To know a plant, grow a plant!
The AAAS Benchmarks for Science Literacy includes model and modeling benchmarks at every grade level. In the middle level, the Benchmarks state:
By the end of the 8th grade, students should know that
Model organisms are used extensively in research, and Fast Plants are a great example of this. Dr. Paul Williams developed Fast Plants to model the cabbage he was researching in order to find disease resistance that could help farmers. Students growing Fast Plants in the classroom to learn basic biological structures, functions and processes can also learn about the actual history of Fast Plants development as an introduction to models and modeling. Our "How Fast are Fast Plants?" video includes an introduction to how Fast Plants were developed that is explained by Paul himself -- The Father of Fast Plants.
Similarly, when students use Fast Plants to conduct classroom experiments about environmental effects on growth and development, this is a great opportunity for reflection on how they are modeling an environmental system. A number of resources are available online to support students' learning about models. Coe Williams wrote student-friendly story that tells how Fast Plants were developed that is on our website; it's called The Story of Fast Plants. Another online resource I like is on Teachers Domain. This particular Teacher's Domain resources includes an interactive animation, background essay, and activity suggestion for teaching about model organisms - http://www.teachersdomain.org/resource/hew06.sci.life.gen.modelorg/
We'd like to hear from you about teaching with and about models and modeling. How are you supporting English Language Learners to understand that Fast Plants are a model organism for other flowering plants found in nature, for example?