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Wisconsin Fast Plants® : An NGSS and 3-D Learning Powerhouse

high school students in science class working with Wisconsin Fast Plants

Wisconsin Fast Plants®:
An NGSS and 3-D Learning Powerhouse

Ask science teachers how they use plants in their classes, and many will tell you that plant studies are hard to fit into the school year, plants are too difficult to grow, or plants are boring to students—or perhaps all three!

What many science teachers don’t know is that these issues are easily resolved by Wisconsin Fast Plants®. Let’s take a look at what makes these plants such an effective teaching tool.

Fast Plants® were originally developed by Dr. Paul Williams at the University of Wisconsin-Madison over a period of 20 years, and new traits and lines are still being developed. The fruits of Dr. Williams’ labors are plants that have a short life cycle, compact size, easy growth, and a mix of uniform and variable traits. These characteristics make the plant an ideal model organism for teaching science, integrating the NGSS and other standards in K–12 classes, and meeting unique teaching and learning needs. Add to this the interest and engagement of students in their plant investigations, and you have a versatile tool that meets student and teacher needs.

"Fast Plants® are a remarkably versatile model organism that can be used to teach everything from plant science to living systems to data analysis."

—Heidi Baxter Lauffer PhD, Director of Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Fast Plants® Program,
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Fast plants are an ideal model organism for genetics and life cycle

Classroom-Friendly Plants

Fast Plants® are especially well-suited for classroom use because of their short life cycle, compact size, and easy growth. The plants complete a seed-to-seed life cycle in 35 to 40 days. Students experience and learn the full plant life cycle, and they can manipulate exposure conditions and quickly observe the results. Lee Ferguson is a science teacher in Allen, Texas, who has used the plants for 10 years. She sees her students "get excited watching their plants grow and change, thanks to their short life cycle."

The plants are petite and require minimal growing space, making them manageable within the classroom. Dr. Hedi Baxter Lauffer is the director of teaching and learning for the Wisconsin Fast Plants® Program at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her many years of teaching with the plants confirm the success of their intended purpose. "They were intentionally developed to allow large sample sizes in a small space," she explains, "which provides a robust data set for analysis."

students can observe the complete life cycle of fast plants in about 5 weeks



Hedi Baxter Lauffer PhD,
Director of Teaching and Learning,
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Program,
University of Wisconsin-Madison

Ryan Reardon,
Science Instructor,
Jefferson County International Baccalaureate Campus,

Lee Ferguson,
Science Instructor,
Allen High School,

Dan McDonnell,
Science Instructor,
North Hollywood High School,


Teachers need a living organism that is easy to manage, engages students, and helps them implement the NGSS and 3-D learning.


K–12 teachers enjoy an easy-to-manage living organism that captures their students’ attention, with versatility limited only by their imagination, and that helps them incorporate the NGSS or state standards easily and effectively.


Carolina Biological Supply Company




"With a good curriculum, the plants can help teachers hit every science and engineering practice of the NGSS."

—Dan McDonnell, Science Instructor, North Hollywood High School, California

fast plants are available with a variety of uniform and variable traits

Standards Integration

The versatility of Fast Plants® makes them an effective means of incorporating the NGSS or other standards at every K–12 level. Dr. Lauffer describes how the plants make it possible for even the youngest elementary students to "make direct observations of what plants need to survive, inherited traits, and animal/plant interactions such as pollination, which are the focus of many elementary NGSS." She also describes how the plants help high school teachers meet basic biology standards as well as more advanced environmental science and ecology standards. For example, "students learn about energy flow from the plants, and they can set up experiments to examine ecological relationships such as overcrowding."

California high school teacher Dan McDonnell has used Fast Plants® for more than 20 years. His experience has repeatedly confirmed that "with a good curriculum, the plants can help teachers hit every science and engineering practice of the NGSS."

