The Function of Plant Structures

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SWBAT explain how plant substructures help plants get what they need to grow.

Big Idea

Students identify the functions of plant substructures and examine how these plant substructures help plants get what they need to grow. The class will also investigate what will happen if plants only have light, water, and/or air.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, I will open the lesson by completing yesterday's plant kingdom presentations. Students will then explore plant structures and plant needs. At the end of the lesson, students will reflect and apply their new understanding of plants by setting up an investigation on plant needs.

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-LS1-1.    Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.  

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 2: Developing and Using Models

Students create and label a diagram of a plant system in their science journals. 

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept

Crosscutting Concept 6: Structure and Function

During this lesson, students examine the function of plant substructures. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.D:  Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life

The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)

Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The food of almost any kind of animal can be §traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

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)

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


40 minutes

Finishing Presentations

Today, I provide students with 20 more minutes to complete their Google presentations on the Plant Kingdom from yesterday's lesson, The 6 Kingdoms of Life: The Plant Kingdom. Here's what the finished product will look like: Team Example of The Plant Kingdom

During this time, I conference with students about their presentations. During this conference, Finding Text Evidence, I ask the students to really think about the main idea before looking for text evidence: What does vary in size mean? (can be different sizes) So what kind of text details are you looking for? One student asks, "Are we allowed to use our own knowledge or does it have to be from the text?" I ask the students to use text-based evidence only. Then, by scanning the text, these students successfully find details that truly support the main idea.  

As most student finish their presentations, I invite them to put away their computers and to join me on the front carpet. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can explain how plant substructures help plants get what they need to grow.  

Plant Substructure Sort

Prior to this lesson, I print and cut out Plant Substructures & Functions Cards and place them in a blue pocket chart: Plant Substructure Sort. Students will work together to match the plant substructure to the meaning and function of each part: Teacher Key.

Teacher Note: All of these plant terms are from the students' reading assignment from yesterday. 

I explain: Today, we're going to begin with a plant substructure sort! First, you'll be identifying the meaning of plant substructures. Remember, substructure is just a fancy word for "parts." Then, you'll identify the specific functions (or jobs) of each plant substructure. This is important because plant parts are responsible for helping plants get what they need to survive.

Referring to the Plant Substructure Sort, I continue: In the first column, I've inserted plant substructures that you read about when researching the plant kingdom. I pass out the blue definition cards randomly to students on the carpet. I want you to work with the students around you to identify which plant substructure matches the meaning on your cards. 

Meaning Cards

Students don't waste any time! This turns into a game-like activity quickly! I conference with a few students as they discuss their definitions: Students Discussing the Meaning of Substructures

As students are ready, we begin discussing the placement of each card as a class. As students take turns placing their cards on the chart, they read the the definition out loud and the class decides if they agree or disagree. 

Function Cards

We continue the same process with the function cards. I have to say, when creating this activity, I wondered if students would struggle with having so many cards and substructures to think about. During this activity, I am pleasantly surprised at how well students do at matching the cards correctly! I think that part of the reason why students were successful is because we focused on just the meaning cards to begin with and then moved on to the more challenging cards (function cards) thereafter. 


30 minutes

Plant System Pictorial Explanation

While it's important for students to seek out answers to scientific questions independently or in groups, I also like to provide students with background knowledge. When students have prior knowledge, they are often able to make great connections and stronger understandings when researching on their own. In addition, I want students to have multiple pathways to learning (teacher anchor charts, research, technology integration, ELA integration, investigations, etc.). The more pathways students have to learn new knowledge, the more likely all students will be successful. 

Plant System Pictorial

Prior to today's lesson, I create the following document as a guide for today's pictorial: Plant System Teacher Notes. To save time, I also trace the flower in the center of the poster to save time during instruction. The goal is to create this poster in front of students so that they experience and build a deeper understanding of the organization of this new information on the plant system. Here's what the final product will look like at the very end of this activity: The Plant System Poster. To encourage active engagement, I also invite students to take notes in their journals during this time: The Plant System Student Notes.

The Plant System & Substructures

Today, we are going to discuss the plant system. Can anyone tell me what a system is? (a group of parts working together to perform a function). You're right! A plant has a group of parts working together to keep the plant alive. Remember, a fancy word for part is substructure. What are some of the major substructures in a plant system? As students provide the major substructures (roots, stem, leaves, flowers, seeds), I write on the poster "Substructure: roots," "Substructure: stem, and so on... 

