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December 11, 2015


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Investigating where plants get their

material for growth.
Authors: Andy Mickunas and Taylor Daniels of Drake University

Despite photosynthesis being a prominent topic in science education, young students and
potentially many adults carry misconceptions about where plants acquire material for growth.
This article presents an investigation which occurred in a 6th grade classroom that primarily
confronts a specific misconception about this topic. In particular, the goal of the investigation is
to answer the following question: Do plants get their material for growth from their soil and, as a
result, need soil for growth? This investigation was guided using a teacher-student pattern of
interaction that is tied to learning theory and promotes the goals we have for our students.
Despite being teacher guided, this pattern of interaction applies student ideas to direct the



Thus, conceptual change theory is

The two lessons described in the following

represented. By building on students prior

article confront a major misconception that

knowledge and using a logic flow, cognitive

many children and adults hold regarding where learning theory is utilized. The students are
plants get their material for growth. Specifically, provided a stimulus, so behavior learning
many are under the false understanding that

theory becomes part of the desired state of

plants gets their material for growth from soil.

interaction. Thus, as is clear, learning theories

The following lessons address these

support this state of interaction.

misconceptions through concrete examples, a

The work of Moreno, Ozogul, and Reisslein

logic-based line of questioning, and a student

(2011) supports the use of both concrete and

focused investigation. The concrete examples

abstract representations when problem solving

used directly diverge from the

with students. Using circuits and electricity as

misunderstanding that students possess and

a context, these authors demonstrated that

the questions asked by the teacher harness

participants that had both an abstract and

this divergence. To test whether or not their

concrete representation outperformed those

misconceptions are, in fact, misinformed, an

participants that only had an abstract or

investigation is planned and carried out by the

concrete representation. Thus, when teaching


this lesson, it was essential to include both

Throughout these lessons, students are

concrete and abstract representations to

learning in a highly social manner and teachers confront student misconceptions. We provided
concrete representations by showing our
can use various questions as scaolds.
Because students are learning together and

students healthy plants that both had soil and

with a teacher, both fellow students and the

did not have soil. Furthermore, we also showed

teacher serve as a model. Types of questions

our students videos depicting the growth of a

that are posed to the large group oer a natural bean seed without soil. The achievement of an
abstract representation occurred through
sort of dierentiation and oer benefit to all
students. Students can work through the

questions and classroom discussions. Through

questions within their own zone of proximal

the use of an investigation and application of

development. Similarly, the types of questions

knowledge, students finally returned to a

that the teacher oers students are used to

concrete representation.

directly confront specific misconceptions that

the child may have about the content.


These lessons are constructed to address

the next generation science standard 5-LS1

The following logic flow was made use of

(NGSS Lead States, 2013). This standard

to guide discussions and the

asks that students support an argument

investigation in the class during both

that plants get the materials they need for


growth chiefly from air and water (NGSS

Lead States, 2013). These lessons were


Plants grow larger with time.


The ground around plants does not

used in a 6th grade science classroom in a

school located in a highly auent
neighborhood. However, we believe these
two lessons would be appropriate in a 5th

absorb into the plant.


Plants will grow without soil.


Plants do require oxygen and water

to grow.

grade classroom and could function well in

a classroom of any demographic.


Therefore, plants growth comes

primarily from the air and water.

Role of the Teacher.

positive increases in numerous areas when

The role of the teacher is critical to the success

questions used demand higher cognitive skills.

of this lesson. Arguably, most essential to their

Specifically, students show increases in on-task

role is that they maintain a pattern interaction

behavior, length of student responses, number of

that is supported by learning theories and

relevant contributions volunteered by students,

promotes the goals that we have for our

number of student-to-student interactions,

students. With respect to questioning

speculative thinking on the part of the students,

specifically, questions should be either thought-

and relevant questions posed by students

provoking short-answer questions, extended

(Cotton, 1988). Thus, because we are currently

answer questions, or questions that eectively

working with middle school students, this

scaolding students to desired ends. These are

research is applicable. This pattern of interaction

questions that wont place a limit on students

is part of the role of the teacher.

thinking and will encourage student response.

We want questions that provide students a route

Additionally, although it is very important to

towards the conclusion that we are trying to

acknowledge student comments, responses

instruct them towards. These are questions that

should be neutral. Neutral praise promotes a

will teach our students to think critically.

classroom environment where students are not

According to Cotton (1988), older students show

punished for expressing incorrect answers.


