Day Four of Joey's Plant Lab

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

Big Idea

How do plants participate in cycling matter through an ecosystem? Students consolidate their understanding of plant structures and function to answer this important question, and demonstrate a basic understanding of The Oxygen Cycle.

Setting Up the Investigation

This is Day Four of a Four Day Lesson.  Click here for Day One of Joey's Plant Lab, here for Day Two of Joey's Plant Lab. and here for Day Three of Joey's Plant Lab.

On Day One of this investigation, students engaged in a guided exploration where they constructed a hydroponic system, and set up a treatment to investigate the effects of sunlight on plant growth.  On Day Two, students further refined their understanding of plants by examining plant structures.  On Day Three, students researched and created models of plant structures vital to the photosynthetic process.

On this fourth and final day, they will consolidate all they have learned to explain that plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water, and that the energy released from food was once energy from the sun.  Finally, at the end of this unit, they will be able to construct and use a model to describe the transfer of matter and energy through ecosystems.  These lessons will serve as a foundation for their understanding that plants are the basis of every food web on Earth.

Connection to The Next Generation Science Standards

In this investigation, students complete the work that will lead them to understand 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); and 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 5 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Plants Are Producers from

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

One copy for each student of Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 11 Check-Up

 Day Three

The Preparation Time for This Investigation is approximately 10 minutes.

Materials Needed:

One copy for each student of Xylem and Phloem Get Things Moving from

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

One set of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Word Wall Cards Lesson 10

One paper copy for each student of Plaid Pete Discovers What Matters in Ecosystems - Word Wall Cards Lesson 10

1 stalk of celery per team (freshly cut end of each stalk)

food coloring 

cotton swab

Day Two

Materials Needed:

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

2 White Carnations - per team

2 graduated cylinders - per team

Blue Food Coloring

1 Small Tub

1 Broad Flat Green Leaf - per team

Clear Nail Polish

Cellophane Tape (e.g. packing type tape - not scotch tape)

1 Microscope Slide per team

1 Microscope per team

Day One

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

5 minutes

Review Learning Objectives & Success Criteria

Today is the final day of our Plant Lab - and one my students have been anxiously awaiting. Today is the day we get to retrieve the hydroponic systems from the cupboard and observe what has occurred.  

I review our learning objectives and success criteria.  My students have been hearing them each day. However, I emphasize that today is the day they will be expected to pull it all together and connect these related objectives to form a cohesive understanding of the importance of plants in the cycling of matter through ecosystems.

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.

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.

Guided Exploration

20 minutes

Retrieve Hydroponic Systems

I instruct my team leaders to retrieve their hydroponic systems from the cupboard where we have kept them since their construction on Day One.  They bring them to their desks and carefully remove the plastic wrap on top.  I hear exclamations of, "Look!" when they see that the lettuce seeds have germinated.  I have to explain this term, "germination" - as some of my students (even in this rural area) are unfamiliar with it.  (They continue their excitement and are amazed when less than a week later they see that the plants are really beginning to grow!)

Construct Models of Hydroponic Systems & Answer Question

I tell my students, "Turn to Page 2 of your Lab Booklets and construct your "Post Germination of Seeds" Models please."  Students get busy creating their models, using colored pencils to construct the pale green leaves.

I then tell my students to turn and talk in their teams, then answer the question at the bottom of the page:  Where did the plants get the materials they needed for growth?

When teams have had an opportunity to finish, I ask them to share out.  After students have shared their ideas (water, and the air), I say,""You know, I didn't hear anybody say soil."   Then I ask, "Do plants need soil to grow?"  In this Video Clip students work through the process of using their academic language to agree, disagree, and add on to each other's statements - finally coming up with evidence based on the hydroponic systems that they have created, that soil is indeed not necessary.

