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Life Science

Photosynthesis for Middle School

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Rosie Previti Mary O'Sullivan 440 Points

Hi I am looking for a good introduction to Photosynthesis for my middle schoolers. Any good suggestions? I would like it to be mostly inquiry/discussion. And, I do not have access to computers for the class. Thanks!

Abigail Castro Abigail Castro 270 Points

Hello Mary, For example, you could begin by asking students what they know about plants and how they grow, or by showing them a leaf and asking what they think it needs to stay alive and healthy. From there, you can guide a discussion to explore concepts such as the role of sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water in plant growth, eventually leading into the process of photosynthesis. You can use hands-on activities, like experimenting with plants in different light conditions or observing the production of oxygen bubbles during photosynthesis, to further engage students and reinforce key concepts. Throughout the lesson, encourage students to ask questions, make observations, and share their ideas with each other to deepen their understanding of photosynthesis.

Katherine Willet Katherine Zimmerman 21340 Points

Mary, If you have access to a computer for you, on the Learning Center find the Earth, Sun, Moon SciPack. There is a great SciGuide about the tilt of the earth, seasons, and it can be applied to why plants are green. I used it to introduce my students to photosynthesis this year. It built on what they studied in 6th grade, and helped them build a stronger understanding of how the chlorophyll helps capture energy from the sun.

Flavio Mendez Flavio Mendez 52501 Points

Mary wrote:

I am looking for a good introduction to Photosynthesis for my middle schoolers. Any good suggestions?

Hi Mary,

I did an advanced search in the Learning Center (URL for advanced search below) and entered the keyword 'photosynthesis' and selected 'middle school' as a filter.

The search results included three NSTA journal articles from Science Scope (Middle School Teachers' journal). Each article is free if you are a member of NSTA. If you are not a member the articles are only 99 cents each. The articles can be found at the URLs below.

Katherine's suggestion to look at a SciGuide (and free science objects) is also a good one! Thanks Katherine.

Mary - please come back to the discussion forum and share with us your stories about teaching photosynthesis to your students, ok?

Good luck.

Learning Center Advanced Search:

Here are the three journal articles from Science Scope that I found:
Building Leaves and an Understanding of Photosysnthesis

Teaching Photosynthesis

Injecting Inquiry into Photosynthesis Investigations

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92236 Points

Hi Mary and welcome to the discussion threads! I came across an article the other day that had great 3-D models for use in life science. Two of them were on photosynthesis.
The article is from NSTA's middle school journal, Science Scope. It is entitled,
'3 D Teaching Models For ALL'.
The article includes a model for light-dependent photosynthesis reactions and light-independent reactions. The models are cost effective, since they are made from inexpensive materials. I will be excited to hear if any of the suggestions on this discussion thread were helpful.

Mathew DiGiovanna Mathew DiGiovanna 1205 Points

It is interesting to see the many different ways teachers go about introducing a new subject. This is a great website for us to come together to collaborate and share ideas. I like the suggestions. As a new teacher I am always looking for new ideas and lessons. Mat

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92236 Points

Hi Mat and welcome to the discussion forums! It is so wonderful to hear how different teachers are using the NSTA Learning Center! Carolyn

Vincent Durocher Vincent Durocher 135 Points

Hi Mary, If middle schoolers are grade 7s and 8s ( I teach in Canada), then I would suggest the following inquiry activity; Bring a plant from home: a geranium works well, and expose the plant to intense light for 24 hours (under a fluorescent light), but have one of the leaves covered up with a little strip of aluminum foil (only part of the leaf). The strip has to be maintained tight with a clip, so that no light will be able to enter. After 24 hours, if you have the proper materials, look for starch in the leaves, actually only in that leaf you had covered up (part of it) - You will have to cut out that leaf. First, put the leaf for a few seconds in boiling water, then put it in hot alcohol (this is dangerous - keep the students away), wait for the green color to be gone, then take out the leaf from the beaker, wash it with water, and lay it on a petri dish: you will now be able to put iodine over the leaf. The area not exposed to light should be more pale, because no photosynthesis occurred in that area, therefore less starch was produced. (Sometimes, you need to wash the leaf before you can see this). An easy discussion can follow: how? Why?, etc. Good luck! Let me know if it helps. There are also simple things you can do: have the students grow plants from seeds, and while they grow, discuss with them what is happening (does the plant grow in the dark, when does it turn green, etc,)

