How can you incorporate biological research into your classroom? How can you introduce students to the realistic application of the scientific method and provide for extensive authentic opportunities for extensive, repeated, long-term, open-ended research for students at all levels of sophistication? Though every classroom is unique, the study of a particular organism can provide the flexibility that accommodates all levels of students and permits to development of many skills, from observation to experimental design. For an organism to be useful in the classroom, it should be easy to manipulate, simple to grow, but applicable in many different ways.
Plants offer many advantages and opportunities for many levels of hands-on activities without the myriad concerns and problems associated with animal or bacterial systems. However, capturing students’ interest, teaching the basics of plant biology, and helping students appreciate these indispensable components of our world can be a daunting task. Finding better ways to teach about them is a constant and inescapable challenge. Nevertheless, we also know that by using plants the same fundamental biological principles and concepts can be addressed as with animals.
Because the basics for successful implementation are well understood, model plant systems offer advantages as teaching tools. Extended use of a model system either as an independent research organism or in a series of teacher-directed investigations, can help focus students’ efforts on the processes of science as well as the content. As familiarity with using a model organism increases, students can concentrate on the development of associated or integrated skills such as detailed observation, hypothesis formulation, experimental design, collection analysis, and presentation of data and other components of the scientific method. In some important ways, this approach mimics an authentic research experience where effort is focused on a particular topic or subject and merely a series of laboratory exercises. For such an approach to be successful, an organism must not only be simple to learn and use, easy to grow and manipulate, and applicable to a broad range of disciplines and educational levels but also must be inherently engaging to students.