I tell my students that we will be leaving these hydroponic gardens in the window so that they can see for themselves that these are in fact the materials that plants need to grow.  There are some students for whom this misconception will only be allayed by "seeing is believing."  They will need to see these lettuce plants grow and thrive in the hydroponic culture in order to be convinced.

At the end of the day when I go through students' Science Notebooks, I find a few that look like this example.  This student has answered:  They get the material from water, sunlight, carbon dioxide, and chlorophyll.  This indicates to me that this student is writing what they think is supposed to be the correct answer, but they still are not clear about where the plants got the materials they needed for growth.  Tomorrow, I will pull these students aside, and conduct a small re-teach group.  It may be that they are not yet ready to let go of their misconceptions, however; some pointed questions may nudge them along in the right direction.

Construct Models of Plant From Lab B & Answer Questions

I have my students retrieve the plant from the windowsill that they used for Lab B, and then turn to their Lab Booklets on Page 3 and construct their After Treatment Models.  As teams finish their models, I tell them to turn and talk, and then answer the questions together at the bottom of that page.  Students are easily able to identify that the absence of sunlight caused the difference in the leaves, however the fourth question proves difficult for them.  I prompt them to turn to page 6 and the information they collected on the process of photosynthesis from the video.  

Share Out & Discussion

We discuss the answers to their questions, and confirm that yes, chlorophyll is indeed the substance that gives leaves their green color, and as we discovered in the video, it is an important part of the process of photosynthesis.  We have to work through a review discussion about photosynthesis, because even though we learned about it in Day Two of Joey's Plant Lab - students are still not clear about this concept.  These are the kind of "sense making" discussions students need to have in order to overcome their misconceptions and to integrate new and difficult information and vocabulary.

I ask a question, "If the "stuff" the matter that makes up a plant is not acquired, or obtained from soil, then where does it come from?" It takes some discussion and prompting, but students are eventually able to determine that based on the information they have learned and their investigations, the matter in plants comes primarily from sunlight, air (carbon dioxide) and water.  We have to clarify that plants mostly use the carbon dioxide in air, rather than oxygen.  

I tell my students, "We need to look at the third part of our learning objective here - the part about how plants cycle matter through ecosystems.  I know you are probably familiar with the fact that plants are food and that is one way they cycle matter.  We will be talking more about that.  However, there is another way plants cycle matter that I bet you haven't thought about.  I think we need some more information about this."


20 minutes

Introduce Task

I pass out the student copies of Plants Are Producers from  I tell my students to get out their highlighters and pencils. I display the chart that I used to teach our close reading strategy in Lesson  4, and review it with students:

Close Reading Strategy For Complex Text

  1. Read the text through once quietly to yourself to get a general idea of the information presented.
  2. "Chunk" the text one paragraph at a time.
  3. Identify important words and define them.  Look for context clues.
  4. Write the "gist" or summarize the main ideas of the paragraph in the margins.

Close Reading of Informational Text

First Paragraph

After my students have read through the text once quietly by themselves, I read the first paragraph out loud.  By now, my students are becoming accustomed to using this strategy.  I ask them to quickly find the definition context clue for "photosynthesis" and highlight it.  I explain that this time though, it is split up into a couple of sentences and they will need to combine parts.  I call on a student who correctly responds:  "a process using light from the sun, water, and carbon dioxide to make food."  Then, I ask my students to turn and talk and determine a "gist" statement for this first paragraph.  I give them a few moments to discuss this, and then call on a student who responds, "Plants take in carbon dioxide and exhale oxygen."

Second Paragraph

I read the second paragraph out loud.  Then I ask, "What is the chemical that gives leaves their green color?"  I call on a student who correctly responds that chlorophyll is the name of the chemical.  Rather than have them formulate a "gist" statement for this paragraph - I want to use it as a teaching point.