Functions of Plant Substructures

Beginning with the roots and working our way around the poster, I ask: What are some of the functions of a plant's roots? We discuss the functions as a class and come up with: find & take in water and minerals, hold the plant down, and store energy. I try to balance student input with new knowledge by adding on to student thinking: Did you know that roots store food? Have you noticed how plants seem to die when winter comes around? Plants continue growing from one year to the next using this stored food to begin new growth in the spring. 

The Function of the Stem

What are some of the functions of a stem? (carry water and minerals to leaves) Again, I provide students with some new information as well: Stems have special plant tissue called xylem tissue. Xylem tissue has tubular cells, kind of like a straw. I draw a picture of a straw off to the side. 

The Function of the Leaves, Flowers, & Seeds

We continue on by discussing the function of leaves. To help students visualize abstract concepts, I pass around pictures of Stomata & Chloroplasts. I also draw a picture of both concepts on the poster. We discuss how stomata let in carbon dioxide and water vapor while releasing oxygen. 

Next, we discuss the function of flowers and seeds in the same fashion. During this entire time, students are absolutely engaged, responding frequently with, "Oh now I get it..." and "Oh, now I understand why..." 

What do Plants Need? 

After discussing the function of major plant parts, it's a perfect opportunity to talk about the needs of plants! Eventually, I want students to be able to support the argument that "plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water" (NGSS Standard 5-LS1-1). 

Through student responses and teacher guidance, students come up with the following plant needs. I follow up by asking more questions to encourage thinking and ellaboration.

  • Plants need water. Why? Besides staying hydrated, why else do plants need water? 
  • Plants need mineral nutrients. Why do plants need nutrients? (to be grow and be healthy)
  • Plants need air. Why? What type of gas is in the air that plants need? (carbon dioxide)
  • Plants need light. Why? (plants capture the sun's light energy for photosynthesis) 

Would it be safe to say that plants get the materials they need for growth mainly from air and water? Some students disagree at first and explain that plants need soil. Then a student points to the Growing Seeds in the Window and says, "You can grow seeds just by adding water." (I placed these seeds in the window a couple weeks ago hoping they would come up in this conversation!) This is the perfect opportunity to set up a quick little class investigation for students to explore the needs of plants further. 

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Set Up

Knowing that we wouldn't have much time, I set out the following Plant Investigation Materials ahead of time: five jars with plant cuttings, attached labels (Plant Investigation Labels), two paper bags, three plastic baggies, and masking tape. I purposefully chose to use plant cuttings for this investigation as I knew the students (and I) wouldn't feel so badly about the plants dying. 

No Air, No Water, No Light

I hold up one plant and ask: What if a plant doesn't have air, water, or light? What do you think will happen? (Of course students think it will die.) I then ask for a couple student volunteers to place a baggie around the plant, secure the baggie with masking tape, and put the plant in a paper bag: Plant with No Light, No Water, & No Air.

No Air

For this jar, student volunteers secure a baggie around the jar with tape: Plant with No Air. This plant has water and light but no air. 

No Light

To achieve no light, students place the jar in a paper bag. Later on, we place this plant in a dark cabinet: Plant with No Light. This plant has air and light but no water. 

No Water

Next, students Plant with No Water make sure one plant has access to air and light, but not water.

Has Air, Water, & Light

The final (and happiest) plant is provided with all three (air, water, and light): Plant with Air, Light, & Water.

Students then predict which plant would grow and be healthy and which plant(s) would not survive. Students point out that the plant without sunlight won't be able to make it's own food using photosynthesis and that the plant without water will shrivel up and become dehydrated. They also agree that the plant without air won't be able to take in carbon dioxide, which is necessary for the photosynthesis process. 

Three Weeks Later

About three weeks later, students take the time to observe and discuss the results of this investigation. Surprisingly, there wasn't too much of a change between all of the plants in the jars. (I wonder if it would have worked better to use potted plants.) A the same time, there was a noticeable difference between the plant that had everything and the plants that were lacking in something. For example, the plant without water had a few dried up leaves that had fallen off and the plant without light had one very yellow leaf. The plant without air was unchanged. We discuss how difficult it is to remove ALL of the air using a baggie and tape.