Exploring the Magic of Plants

A casual observer wouldn’t think twice about the potted plant perched on a table in Room 701. Yet, to the students in Autumn Becker’s Science 7 class, this ordinary botanical, with almond-shaped leaves in light and dark shades of green, held the key to an absorbing unit of scientific exploration.

Over the last few weeks, Ms. Becker’s classes have studied such living organisms through the fascinating lens of photosynthesis, the process by which green plants use sunlight to create food from carbon dioxide and water. The students – working in teams of two or three – practiced planning and carrying out an experiment, while honing their understanding of independent and dependent variables. They also learned how to analyze and interpret data and how to engage in arguments based on evidence.

These young investigators recently bounded into their bright classroom, eager to continue with the captivating unit. On this particular afternoon, the task at hand was to finish up each team’s poster, which illustrated one of a series of “testable questions” they had previously explored in the lab, such as “How does the amount of carbon dioxide (the independent variable) affect the rate of photosynthesis (the dependent variable)?” or “How does water temperature affect photosynthesis?” The students were required to incorporate four components into their posters: the main question, their claim or hypothesis, supporting evidence and carefully considered reasoning.

“Have a seat,” Ms. Becker directed, as her energetic students settled into their designated spots. After concise instructions, she gave the class 15 minutes to put the final flourishes on their posters – with the help of magic markers in every conceivable color, rulers, Scotch tape and even a bottle of Wite-Out correction liquid. The teams, working with efficient focus, took pride in making their work as informative and appealing as possible.

When the allotted time had elapsed, Ms. Becker assembled the class once again. It was presentation time!

For the remainder of the period, the corridors outside the classroom doubled as an interactive exhibition of sorts. Three at a time, the teams affixed their vibrant posters to the walls. Then, demonstrating impressive expertise, they took turns delivering a synopsis of their plant investigations to several of their classmates, who listened closely, taking notes in their red science notebooks. After a few minutes, the audience of students rotated to the other poster stations, learning a little bit more at each stop along the way.

When the first group of posters had been presented, the second round began. The next teams hung their posters and spoke authoritatively about their specific findings. Eventually, every student had the opportunity to share her team poster and to learn from her classmates’ efforts. The hallways buzzed with excitement.

For this writer, it was striking to notice the poise and depth with which the presenters illuminated various ideas, and the thoughtfulness of the questions posed by the students. “We’ll explain everything to you!” one team member announced to the three classmates assembled in front of a poster about light intensity’s effect on photosynthesis. “But what if there is too much carbon dioxide?” another student asked the team who tested how CO2 impacts photosynthesis. An informed response followed.

Although Ms. Becker made sure each group had a solid grasp of the required concepts, the students took ownership of their own learning. They also relished helping each other master the material. This caring, collaborative environment resulted in many “aha” moments as these scholars amassed vital knowledge – and built up their confidence – in preparation for an upcoming skills assessment.

The exhibition session complete, the Class 7 students returned to Room 701, where they stored their posters, organized their backpacks and got ready to continue on with the rest of their days. The potted plant remained on the table, waiting to greet the next group of curious scientists.

Browse photos of the class below: