By studying plant life cycles, students more prepared for Science Test challenges

Third-graders in Felice Williams’ classroom (bottom photo) mimick the process of pollination with their lily flowers and bees during their study of plant life cycles.

Blytheville Schools PR Director

Blytheville Elementary School third-graders are studying inheritance and variation of traits as their first science unit. This is done in preparation for the ACT Aspire Science Test, which will be next year in early spring. According to math facilitator Lauren Starks, the Aspire Science Test assesses students in the areas of interpretation of data and scientific investigation as well as the evaluation of models, inferences and experimental results.
Students in Megan Trucks, Theresa Bentley, Felice Williams and Courtney Flood’s classrooms have developed models to demonstrate that all organisms have unique and diverse life cycles. “One of the most essential concepts that teachers want students to grasp is that although life cycles vary from organism to organism, they all have in common birth, growth, reproduction and death,” said Starks. “According to the Next Generation Science Standards, the disciplinary core idea centered on life cycles is that reproduction is essential to the continued existence of every kind of organism. Frogs, butterflies, polar bears, rabbits, swans, sea turtles and lady bugs are just a few animal life cycles our students have studied.”
Students in Bentley and Flood's classrooms have studied that seeds can travel by wind, water and animals. Starks stated that the students created three types of models (from paper) of the various ways seeds can travel distances. Students had a goal to get their seeds to fall as far away from the tree to avoid the "zone of darkness" (the shaded area of the tree that would prevent the plant from growing). The students organized a friendly competition to determine which seed traveled farthest, made predictions about which seeds would grow best and analyzed the seed's structure in relation to the way and distance the seed traveled.
Starks went on to say that students in Williams' classroom mimicked the process of pollination by creating lily flowers from paper and bees from pipe cleaners. Green and red glitter was used as the pollen while sticky labels represented the "sticky stigma", the part of the flower where pollen germinates. “They mimicked how bees help flowers grow by having their bee go from flower to flower to drink nectar. As a result, students noticed how pollen stuck to the bee's body and observed the process of pollination as the pollen was deposited to various flowers the bees visited.”
Trucks' students investigated the life cycle of plants by growing sunflower and radish seeds, with the students predicting which type of seed will grow faster based on where the seed is placed. According to Starks, sunflower seeds are expected to germinate within 10-14 days while radishes have an average germination of four to six days. Students placed the seeds in the window to receive direct light, a bookshelf for indirect light and in a closet to receive no light. Students learned about the purpose of conducting “fair experiments” and how those experiments affect the results of scientific experiments. “Students will record their findings every day by completing drawings in their science journals, and after two weeks students will compile their data and communicate their findings,” said Starks.
Trucks commented that too many third-graders sometimes fail to realize that plants are living things too. “Through the study of plant life cycles they see that plants actually have a lot in common with animals and humans,” she said. “When asked, most of them stated that before we began this unit they did not realize plants have the same life cycle as other living things.
“As for a ‘favorite part’ of the study, it was the opportunity to plant the seeds. For the students, learning about the plant life cycle was great, but it was even better to see it for themselves. They are very excited to see the progress their seeds are making and are looking forward to observing the entire life cycle of their plants. Since (last) Friday one particular type of seed (radish) has already started sprouting, and they are very excited. They are able to observe changes and track progress daily.”
Starks concluded by saying that BES is trying to provide more opportunities to conduct experiments for its students. “We want them to know the process of experiments,” she added. “If the students know how to ask questions about anything in the natural world, that then is the basis of experimental design.
“We want to encourage the students’ curiosity. Based on what they already know, we want them to make educated predictions about what they believe will happen from their investigation. While having background knowledge of specific scientific concepts is helpful, students don’t have to know all the facts as they did for the old benchmark assessments; however, to perform well it is critical that students are good readers and know how to perform basic grade level math computations. Because the questions on the science assessments are based on authentic scenarios, we are being intentional about providing students more opportunities to conduct experiments.”