Science is a practice where one often does not respond neutrally. This is part of the role of the
know all of the answers, so classroom


practices should reflect this in many ways. Joe

When a teacher responds to a student, their

Bower (2009), for example, citing relevant

response should ideally ask the student to

research, contends that praise often rewards

elaborate, clarify, or use this students idea to

ability instead of eort; this is a problem. If we

move the class toward the desired ends. It is

want to praise as teachers, we want to

important that you dont reword and take that

facilitate a growth mindset by praising eort.

students idea. Instead of repeating a students

This means that students develop intelligence

idea to the class, the teacher can ask the

overtime instead of it being fixed. According to

student to repeat what they said and ask the

Carol Dweck (2010), When students view

class their opinion of the idea. The teacher

intelligence as fixed, they tend to value looking

should bring focus to the idea without taking

smart above all else. They may sacrifice

the students idea and making it their own. This

important opportunities to learneven those

focus can also be initiated by asking a student

that are important to their future academic

to elaborate or clarify a certain point within

successif those opportunities require them to their idea. These two teacher moves are highly
risk performing poorly or admitting

related to logic flows and inquiry methods.

deficiencies. By praising eort, we are

Olson (2009) argues that we must deliberately

communicating to our students the presence of plan concept development through the use of
a growth mindset and that growth is our priority logic flows. This means that, as a teacher, we
not inherited ability. Bower (2009) asserts that

have a logical sequence that allows our

praise can make students dependent on

students to gradually transition from

praise. Clearly, we want our students to

experiences toward the big idea. Asking

develop an internal source of motivation;

students to clarify and elaborate and using the

positive praise can make our students depend

students ideas can help students to navigate a

on this external stimulus and thus it should be

logic flow. According to Clough (2006), this is

reduced. However, Bower (2009) does not

how students learn; that is, they learn through

argue that we should not acknowledge

investigation. Allowing students to elaborate,

students comments. We can communicate our

clarify, and guide the discussion is part of this

interest in the ideas of our students without

investigation. Teachers must provide

praising them so extensively. We communicate

opportunities for this to happen.

it with our positivity, eye gaze, and how we


Thus, asking for elaboration, clarification, and

ensure that the class is all engaged, behaving

application of the students idea is part of the

appropriately, and making sure that all students

role of the teacher.

behaving with safety in mind. Likewise, the role

of the teacher--during large group instruction--

Likewise, nonverbal behavior is incredibly

relevant to the role of the teacher. For instance,
when the teacher asks a question to the class,
the teacher should wait three to four seconds
before they call on a student. Providing wait
time has a great deal of research that supports
it use. Wait time should be extended to three to
five seconds. If this happens, response lengths
increase, the number of unsolicited response
increase, student confidence increases, and
much, much more (Rowe, 1972). Truly, this
nonverbal is related to the way a teacher
dierentiates during a lesson. Not every
student processes information at the same
rate. A teacher needs to provide every student
enough time to process the question asked
and the answers given. Similarly, nonverbal
behavior should be incredibly positive. This
means that the teacher is smiling, has his or
her eyebrows raised, and has an open posture.
Lastly, classroom management is a critical

is to move away from the student that is

speaking and towards the rest of the class.
This forces the student to speak loudly so the
rest of the class can hear the student speaking.
This makes the students ideas accessible to
the rest of the class, increases engagement,
and also allows the teacher to easily monitor
students. If one student wants to respond to
what was said by another, they are able to do
this eectively. This is the role of the teacher
and is demonstrated through the upcoming

Lesson 1
Plant with soil
Plant without soil
Bean seeds
Ziplock bags
Paper towels
Science notebooks
The premise of this lesson is to confront

component of teaching this lesson. This means student misconceptions and encourage
students to explore the question of where
that teaching style and practices reflect an
ability to see and manage students classroom,

plants get their material for growth. Prior to

a safety orientation, and the ability to keep

this lesson, there was a formative assessment

students engaged. During the lesson the

given to students to activate and assess prior

teacher is always able to see the entire class.

knowledge to help guide our teaching.

The teacher ideally should never turn his or her To begin the lesson, we present a potted plant
in soil for students to explore and observe.
back to the class. This allows him or her to


We then asked the question Where do plants

students with a plant containing no soil. This

get most of their material for growth?

was very interesting for the students to see and

Students discuss this question with their

compare, so we let the students observe this

partners and we walk around the room listening plant and make their own comparisons
to various student responses. We split the

between the first plant. As this is happening,

students up according to the results of our

we keep students on track and interested and

assessment to have students discuss, explain,

follow up with the questions: When you look at

and justify their answers on the assessment.

this plant, what is dierent when you compare

it to the first plant? To what extent does this
plant and other plants grow without soil?
Students were very engaged when interested
with the second plant and produced good
dialogue between one another. To further
students thinking and allow them to make
decisions, we presented them with the
materials and asked Using these materials,
how can we investigate the questions?

