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  5. #ASEchat 160 How do you teach plant biology

#ASEchat 160 How do you teach plant biology

#ASEChat 7 July 2014

#ASEchat focused on the topic of plant science teaching, led by Harriet Truscott from Science and Plants for Schools (@SAPS_news)

Plant biology practicals

The topic began with a discussion of the plant biology practicals that teachers had found most inspirational with their students. 

  • Using bubbling Cabomba pondweed to show photosynthesis (with bicarbonate in the water) was immediately mentioned.
  • Greg @gregtheseal says he is teaching it tomorrow with Yr 10 “planning an investigative approach, will provide equip and protocol and see what they can tell me”. He says “it does work well, helps re-enforce HSW and a better understanding of limiting factors.” He uses the investigation on Practical Biology: SAPS also have a protocol and have a ‘how to’ video online at
  • Using algal balls to show photosynthesis and respiration was also brought up as a potentially very useful practical – although a couple of teachers had not had this go as smoothly as they hoped. Again, SAPS have a ‘how to’ video online, which may help with trouble-shooting, at
  • Richard Needham @viciascience said that “spinach chlorophyll extract and prism to show colour absorption works well”
  • Richard @ViciaScience also said “A good carbon dioxide sensor is very useful for teaching plant science”. He specficially recommended a digital sensr made by Vernier. He added that “@science_news has a blog of mine for recording changing CO2 levels in different fruits.”
  • Greg Seal @gregtheseal asked “anyone tried comparing pH of stinging nettles and Doc Leaves?” Harriet @SAPS_News shared a SAPS protocol on this @Bio_Joe said that an A2 student had done this as a SNAB project
  • Andrew Routledge @BrachyPro says “I like to dissect a daffodil when doing plant reproduction. Good size and all the bits are easy to spot. wrong time of year now”
  • Andrew also suggested “Plasmolysis with red onion”
  • David Cotton @Newmanphysics said “Been trying to get a plant to absorb highlighter in water to fluoresce; working on it”
  • Richard @ViciaScience “@agittner does interesting germination expts with different seeds soaked in brine to model island colonisation”
  • @BangGoneSci – “Trying to suck water from a cup up as many straws as possible joined with sellotape. Great fun up a light of stairs.” “Give students box of straws and roll of sellotape and see how far they can suck #asechat Continuous, no gaps, lots of pressure” “it's a great competition and a good introduction to water movements. Student vs redwood Who can move water the furthest”. @SAPS_news contributed a video
  • David contributed the results of a banana on a medicpix detector, showing that bananas are radioactive.
  • He added that “most educational suppliers will sell UV lamps you want UVb for fluorescence or get UV LED's from @mindsets_uk

Trouble shooting

  • The discussion moved onto why plant science practicals don’t always work, and aimed to identify some issues that could be tackled.
  • Testing leaves for starch was brought up, with a couple of people including Liz @ljrn42 saying that the iodine doesn’t turn black.
  • Growing pollen grains – SThaw @aegilopoides reports that pollen grains are difficult, because the “types of pollen suggested usually not about” in the time of year they need to do the practical. @SAPS_news said that this might be something that SAPS can help with. 
  • Liz @ljrn42 raised the issue of plant science practicals being scheduled in the SoW for the wrong time of year
  • Helen Rogerson @hrogerson said that it was a while since she’d done any plant science practicals (Helen is a physics specialist ). Joe Wright @Bio_Joe suggested “tensile strength of plant fibres” and “pressure in xylem & phloem”, Greg @Gregtheseal suggested “light levels and leaf size”, and Richard @viciascience suggested “leaf stomatal imprints for learning to set up a microscope”. Harriet @SAPS_News suggested a protocol looking at physics of coconuts: 

Outdoor science and live plants in the lab

  • Some people also talked about the live plants in their lab.
  • David Cotton @Newmanphysics “I used to always keep a Venus flytrap in my lab. They can choke on flies.”
  • Practical Action Sch @JulieBrown01 said “students love desert plants. Buy them died up, put in water and in a day you have a lovely fern...take it out and it dries up.”
  • Katheriene @DrBiol brought up the importance of outdoor learning, suggesting “I do a lumberjack challenge, plant vocab hunt & SAPS colour collection sticky strips”. David @Newmanphysics suggested “Plant burrs and the invention of Velcro. Engineering mimicking nature!”.
  • Richard @Viciascience said “Using IR temp sensor to measure leaf temp before and after coating with Vaseline works well and quite a lot of physics”. David Cotton @Newmanphysics commented “I will try this with my IR camera when I finish marking and post pics.”
  • Katherine talked about the importance of “real world immersion in the subject, fresh air, context” and “The practicals bring the theory to life. Plant cells are far more impressive in real life than a pic in a book”. Katherine also said “perhaps not more important than for other areas of science but plant practicals/outddor activities are very accessible” 

How and why do we need to inspire students about plant science?

  • @Bio_Joe felt that plant practicals “students don't empathise with plants in the same way as they do with human/animal bio. A hands on approach helps”
  • @BangGoesSci said “the potential for students to see the as 'boring' so I always try and jazz up plants whenever I can”
  • @SAPS_news asked whether students struggled to see the big picture and to understand the global importance of plants in our lives, e.g. food security
  • @Bio_joe replied “plants *are* boring they don't even do anything #everybiologystudentever
  • Steve Marshall @stevethedoc1 suggested “great to start with which parts of which plants do we eat/ need/ use?”
  • Helen @hrogerson “the OH was convincing y9 plants were more dangerous than animals the other week”
  • Practical Action Schools @JulieBrown01 “look at our food global STEM challenges to see bigger picture
  • @BangGoesSci asked “Should we only teach plants alongside sustainability to reinforce their importance?”
  • Katherine @DrBiolo said the touch sensitive and carnivorous plants 'do' something but I know exactly what you mean! #asechat
  • David suggested taking a look at the Moses bush (dictamnus albus) which produces a flammable gas.
Other activities
  • Among other activities, Liz @ljrn42 said that “for engagement in photosynthesis nothing better than photosynthesis song. I play it when I can.”
  • UoNBioscienceCareers said “Need a video on plant pathogens here's Prof Matt Dickinson and elephant grass” and a video on roots
  • Alex Weatherall @A_Weatherall raised the ideas of STEAM – Science, Tech, Engineering Arts and Maths