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Using Fast Plants® to Teach LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

Using Fast Plants® to Teach LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits header graphic

Using Fast Plants® to Teach LS3: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits

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 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 third major grouping of life science DCIs: Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits.

Because inheritance and variation are key components to the understanding of natural selection and evolution, many of the activities listed here easily flow into activities in LS4: Biological Evolution.

LS3.A Inheritance of Traits

LS3.A starts with introducing students to the concept that traits can be passed from parent to offspring. As they progress towards understanding they begin to recognize that there are patterns to the inheritance. Once they have moved into middle school, they begin to explore the mechanisms for inheritance and model patterns of inheritance through Punnett squares and understanding of multiple alleles. By high school, students are ready to examine the direct relationship between genotype and phenotype.


Grades 1-2:
Young animals are very much, but not exactly like, their parents. Plants also are very much, but not exactly, like their parents.
1-LS3-1
Grow a population of Wisconsin Fast Plants® and observe and record variation within the population.

Harvest and plant seeds to observe the offspring generation and compare to parents.
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.
Grades 3–5:
Many characteristics of organisms are inherited from their parents.
3-LS3-1

Other characteristics result from individuals’ interactions with the environment, which can range from diet to learning. Many characteristics involve both inheritance and environment.
3-LS3-2

  • Grow multiple generations of WFP genetic stocks and observe patterns of inheritance in offspring that have a different phenotypic trait (e.g., stem color) than their parents.
  • Grow purple-stem and non-purple stem WFP at a variety of light intensities and record the expression of purple pigment.
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:
Variations of inherited traits between parent and offspring arise from genetic differences that result from the subset of chromosomes (and therefore genes) inherited.
MS-LS3-2

  • Grow specialized Wisconsin Fast Plants® seed stocks that were bred for 1 or 2 heritable, observable phenotypic traits.
  • Germinate seedlings and observe variation and heritable traits in just 72 hours or grow plants to flowering or through their full life cycle.
  • Observe and record quantitative and qualitative data.
Investigations may include:
  • Observe, quantify, and explain the phenotypic variation that occurs when dominant versus recessive alleles (that regulate easily observable traits, such as stem or leaf color) are passed from parents to offspring.
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Who’s the Father? Investigating Genetics Monohybrid Kit This kit contains everything needed for students to use observations and plant breeding to figure out why the recessive, non-purple stem is masked by the dominant purple stem phenotype. Replace Punnett square lectures or pesky fruit flies with this highly interactive way to learn genetics.

LS3.B Variation of Traits

In LS3.B, students focus on the variation of traits to be found between individual organisms of the same species. They progress from observing the variation in the low grades, to understanding that one source of that variation is the traits inherited from the parent organisms, while other traits are influenced by the environment. In middle school, students begin to explore the mechanisms that allow variation to exist in populations and to be passed from generation to generation. In high school, students are exposed to further mechanisms for inheritance such as cytoplasmic inheritance.


Grades 1–2:
Individuals of the same kind of plant or animal are recognizable as similar but can also vary in many ways.
Grow a population of Wisconsin Fast Plants® and observe and record variation within the population. Wisconsin Fast Plants® Standard Brassica rapa Seed Stock Seed Name: Standard (improved Basic, Rbr) - Standard for form and performance; flowers in 13 to 17 days; variable for expression of purple pigment in stems. Main uses: Life cycles, environmental science, botany, comparative morphology, physiology.

Wisconsin Fast Plants®: Standard Seed Disk Set Accelerate Wisconsin Fast Plants® studies with these handy seed disks. Seed disks are 8 cm in diameter and have seeds "sewn" in dissolvable paper disks. The Standard Seed Disk Set comes in an 8-pack with 16 to 18 seeds per disk. Each disk is conveniently labeled and packaged in an envelope.
Grades 3–5:
Different organisms vary in how they look and function because they have different inherited information.
3-LS3-1

The environment also affects the traits that an organism develops.
3-LS3-2
Grow Standard Wisconsin Fast Plants® from seed, through their life cycle, making and recording observations as follows:
  • Investigate and record the changes that occur through the Fast Plants® life cycle and compare to other organisms' life cycles.
  • Harvest and plant seeds to observe the offspring generation and compare to parents.
  • Grow some seeds under bright light and some under dim light to look at the pattern of traits that can be seen under different environmental conditions.
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:
In sexually reproducing organisms, each parent contributes half of the genes acquired (at random) by the offspring. Individuals have two of each chromosome and hence two alleles of each gene, one acquired from each parent. These versions may be identical or may differ from each other.
MS-LS3-2

  • Grow Standard Wisconsin Fast Plants® or specialized seed stocks (Fast Plants® bred for a heritable, observable phenotypic trait).
  • Grow plants to flowering or through their full life cycle. Observe and record quantitative and qualitative data.


  • Investigations may include:
    • Quantify the variation that occurs in traits because Fast Plants® result from sexual reproduction (e.g., height, number of leaves, number of days to flower, and stem and leaf color).
    • Harvest and plant seeds to observe the offspring generation and compare to parents.
    • Develop a model to explain dominant/recessive patterns of inheritance in offspring that have a different phenotypic trait (e.g., stem color) than their parents.
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Who’s the Father? Investigating Genetics Monohybrid Kit
Everything needed for students to use observations and plant breeding to figure out why the recessive, non-purple stem is masked by the dominant purple stem phenotype. Replace Punnett square lectures or pesky fruit flies with this highly interactive way to learn genetics.
Grades 9–12:
In sexual reproduction, chromosomes can sometimes swap sections during the process of meiosis (cell division), thereby creating new genetic combinations and thus more genetic variation. Although DNA replication is tightly regulated and remarkably accurate, errors do occur and result in mutations, which are also a source of genetic variation. Environmental factors can also cause mutations in genes, and viable mutations are inherited.
HS-LS3-2 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.
HS-LS3-2, HS-LS3-3
Grow specialized Wisconsin Fast Plants® seed stocks that were bred for 1 or 2 heritable, observable phenotypic traits. Germinate seedlings and observe variation and heritable traits in just 72 hours or grow plants to flowering or through their full life cycle. Observe and record quantitative and qualitative data.
Investigations may include:
  • Observe, quantify, and construct an explanation of the phenotypic variation that occurs when dominant versus recessive alleles (that regulate easily observable traits, such as stem or leaf color) are passed from parents to offspring.
  • Use statistics to analyze data collected from Fast Plants®, and explain easily observable, dominant/recessive inheritance patterns.
Wisconsin Fast Plants® Cytoplasmic Inheritance Kit
Grades 8–12. For a class of 30 students. Students investigate maternal inheritance by crossing wild-type green plants with variegated plants and growing the progeny to observe the phenotypes. The variegated trait is carried in the chloroplast.

Experiment time is 55 days.


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