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from The Textbook Letter, March-April 1997

A good publication for your professional library

Investigating Plants:
Hands-on, Low-cost Laboratory Exercises
in Plant Science

1996. 96 pages. ISBN: 0-941212-21-1.
National Association of Biology Teachers,
11250 Roger Bacon Drive, Reston, Virginia 20190.

An Inspiring Set of Activities
to Vivify Life-Science Classes

Ellen C. Weaver

I am pleased that the National Association of Biology Teachers has published Investigating Plants, a booklet that shows middle-school teachers how to lead their students in some fascinating work with seed plants.

Many biological principles can be elucidated through studies of plants -- remember Mendel and his peas! In most middle-school life-science books, however, the "activities" dealing with plants are minimal and may even be useless. Investigating Plants provides activities that help students to do real science and learn some meaningful biology, both by observing and by conducting experiments.

The booklet contains fourteen laboratory exercises -- "Flower Anatomy," "Seed Anatomy," "Seed Germination," "Germination & Environment," "Plant Growth & Anatomy," "Hormones & Asexual Reproduction," "Temperature," "Gravitropism," "Phototropism," "Respiration," "Chlorophyll," "Stomata & Photosynthesis," "Transpiration" and "Competition." The exercises were developed with the participation of a group of 7th-graders, and they are presented in a reasonable sequence that will help students to build their vocabularies as well as their knowledge of biology. However, each exercise is independent of the others. Teachers can pick and choose, or can alter the sequence, without sacrificing pedagogic effectiveness.

Little is required in the way of specialized equipment, and all the exercises are biologically sound.

Middle-school students who perform the activities described in Investigating Plants will learn to care for experimental organisms, will find that organisms don't always do what we expect them to do, and will see that experiments don't always produce the "right" results.

The writers of Investigating Plants recommend that students be permitted to use their own notebooks during quizzes -- a good idea that gives students a powerful incentive to keep orderly and complete records. As the writers put it:

Keeping journals and [keeping] good records are important in many activities, and they are essential in science. . . . Rather than ask students to memorize vocabulary and concepts that come from the exercises, we have them record this information in the notebooks. Open-notebook quizzes are a way to affirm the importance of good record keeping and to reinforce some of the ideas that may have been learned in an exercise.

Teachers who use Investigating Plants will have to know some basic botany (or will have to learn some by reading an introductory college text), and they will have to work around some minor defects in the descriptions of certain experiments. For example:

As I said, these deficiencies are minor. Overall, Investigating Plants is a good little book that can provide welcome inspiration to teachers of middle-school life science. I recommend it.


Ellen C. Weaver is a professor of biological sciences, emerita, from San Jose State University, a fellow of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, a past president of the Association for Women in Science, and a director of The Textbook League.

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