Ann Allison Cooke Allison Cooke 6550 Points

Flavio mentions the Science Scope article called Injecting Inquiry into Photosynthesis Investigations. In that, the author states:

I led students through a simplified photosynthesis reaction(6 CO2 + 6 H2O g C6H12O6 + 6 O2) and we discussed how this series of reactions allows plants to use carbon dioxide, water, and energy from the sun to store energy as food in the form of glucose and other carbohydrates. To help students visualize the chemical reactions at the molecular level, students built molecular models of the reactants and products out of paper to see that six carbon dioxide and six water molecules can indeed disassemble and recombine to form one glucose and six oxygen molecules.

I've never had kids actually build molecules, but I've had kids use paper letters similar to Scrabble tiles and a picture of a tree and dog. They begin with six sets of letters that form CO2, six H2Os, and a picture of the Sun. They can switch all the letters around to form the glucose and oxygen, given the formulas. The glucose letters are on top of the tree, the Sun is up in the sky, the water is under the roots, and the CO2 (then the O2) are near the dog. They see both that those ingredients form the 'food,' that chemical formulas are balanced, and that the Sun provides the energy required. They can do this, and most say, 'Oh!' when they are done.


Pamela Auburn Pamela Auburn 68625 Points

I am a huge fan Vernier. If you do not have access to this equipment they are currently seeking grant proposals

Karim Moghrabi Karim Moghrabi 610 Points

Greetings; A great introduction would be to have a live plant, a plant deprived of water and a dead plant and focus the students towards the events that lead to the states of the plants. I hope this works for you. Many Thanks Moghrabi

Apartment Patino Mario Patino 1295 Points

Great ideas! The value in understanding the big ideas of photosynthesis are essential. I teach high school (11th grade biology-we have a physics first curriculum) and many misconceptions related to photosynthesis are observable such as ideas associated with thermodynamics and the conservation of matter.

Sarah Horan Sarah Horan 2255 Points

My students usually think of photosynthesis as this magical thing that happens in plants, until we watch NOVA's Illuminating Photosynthesis Interactive to see what happens on a molecular level. Click on Launch Interactive and the Atomic Shuffle. After viewing, I have my students use balls of clay to represent the molecules and they go through the process themselves. A colleague has had the kids make stop motion animation videos of the process, too. [url=] [/url] Sarah

Sarah Horan Sarah Horan 2255 Points

Here is the link for NOVA Illuminating Photosynthesis

Andrea Lowry Andrea Lowry 160 Points

Thanks to the OP for the question and thanks for the helpful replies.

Susan Mack Susan Mack 3335 Points

Has anyone used the activity in Teaching Photosynthesis More Than a Lecture but Less Than a Lab? I am thinking about using it with my 7th graders.

Patricia Rourke Patricia Rourke 45925 Points

Hi Mary, You might check out this activity for middle school developed by the Concord Consortium under an NSF grant here is the url - there are other interesting activities, too. patty

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

I've done the building leaves activity that Flavio mentions above and my students loved it. It's amazing what happens when students can actually manipulate models. I've also used colored marshmallows to build the molecules. Once you get to cellular respiration, it's a good idea to have the formulas for the different molecules written on construction paper and have students line up against two walls in an "L" formation (so that the formulas "yields" arrow is at the corner). Students sitting down can then see that the two formulas mirror each other - then have your class swap places so the others can see. There's another variation of this that involves folded paper. Good luck - have fun with it! :) Kendra

Brandi Schonberg Brandi Schonberg 720 Points

As silly as this sounds, my kiddos really enjoyed just having plants in the classroom. We named them, laid them on their sides to watch gravitropism, sang to them, let them wilt and added water for turgor pressure, etc. Watching the plants and having them there to touch was invaluable. Simple, but effective.

Cheska Robinson Cheska Lorena 5075 Points

Don't forget trying out a leaf chromatography lab! :)

Abigail Castro Abigail Castro 270 Points

Would the school do anything to get computers for your classroom in the future? Everything is now on technology. 

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