Wisconsin Fast Plants® are also making an impact in states that develop their own standards. These states typically use the phenomenon-driven three-dimensional instruction to guide their science education. Ryan Reardon teaches science at Alabama’s Jefferson County International Baccalaureate Campus. Reardon finds the plants very effective for incorporating the crosscutting concepts dimension. For example, his students track energy flow through the plant system and life cycle, learn to recognize patterns through observation, and evaluate cause and effect.

"With Fast Pants®, students also learn science and engineering practices by actually doing them," says Reardon. "They design experiments, analyze their data, and construct explanations, and they really dig into their textbook and other research sources to evaluate their findings and communicate them to the class."

Ferguson uses the plants to incorporate 3-D learning into her IB and AP® biology classes. Her students’ Fast Plants® studies enable them to learn science process skills such as experimental planning, predicting cross-pollination outcomes, analyzing the data, and evaluating their predictions in light of those outcomes.

These teachers agree that the plants are an ideal model organism with which to teach and learn. As Ferguson explains, "Before Fast Plants® came on the scene, there were very limited choices for model organisms that were student-friendly and easy to use. Now we have Fast Plants® as a fantastic model for students." Reardon agrees. "The plants are so convenient," he reports. "They are easier and more stable than other model organisms I’ve used, so you get more results with less work."

"ELL students are able to conduct the experiments and record their observations and the interaction they have with their non-ELL classmates supports their language acquisition and integration into the overall classroom."

—Hedi Baxter Lauffer PhD, Director of Teaching and Learning, Wisconsin Fast Plants® Program

Inspiring Students

Student enthusiasm for the plants is best described by their teachers. Reardon’s students "really own their plants and care for them, even first-time science students." Ferguson’s students "get excited about their plants, and some take them home to keep them growing." McDonnell’s students "are engaged and even compete for the best-looking plants." Lauffer’s students "get attached to their plants, and students at all levels get really engaged in their Fast Plants® work." Powerful testimony to the positive impact of hands-on learning with living organisms.

Lauffer and Ferguson also appreciate that students are exposed to plants, which is important because many people today are "plant blind" in their daily lives. "They don’t get much plant exposure otherwise," explains Ferguson, “and they learn so much about plants from their Fast Plants® labs."

Empowering Teachers

New and veteran teachers alike are excited to learn about Fast Plants®. Ferguson conducts professional development workshops for teachers in the greater Dallas-Fort Worth area. She describes the use of the plants at the workshops as "eye-opening for teachers of all experience levels." The teachers really like the plants, and when they see just how easy the plants are to use, they say "why didn’t I know about this before?"

Teachers are amazed at the versatility of the plants, with the possible applications limited only by imagination. Teachers appreciate how they can be used as model organisms to teach about hormones, energy, mass, and many other topics. The different Fast Plants® kits available from Carolina also make it easy to fit them into different schedules. "A lab can be completed in three days using the 72-hour kit," explains Ferguson. "Students plant their seeds one class period and the next they are collecting data. This works beautifully with block schedules."

Solution for Unique Challenges

Fast Plants® are used for other unique educational settings and needs, such as in elementary classrooms and for ELL instruction. The plants can be an elementary teacher’s dream come true. Carolina’s Reading Green™ lab helps elementary teachers devote more time to science by integrating Fast Plants® with language arts. Students grow the plants to learn about their life cycle and growth requirements. During the growth period, the students also read stories about a family’s worldwide travels and the different plants they encounter. Students even get in a bit of math practice as they compile and analyze data. Dr. Lauffer describes how "both students and teachers love the Reading Green™ lessons!"

Dr. Lauffer also notes how effective Fast Plants® lessons are for ELL students. "ELL students are able to conduct the experiments and record their observations," she explains, "and the interaction they have with their non-ELL classmates supports their language acquisition and integration into the overall classroom."

Carolina and Wisconsin Fast Plants®—inspiring teachers and students from K–12 and beyond!

*Next Generation Science Standards® is a registered trademark of Achieve. Neither Achieve nor the lead states and partners that developed the Next Generation Science Standards were involved in the production of, and do not endorse, these products.

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