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Using Fast Plants® to Teach LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Using Fast Plants to Teach LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics header graphic

Using Fast Plants® to Teach LS2: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

The NGSS disciplinary core ideas tie together lessons across grade bands. With each pass at the topic, students delve deeper into understanding the topic. Below is an example of a series of related DCIs relevant to plant biology. By looking at the topics through the lens of activities that use Wisconsin Fast Plants®, we can see how each level builds upon the previous one, and how a single activity or set of related activities can be used to drive multiple related lessons.

Using Wisconsin Fast Plants® to study plant biology allows teachers to work a series of robust activities into a busy class schedule. The plants produce their first flowers around 10 days after planting. Seed pods begin to develop in just 3 weeks, and the next generation of seeds are ready to be planted in around 40 days.

Here we will focus on the second major grouping of life science DCIs: Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics.

LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

LS2.A focuses on how plants and animals interact in their environment. Students start examining the relationship between plants and their pollinators at the lower grades. In the middle grades, students begin looking at inter- and intrapopulation competition for resources, and in high school, they explore conceptual models of carrying capacity and explore the sources of environmental limitations.

Grades 1-2:
Plants depend on water and light to grow. 2-LS2-1 Plants depend on animals for pollination or to move their seeds around.
Grow Standard Wisconsin Fast Plants® from seeds, through their life cycle, making and recording observations as follows: Study flower and bee structures and their functions in pollination; design a pollination device that transfers pollen like a bee. Wisconsin Fast Plants® Elementary Exploration of Plant Life Cycles Kit This is a complete classroom kit for getting started with Wisconsin Fast Plants®, written for elementary teachers. Includes step-by-step instructions for planting, tending, pollinating, and producing seed for an offspring generation. All you’ll need is a light source.

Reading Green™ Stories, Pack of 5 Written at a 4th grade reading level, each book contains 5 fictional stories with factual information about plants’ needs. These work well as read aloud books for younger students to follow along with as their Fast Plants® grow. Great for integrating literacy and science.
Grades 6-8:
Organisms and populations of organisms are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors. In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction. Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources.
Grow Standard Wisconsin Fast Plants® as part of controlled experiments to learn about the role that plants play in the cycling of matter, flow of energy, and interdependence in ecosystems:
  • High light levels versus low light levels and dark conditions
  • Nutrient availability (no fertilizer or too much versus recommended amount)
  • Soil types (recommended soilless mix versus sandy soil, clay, etc.)
  • Densely planted Fast Plants® (crowded population) versus Fast Plants® growing with ample room
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Plant Nutrition Kit For a class of 32 students. Introduce the concept that plants need the proper amount of nutrition to be healthy. In this inquiry activity, students grow Fast Plants® with different numbers of fertilizer pellets, discovering that too few or too many pellets produce unhealthy plants. Students will then make observations, collect data, and form conclusions based on their interpretations of their results.

Bottle Biology Grade 2 and up. 1993. 127 pages. Developed by Dr. Paul Williams, creator of Wisconsin Fast Plants® teaching materials. This innovative book is a perfect companion volume to Exploring with Wisconsin Fast Plants®.
Grade 9-12:
Ecosystems have carrying capacities, which are limits to the numbers of organisms and populations they can support. These limits result from such factors as the availability of living and nonliving resources and from such challenges such as predation, competition, and disease. Organisms would have the capacity to produce populations of great size were it not for the fact that environments and resources are finite. This fundamental tension affects the abundance (number of individuals) of species in any given ecosystem.
Grow Standard Wisconsin Fast Plants® as part of controlled experiments to learn about cycling of matter, flow of energy, interdependence, and carrying capacity in ecosystems. Investigations may include:
  • Testing how varied nutrient availability impacts Fast Plants® growth and development
  • Testing environmental stresses, such as acidity or salinity, on Fast Plants® reproductive success.
  • Measuring how light intensity and/or leaf type impact rates of photosynthesis
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Salt Damage Classroom Kit Grades 5–12. For a class of 32 students. Study the effect of salt on plant growth. Experiment time is 40 days. Kit includes Wisconsin Fast Plants® seeds, planting materials, and instructions.

Wisconsin Fast Plants® Acid Precipitation Kit Grades 5–12. For a class of 32 students. Measure the effect of acid precipitation on plant growth and productivity. Experiment time is 45 days.

LS2.B Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

LS2.B focuses on the transfer of energy between organisms and trophic levels within ecosystems. Primary grades are introduced to the concept of matter cycling. In the middle grades the conceptual model of a food web is applied.

Grade 3-5:
Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment.
Investigate the effects of worms on the decomposition of materials: once plants have completed their life cycle, they can be added to composting experiments. Separate the plants into two plastic containers. Cover the plants with three cups of worm bedding. Place approximately 10 redworms in one container. Make observations over 5 weeks.
Grades 6-8:
Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments. The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem.
Develop an ecosystem model and build a mini ecosystem including plants, herbivores, carnivores, and detritivores. Bottle Biology is full of ways you can use recyclable containers to learn about science and the environment. The projects promote science as a tool everyone can use to explore the world.

Use Fast Plants® materials and other living organisms to model a rainforest, create a spider habitat, explore an ecosystem, or learn about composting. Each chapter contains background information, activities, and teaching tips.

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*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.