Bell, Beverly

Aspects of Secondary Students' Understanding of Plant Nutrition: Summary Report

University of Leeds
Price: 1.50

Grade focus: 6-8, 9-12

This summary report is one of a series developed by the CLIS Project (Children's Learning in Science Project) in the UK. The series documents the main findings of the project's research on high school student understanding of important ideas in science and their implications for teaching and curriculum development.

This report summarizes the findings of a study of 15-year-old students' understanding of plant nutrition. Information about student understanding was obtained by analysis of extended written responses by 300 students to questions that required the application of ideas about plant nutrition in different contexts. In addition, 25 students were asked to respond to these questions in an interview situation. Most students had been exposed to scientific ideas about plant nutrition at some time in their science courses. Main findings include: Only a small proportion of students used accepted ideas about plant nutrition to explain the phenomena presented to them. Some students thought that plants obtained their food from their environment rather than manufacture it internally, and others thought that "food" for plants is anything plants take in from the outside, for example, water or minerals. Most students thought that plants need food to stay alive but did not seem to understand the role of energy in plant metabolism.

A full account of the investigation is given in:

Bell, B., and Brook, A. (1984). Aspects of secondary student understanding of plant nutrition. Leeds, UK: University of Leeds, Centre for Studies in Science and Mathematics Education.

Also available from the project are:

a) "The Construction of Meaning and Conceptual Change in Classroom Settings: Case Studies on Plant Nutrition," which documents classroom learning about plant nutrition to inform the development of revised teaching practices.

b) "Approaches to Teaching Plant Nutrition," a description of an approach to teaching ideas about plant nutrition to 13- to 14-year-old students. It is based on the constructivist theory of learning, guided by the project's research on student understanding, and written by teams of teachers. The document contains detailed lesson plans and student worksheets.

Other topics investigated in the series of summary reports include: Heat, Energy, and Particles.