I say, "Remember when we constructed compounds with the unifix cubes?"  My students nod their heads (It was a very fun experience!).  Well, when you combine molecules of Carbon, Hydrogen, and Oxygen - you get glucose - which is a name for sugar.  The chemical formula for glucose is C6H12O6.  That is what this paragraph is telling you happens during photosynthesis.  The chlorophyll in the leaves reacts with light to produce energy that "splits open" the molecules of water.  Remember, water is 2 atoms of Hydrogen, combined with 1 atom of Oxygen (I write this out on a slip of paper).  Then, a chemical reaction takes place.  Remember, a chemical reaction means that an entirely new substance is formed.  The Hydrogen from the water is combined with the carbon from the carbon dioxide (Remember, the chemical formula for carbon dioxide is CO2, so it is made of Carbon and Oxygen), and some of the oxygen to create a sugar.  The rest of the oxygen is released into the air."

I tell my students to write this as their "gist" statement:  A chemical reaction happens inside the leaves of the plant: carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen are used to make sugar, and oxygen is released into the air.  

Third and Fourth Paragraphs

I tell my students that we are going to combine the next two paragraphs, as they are related.  I read them to my students, and then have them turn and talk to determine a "gist" statement.  I call on a student who responds:  "Plants and animals (including humans) depend on each other because plants give off the oxygen we need to breath, and humans give off the carbon dioxide that plants need to make food."  I point out the sentence about "algae fields near the poles."  I ask my students, "What does that mean?"  I am not surprised that many of my students have a misconception that there is no plant-life near the poles because it is too cold to support plant life.  I project pictures from my computer that I have googled so that they can have a visual to support this.  Later during our literacy block, I will ask students to work together to answer the questions on the right side of the page.  This is an example of a completed student's notebook page.

I tell my students, "I think we have the information now that we need to help us to create a model for how matter, in the form of gases, cycles through an ecosystem.  

Team Activity

5 minutes

Complete Models

This is a very rigorous concept.  Therefore, I have constructed a simple model, and am asking my students to "fill in the blanks."  I tell my students to turn to Page 8 of their Lab Booklets.  I read the directions at the top, and then ask them to work in their teams to fill in the bottom two boxes.  This is a completed student's notebook page.

 I explain that the most important thing they need to remember about plants is that they are the foundation of The Oxygen Cycle on Earth - and without them, every other single life form would cease to exist.  

When they have finished, I tell my students, "Let's gather our Lab Booklets and head back to our Comments & Questions Chart for a final review."  

Reflection & Closure

15 minutes

Revise Comments & Questions Chart

My students have arrived back at the meeting area.  We go through the Questions side of our T Chart, looking for questions that have now been answered with this additional information.  When we are finished, our Comments & Questions Chart is full of questions that we have answered, and some great comments.  Students have really enjoyed this plant lab - and the tremendous amount of learning and thinking they have done is reflected in their Science Notebooks.

I am particularly focusing on my ELL students for this segment of the lesson, because that is the language objective I have built in for them during this series of investigations.  I am using the same routine I established yesterday to scaffold their responses:

  • 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 Language structure" in all of our writing now, and I will ask pairs to work together to word questions using formal English Language 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.

I tell my students, "I hope these experiences in Joey's Plant Lab have begun to give you some idea of the importance of plants in the ecosystems of our planet.  When you come in tomorrow for your "Do Now" activity, I am going to ask you to go back to the five questions that you answered as a pre-assessment for this lab, draw a "line of learning" and revise your answers below that line.  I can't wait to see all of your new understandings reflected in those revisions!"

A few days after this lab has ended, I will give my students the Plaid Pete is Perplexed - Lesson 11 Check-Up.  Photosynthesis is a difficult concept, so I have given them the text support.  The Check-up for Lesson 8 asked students to complete a model.  This Check-Up asks them to construct a model. This check-up also contains information that exceeds the assessment boundaries for 5th Grade (photosynthesis at the molecular level), but I have included it so that students will have some exposure to middle school concepts that they will need next year, and so that more highly capable students will be sufficiently challenged.