplinary Core Idea of From Molecules to Organisms:  Structures and Processes -  that plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water (5-LS1-1); the Disciplinary Core Idea of Ecosystems:  Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics -  that matter cycles between the air and soil, and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die.  Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1) and the Crosscutting Concept of Energy and Matter  - Matter is transported into, out of, and within systems (5-LS1-1).

Please Note:  The Lexile Level for Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Sheet Lesson 8 is 890 (5th Grade Range is 740 - 1010).

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 40 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Lesson 8

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Plant Lab Booklet - Lessons 8-11

One Empty 2 Liter plastic soda bottle per team (pre-cut in two- right around the middle)

One mixing bowl per team

One measuring cup per team

One old cotton sock (or any cotton material) per team

Miracle Grow Perlite (recommended brand as it already contains nutrients)

Miracle Grow Sphagnum Peat Moss (recommended brand as it already contains nutrients)

Cling wrap

Lettuce Seeds

One green leafy plant per team

One piece of black construction paper per team


Focus & Motivation

20 minutes

Introduce the Pre-Assessment

I tell my students, "We have just finished up an investigation where we learned about the most important abiotic component of all ecosystems - water.  Today, we begin a series of investigations where we will learn about the most important biotic component of all ecosystems.  Do you know what that is?"   Sadly, most of my students can't answer this question.  Finally, one student correctly states "Plants!"  I confirm that yes, plants are the most important biotic component in an ecosystem.  I tell my students that they are going to begin a series of investigations on plants, that will help them understand our unit Big Idea #2 Matter and Energy Flow Through Ecosystems.

I very purposefully asked the above question.  I had a suspicion that a good many of my students did not understand the importance of plants to the world's ecosystems.  There are a number of student misconceptions that I am watching for during this "Plant Lab."  If students do not have a basic understanding of plants, they will not be able to grasp more complicated (grade level) ideas about the transfer of energy through ecosystems.

Common student misconceptions about plants include:

  • "Food" is defined as only something that animals eat.  Many students do not fully understand the concept of plants as producers of their own food, and therefore the very beginning of the food chain.
  • Plants get their food from the soil.
  • Plants make their food for the benefit of animals.
  • The energy in plants is "formed" rather than changed or transferred.
  • Energy adds up through the food chain giving the top predators all of the energy (They don't understand the loss of energy through heat).
  • There are more individuals at the ends of food chains than at the beginning.  Actually, the opposite is true because energy becomes depleted as you move farther along the food chain.
  • The nutrients provided by decomposers and used by plants recycles energy - not true.  If you deprive a plant of sunlight, even in nutrient rich soil, it will still die.


I pass out a copy to each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems Plant Lab Booklet - Lessons 8-11 and ask them to turn to the Pre-Assessment on Page 1.  I need to know my individual students' misconceptions, and I also want them to have a record of their own learning.  I read each of the 5 questions, and ask them to answer them as best they can.  I explain that at the end of the Plant Lab, they will be asked to go back to each box and draw a "line of learning" underneath their answer, and revise or rewrite their answer after they have experienced new learning about this topic.  I caution them to leave enough room in the box (at least half) so that they are able to do so.  

I peek over their shoulders as they are writing.  Their answers confirm my suspicions - and the need for this series of investigations.

Introduce the Scenario

I pass out the Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Scenario Lesson 8 and my students get out their highlighters.  I tell them there are 5 reader's theater parts this time, Plaid Pete, his friends, Landen, and Seth, a new girl named "Joey," and the narrator.  Students work in their teams to highlight the text and decide who will read the parts.  Students read the parts in their teams, as I circulate and listen in.

Students Read the Scenario in their Teams

As before, we are continuing to work on aspects of Reading Fluency, so I listen in for teams that are doing a great job of using appropriate phrasing, intonation, and rate, so that I can give high praise after the scenario is read.

Learning Objective & Success Criteria

Note:  Consistent with the Sheltered Instruction Observation Protocol, I am now including a language objective with each lesson.  These objectives were derived from the Washington State ELP Standards Frameworks that are correlated with the CCSS and the NGSS.

I share the learning objective and success criteria that students will be working on throughout this series of investigations:  

Learning Objective:  I can explain how plants acquire their material for growth; I can explain and describe basic plant structures; I can explain how matter cycles through ecosystems.

