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Flipped Lessons Are Great, Now Try Layering! Getting the Most Out of Your Wisconsin Fast Plants® Lessons

Dr. Hedi Baxter Lauffer
Director of the Fast Plants® Program
University of Wisconsin-Madison

November/December 2015

Genetics, ecology, environmental science, and natural selection are just a few of the many topics taught in classrooms around the world using Wisconsin Fast Plants®. Although we know the benefits of active student learning through experimentation and firsthand observations—which can be done well with Fast Plants®—the precious class time needed to teach students the techniques for successfully planting and tending a living organism puts a squeeze on our lesson plans.

One technique for freeing up time for hands-on labs is to flip labs—using videos to deliver procedural instruction so that more time is available for experimentation. Here we share techniques for layering and blending lessons that involve Fast Plants®—using the time spent planting and observing plants for multiple, related experiments. Layering investigations with plants can free up time needed for 3-dimensional learning opportunities of the kind called for in the Next Generation Science Standards® (NGSS).

Dominant purple stem vs. recessive non-purple stem 7-day-old Wisconsin Fast Plants®.

Biology lessons are naturally layered because of how interconnected the concepts truly are. This interconnectedness is now recognized in NGSS and its multi-faceted performance expectations. For example, the following performance expectations at the middle school level align well with layered investigations involving Fast Plants® (source: http://tinyurl.com/ngss-middleschool-lifescience):

MS-LS1-5 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes
Students who demonstrate understanding can: MS-LS1-5. Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.
The performance expectation above was developed using the following elements from the NRC document A Framework for K­–12 Science Education:
Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 6–8 builds on K–5 experiences and progresses to include constructing explanations and designing solutions supported by multiple sources of evidence consistent with scientific knowledge, principles, and theories.

Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.
LS1.B: Growth and Development of Organisms
Genetic factors as well as local conditions affect the growth of the adult plant.
Cause and Effect
Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.

First, consider the embedded Disciplinary Core Idea (in the orange cell of the NGSS table): “Genetic factors as well as local conditions affect the growth of the adult plant.” Students can begin learning this core idea by growing Fast Plants® that have different versions of an easily observable trait, such as the dominant purple and recessive non-purple stem color. From their firsthand observations, students can make inferences about inheritance patterns and test their hypotheses. Then, starting with some of the plants that were part of the inheritance experiment, students can begin investigating how environmental factors influence the expression of the purple stem color trait. Integrated throughout these two layered experiments are the NGSS Science Practices (described in the blue cell). Additionally, these layered investigations set the stage for using probability during data analysis, and that aligns with the crosscutting concept of this performance expectation (described in the green cell of the table).

A student-generated scale for quantifying the expression of purple in stems
(influenced by a combination of genetic and environmental factors).

One way Fast Plants® lessons can be layered to accomplish all this is described in the Implementation Calendar.

Layering these concepts can also be taken a step further to support teaching natural selection. Students can design and implement a selective breeding experiment with their Fast Plants® to make firsthand observations that:

“In artificial selection, humans have the capacity to influence certain characteristics of organisms by selective breeding. One can choose desired parental traits determined by genes, which are then passed on to offspring.” (NGSS, LS4.B: Natural Selection)

Similarly, at the high school level, the layering approach to teaching with Fast Plants® can be used to support learning:

“Environmental factors also affect expression of traits, and hence affect the probability of occurrences of traits in a population. Thus the variation and distribution of traits observed depends on both genetic and environmental factors.” (NGSS, LS3.B: Variation of Traits)

With experience and planning, you can layer investigations so that the plants demonstrating results from one experiment become the subject of the next investigation. In this way, you maximize learning supported by your class’s Fast Plants®.

For more ideas about how to use Fast Plants® effectively in your lessons, visit www.fastplants.org or Carolina.com/fastplants (select the “Fast Plants Activities & Resources”