These discussion points are then shared out as Having students write down their thoughts is a
a whole group discussion so all students are

great way for them to refer back and track their

able to hear the dierent viewpoints. Our

thought process throughout the activity. We

follow up question after this discussion is: If

instructed students to decide the route of their

plants have all the things they need to be

investigation and choose the supplies they may

healthy, what happens to the plant over time? need to begin their process. As students are
We provide appropriate wait time for student

preparing their bean seed investigation, we

responses, remembering that silence is ok!

walked around the room, interacting with the

Some of the student responses included

students. Some questions we asked were:

plants grow, plants get bigger. Building o

Why are you deciding to do your investigation

the student ideas, we ask, If plants grow over

that way?What made you decide this?

time, where does the material for growth come

Students were able to keep track of their bean

from? This question brings to light some of

seed throughout the week, writing or drawing

the misconceptions students may have, i.e.,

any changes they noticed. This helps them to

growth comes chiefly from soil. After listening

stay actively involved and thinking about the

to various student responses, we presented the activity until the next lesson is presented.


Lesson 2

does this tell us about where plants get their

material for growth? Why were we recording

Students bean seed investigation
bags (from lesson 1)
Science notebooks
v=pB4ASdELBbQ (3 minutes)

what happened to our plants?

Each of these questions help to further student
thinking and get them closer to the notion that
plant growth comes from the air and water,
leaving their misconception that soil is the main
resource for growth behind. We then wanted

Lesson two of this bean seed investigation

the students to compare and contrast their

began with a time lapse youtube video of a

own investigation with another students

bean seed, similar to the students allowing

investigation, making a venn diagram to record

them to see the changes that may have

the findings. Allow time for student discussion

occurred in their bags. After this video, the

over the similarities and dierences they

students, who were very eager to share their

observed and why they may have occurred.

bean seed updates, collect their bags and

We concluded this lesson by distributing the

record any new changes for the day. As a

same formative assessment given before the

whole group, we discuss the observations the

first lesson to determine if students

students had made throughout the week.

misconceptions have been altered.

Some questions asked during this time include: Extensions

What have you noticed about how your plants It is important to incorporate extensions into
grew? How was the video we watched similar lesson plans and activities. One extension we
planned was to have students find out which
to what happened with your seed?
The whole group discussion is a way for

beans grew the most and figure out exactly

students to communicate clearly and

how much each bean seed grew. Some

eectively to others, while supporting their

questions to help these extensions

position and process using their observed

include:How can we find out which plants

evidence. Throughout the class discussion, we grew the most? To what extent did keeping
your bag open or closed help or hurt the
continued to incorporate questions such as:
After hearing what your peers said, why did

plant? How can we figure out exactly how

you make the decisions you made? Why do

much each seed grew? By providing open-

you think your plants grew without soil?

ended questions such as those listed above,

Because there was no soil in the bag, what

we are allowing the students to make the

decisions, critically think, and problem solve.


Similarly, this educational context can be used

description of how we have met the goals

to help students investigate the conservation of through these lessons.

mass. After establishing that a plant will grow

Students will support their position and

in a sealed container, students can be posed

process using robust logic and evidence.

the following question to contemplate the

This is very prevalent throughout the lessons

conservation of mass: If a plant successfully

because students are allowed time for sharing

grows in a sealed container, will that plant and

the outcomes of their investigation and the

container weigh the same after substantial

evidence that supports their outcomes.

growth? Using prior knowledge from the

Students will work and communicate

aforementioned lessons, students would then

eectively in a variety of settings including

investigate this question.

collaborating with their peers and as an

Furthermore, these lessons can provide a


reference or comparison for when students

There is ample time for collaboration within

study the Nature of Science. The Nature of

these lessons. Students are constantly

Science pertains to what science and scientists communicating with one another during whole
are like and how science is done (Clough &

group as well as small group interactions.

Kruse, 2009). Having also participated in

Most of the work completed for the bean seed

scientific inquiry, students have experience that activity is done in small groups and individually.
will help them understand how scientists and

Students will develop, pursue, and reflect

science is like. When describing the nature of

upon their own goals and thinking.

science, a teacher could ask his or her

By having students write down the decisions

students How is the work done by scientists

they may have made, as well as discussing

similar to the work that we did while learn

their decisions for the investigation, it is

about how plants grow? This is one additional allowing them to further develop and reflect
connection that these lessons oer.

upon why they are choosing to complete the

Meeting Student Goals

task in a certain way.

