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Hello,

I teach at a K-8 school that has each 8th grader choose and carry out a year-long Capstone Project. As much as possible, we want this project to resemble work in the world -- not just a "report" on a topic, but real work carried out in a field or discipline that interests the student.

I have one student who is studying genetics, and it has been difficult to figure out how to involve her in doing what a scientist does. I am intrigued by the idea of using Fast Plants in the classroom, but do not want to simply hand the student a set of directions and have her use plant observations to confirm something she already knows. 

I wonder whether, given fairly limited time (a few months) and resources, she would be able to set up and run an actual experiment, rather than a demonstration.

Or perhaps there is something in between the two -- an investigative approach to growing and studying the plants?

I would be grateful to hear from teachers or students who have carried out experiments using Fast Plants. Thanks!

Gloria

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Happy New Year, Gloria!

Sorry that this important question caught us gearing down for the holidays. You pose a fundamental question about independent and guided research that we take very seriously. We share our work--an ongoing and ever-emerging process of research and learning with Fast Plants--in ways that we hope others will run with because we are dedicated to the ideas that:

  • the best way to really develop understanding about plants is to grow them ("to know a plant, grow a plant")
  • an important part of understanding the nature of science and get a glimpse into the culture of the scientific community is to personally engage in the practices of scientific thinking and investigating.

We are constantly learning from growing Fast Plants, and they are used in investigations by students from pre-K to graduate--for sure your Grade 8 students could learn through an investigation with Fast Plants. And the very short life cycle means that a time frame of a few months is plenty of time for your students to grow two complete life cycles. This means that they could do their own selection or genetics experiment--raising and intermitting parents with traits of their choosing, harvesting the seed, growing out the offspring to observe and analyze the traits of the offspring--or conduct two iterations of an investigation into some environmental condition and how it affects Fast Plants growth and development (very cool to be able to do the experiment once and then see if the results can be replicated--that so rarely happens in a science class, yet it is fundamental to the work of a scientist).

Are you hoping to have every student conduct their own unique experiment, or do you want them to collaborate as a class on a shared investigation? I wonder if you would be comfortable facilitating your students to generate questions about plants and inheritance/breeding/natural selection/survival/etc. (whatever direction you want to steer them, if you want to guide their learning--or maybe you want to leave it wide open), then you could get some ideas from us about ways that any challenging questions might be investigated? We have many, many protocols we could give you links to, so many it would be helpful to have a little more information before we start giving you links :-)

Thanks for contacting us, and thank you for being so committed to having all your students engage in this kind of a project.

--Hedi

Thank you so much for your reply! Very interesting to think about replicating experiments -- I have talked with other teachers about how we might engage students in this work.

Right now, I have only one student who will be doing a plants project. So she can conduct her own experiment, without worrying about what everyone else will be doing. I asked her to generate some questions, and she came up with the list below. I realize that some of them may display an imperfect understanding of genetic inheritance at this point, but you can see that most of her interests are in breeding, heritability of traits, and the interaction of plants with their environment.  She is also curious about how genes may be expressed differently in different growth environments.

I would appreciate feedback about whether any of these questions (below) sound promising -- and where we might start. Thank you!

Gloria

Plant question ideas for capstone project:

 

  • Some outside thing affecting the plant

    • The effect of ___ on a certain plant and how the plant differs from a control plant after the growing cycle is done

  • Environmental changes

    • Can a certain trait in a plant keep it from dying in the cold/heat longer while a control plant doesn’t?

      • If so, can this cold resistant plant be bred with another plant to make it’s offspring cold resistant?

  • Speed of growth

    • Does a certain trait in a plant make a plant grow faster?

    • Will the offspring of treated plants grow faster than the offspring of a controlled group of plants?

      • Will the offspring of two selected plants that grew fastest in a group of plants grow faster than their parents?

  • Cross-breeding

    • What traits will a cross-bred plant show when two separate plants with different traits are used and will it always be the same traits shown?

  • Height

    • Will the offspring of two tall plants be bred together to make an even taller plant? (same concept as speed of growth experiment)

  • Super plant

    • Can we breed a plant resistant to a certain infectious disease?

Your student has some interesting questions; definitely some ideas that could be the basis of an investigation. Here are some thoughts about each that are intended for your information to help in guiding the capstone project:

  • Some outside thing affecting the plant

    • The effect of ___ on a certain plant and how the plant differs from a control plant after the growing cycle is done

      • This would be easy to turn into a question that can be the basis of an experiment. We would want to talk about the importance of sample size and how sample size impacts what kind of conclusions can be drawn. So, one plant with experimental treatment compared to one control plant would be like trying to decide if a drug works by giving it to one person. 
      • It would be great to guide the next steps from this by having a conversation about what elements in the environment the student thinks have the greatest impact on plant growth and development and relate those ideas to real phenomena that happen in nature. Here's a resource on environmental factors and growing Fast Plants that you may find useful: http://fastplants.ning.com/page/growing-environment
  • Environmental changes

    • Can a certain trait in a plant keep it from dying in the cold/heat longer while a control plant doesn’t?

      • If so, can this cold resistant plant be bred with another plant to make it’s offspring cold resistant?

        • Because you have time for a couple of generations, then a selection experiment such as this is definitely possible. Keep in mind that cold will slow their growth considerably--temperature will impact the number of days to flower, seed maturation, etc. This questions opens the door for a good conversation about how selection acts on a populations rather than on individual plants. The same comments hold true for the other ideas related to selecting for traits.
  • Super plant

    • Can we breed a plant resistant to a certain infectious disease?

      • Probably best to steer clear of this--we do this research at the University level, but managing the plant pathogens and conducting this type of experiment would be pretty complex for a youngster.

Hope this is helpful! Please keep us posted,

Hedi

This is very helpful, Hedi, thank you!

We will likely go with the idea of a selection experiment. I will encourage my student to make a list of possible traits to select for, and we'll discuss the reasons why cold resistance may not be the best one to choose if she wants to finish her work in time for the end of the school year. 

I will definitely keep you posted, and I appreciate your help!

Gloria

Sounds great! If you poke around on this site, you'll see a thread of discussion about selecting for salt tolerance that Jackson did and tracked here online.

Also, you're more than welcome to come try out a beta online course that we are testing out--there's a module on the relationship between environment and phenotype that I think you'd find useful and also information about planting Fast Plants in bottle growing systems. You'll need to register, but it's free to use. Here's the link: http://fastplants.riselms.com  Just click on the course catalog to see the modules that we have published so far. These modules have useful background information to take into consideration as you guide your students' experimental design and trait selection.

Jackson will be posting in the "Growing Fast Plants" module with regular updates, including pictures, as he grows Fast Plants that were started late last week. This would give you some ideas of what to expect that your student will encounter.

Thanks so much! I registered for the online course and have enjoyed the videos. I'll also look for the discussion thread about selecting for salt tolerance -- that might be just the thing for my student. 

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