Language Objective:  I can use formal English to ask questions and answer questions.  [ELP.4-5.7]

Success Criteria:  I can correctly complete models that demonstrate my understanding of the 3 learning objectives.

I tell my students that in order to complete the very rigorous objectives - we are going to have to enter "Joey's Plant Lab."  So they will need to get themselves ready to embark on a series of investigations into the world of plants! 

Guided Exploration

35 minutes

The first of the next two labs will assist students in discovering that plants get the materials for growth chiefly from air and water.  Students predominantly have the misconception that soil is a necessary component for plant growth.   Building hydroponic systems is a way for students to overcome this misconception.  

The second lab assists students in understanding that without the Sun's energy, plants are unable to conduct photosynthesis, a process that is necessary for the transfer of matter through an ecosystem.

As always, I have my students work in teams.  They are working on collaborative skills, as well as language skills.

Lab A:  Construct Hydroponic Systems

I pass out copies of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters In Ecosystems - Lab Booklet Lessons 8-10: Joey's Plant Lab to each student.  I have previously cut the 2 liter soda bottles in half for each team.  I display the directions for how to create a Hydroponic Soda Bottle System at this Instructables link.  As this is a somewhat complicated process, I read through each of the directions, and then give my teams time to complete their jobs list.  Rather than having each team proceed individually, we wait until everyone has their job list for this lab completed, then we begin together, step by step.  First, we create the wick.  Then, we mix the medium.  Then we fill the reservoir, attach the grow tray, fill the growing tray with medium, and water the medium.  Finally, we sow the seeds and create a mini-greenhouse by covering the hydroponic systems with plastic wrap.

Lab A:  Construct Models of Hydroponic Systems

Once students have completed their Hydroponic systems and covered them with plastic wrap, they construct their models/diagrams in their lab booklets.  By now, my students are accustomed to constructing highly detailed models with labels.  I circulate among them (loudly) praising excellent examples, and prompting students to include more detail, as needed.  When students have completed their models, I place the Hydroponic Systems into a cupboard in a warm place to allow the seeds to germinate.

This is always a good spot to quickly ask students, "How is the model you have created today, like a real world situation?  How is it different?  We don't have a whole bunch of time - so it is a quick "thinking" question.  I want to get them thinking about how models can be useful, but also have limitations.

Lab B:  Construct Models of Plants Before Treatment & Apply Treatment

I pass out one green leafy plant to each team.  We read through the directions to Lab B, and I ensure that each team understands exactly what they are to do.  I pass out the materials to each team (black construction paper and tape).  Students work to complete their models and apply the treatment.  When students have finished, they return their plant to the window.

Clean Up

I tell my students, "Wow - we have collected a lot of information in "Joey's Plant Lab" - and we will have more to do tomorrow! Let's get our areas cleaned up and then do a quick share-out of things we noticed so far."

Reflection & Closure

10 minutes

Comments & Questions Charts

By now, my students are bursting with excitement!  I ask if they have any questions that were generated by their investigations today, or a comment about something they noticed.  I keep track of these on a piece of chart paper, where I have constructed a T table with the heading Comments on one side, and Questions on the other.  

I am paying particular attention to my English Language Learners during this segment of the lesson.  I have built in an objective for them of using Formal English to ask and answer questions.  This is a particular difficulty for many second language learners.  Today, I will scaffold this task in several ways.  

  • I will ask a specific student to listen carefully to another student's (appropriately worded) question and repeat it.
  • An English Language Learner will use non-standard English to ask a question.  I will rephrase the question in formal English and ask them to repeat it for me as I write it on the chart.
  • I will emphasize that we are working to use "formal English structure" in all of our writing now, and I will ask pairs to work together to word questions using formal English structure.  I will model a question using non-standard English first, and have them work in pairs to reword the question and then call on pairs to share out, and then I will write the formally worded question on the chart.


My students could go on for considerably longer, but I have to wind up the discussion and tell them that tomorrow we will begin to make sense out of all of the data and information we have accumulated today! Alas - we don't have any comments - but they are full of questions!  It will be a great way to start tomorrow's lab!