Many educators have high goals for their

Students will be open-minded, curious, and

students. It is important to promote student


goals throughout the course of lessons taught

The investigation is at the hands of the

in the classroom, we believe our lessons

students, they are in charge of their bean seed.

promote numerous student goals. Below are

They needed to keep an open mind, be curious

some of our goals for students and a

and use creativity when deciding and planning

all aspects of their investigation.


Students will thoughtfully utilize resources

stimuli that are meant to evoke change in the

We presented students with only a few

student. Finally, social learning theory is given

resources to complete this bean seed activity. real estate in these lessons through the use of
This was not done without reason, we wanted

teacher scaolding that allows students to

them to really think about what they absolutely

reach their zone of proximal development.

needed for their bean seed investigation.

Clearly, then, learning theories support these

Similar to scientists, the students did not get to lessons. Given this, then, one must wonder
choose which resources we provided and they

how much learning occurred during these

did not have unlimited resources. They had to


mindfully choose the precise items they

Although this type of growth is dicult to

deemed necessary for their investigation to

quantify, based on the progress that we


observed, these lessons only provide students


an introduction to where plants acquire the

Clearly, learnings theories should inform the

materials they need to grow. Although students

teacher behaviors, pedagogical strategies, and prior misconceptions were confronted,

content that are the bridge toward the goals we students were able to concoct new
have for our students. The lessons included in

explanations for the observations that diverged

this article are supported by learning theory.

from their prior understanding. Specifically,

Conceptual change theory, for example, is

while just about every student concluded that

applied by prompting the dissatisfaction of our

plants do not necessarily need soil to grow,

students and oering an intelligible, plausible,

students rationalized this by saying perhaps

and fruitful alternative to the misconception.

the paper towel we provided them provided

Developmental Learning theory is represented

some type of nutritional sustenance in lieu of

because the lessons are developmentally

soil. Furthermore, despite their experience with

appropriate; these lessons also respect the

these lessons, some students may believe that

understanding that concrete representations

plants get their material for growth from the

are easier to understand and thus should be

sun; this misconception was not directly

shown to students first. Constructivist learning

addressed during these lessons. Nevertheless,

theory is apparent because schema building is

these misconceptions still need to be

occurring through active mental engagement

addressed. Based on our observations,

that respects the role of student experience.

students did make great progress during these

Behaviorist learning theory supports these


lessons because the teacher is providing


This was made evident through the use of a

post assessment. Prior to these lessons,
students believed that a plant either needed
soil to grow or would not grow in a closed
system. By the end of these two lessons,
students clearly knew that this prior
understanding was not correct. Students
observed that a seed will, in fact, sprout in a
closed system and it will grow without soil. Our
students made progress towards the standard.
In other words, although students are have not
fully formed an argument, they have moved
closer to developing an argument that plants
get the materials they need for growth chiefly
from air and water (NGSS Lead States, 2013).
This is a major benefit from these lessons. To
fully develop an argument, these students need
more experience that directly confronts their
misconceptions and appropriate instruction
that guides them toward a fuller understanding.
As teachers, we can help our students take this
next step.

Bower, J. (2009). Pondering Praise.
Clough, M.P. (2006). Why Inquiry? The Iowa Science

Teachers Journal, 33(2), p. 2.

Clough, M.P. & Kruse, J.W. (2009). Characteristics of

Science: Understanding Scientists and

their Work. The Story Behind the Science Project

Sponsored by the National Science Foundation.

Cotton, K. (1988). Classroom Questioning. North West

Regional Educational Laboratory. Funded in part

by the U.S. Dept. of Education.

Dweck, C.S. (2010). Even Geniuses Work Hard.


Educational Leadership, 68 (1), 16.

Moreno, R.; Ozogul, G.; Reisslein, M. (2011). Teaching

With Concrete and Abstract Visual

Representations: Eects on Students Problem

Solving, Problem Representations, and

Learning Perceptions. Journal of Education

Psychology, 103 (1), 32-47.

NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next Generation Science

Standards: For States, By States. Washington,

DC: The National Academies Press.

Olson, J.K. (2009). Being Deliberate about Concept

Development: Eectively Moving Students

From Experience to Understanding. Science and

Children, February, p. 51-55.