Life Science

Photosynthesis for Middle School

Mon Mar 28, 2011 3:19 PM

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.


Mary Previti
Mary O'Sullivan
420 Activity Points

Tue Mar 29, 2011 8:50 AM

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.

Katherine Willet
Katherine Zimmerman
20495 Activity Points

Tue Mar 29, 2011 11:17 AM

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

Flavio Mendez
Flavio Mendez
34087 Activity Points

Thu Mar 31, 2011 11:27 AM

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.

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79588 Activity Points

Tue Apr 05, 2011 12:28 PM

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.


Mathew DiGiovanna
Mathew DiGiovanna
1205 Activity Points

Tue Apr 05, 2011 2:58 PM

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

Carolyn Mohr
Carolyn Mohr
79588 Activity Points

Tue Apr 05, 2011 6:12 PM

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,)

Vincent Durocher
Vincent Durocher
130 Activity Points

Wed Apr 13, 2011 5:36 PM

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.


Ann Allison Cooke
Allison Cooke
6370 Activity Points

Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:54 AM

I am a huge fan Vernier.

If you do not have access to this equipment they are currently seeking grant proposals

Pamela Auburn
Pamela Auburn
68500 Activity Points

Wed May 04, 2011 10:07 PM

Hi All!
When I taught 8th grade integrated science I used the equation for photosynthesis as an example of an endothermic reaction. Energy in for the reaction to occur. Then when we switched later on in the year to our biology unit I reintroduced photosynthesis as the process in which only plants can utilize light energy to make food. I feel that this vital process be taught several ways. In my preAP class we used that same chemical equation to learn how to balance equations. By the end of the year the students were not only familiar with the terms endothermic and photosynthesis they coudl repeat the equation as well. I also pointed out that if you reverse the equation you then have an exothermic reaction called respiration, and all living things that middle school students are aware of go through this as well. I guess what I am saying is that one activity will not seal the deal to learning about this very vital process and that all aspects of science -- chemistry, physics and biology should be expressed when discussing it.

Adah Stock
Adah Stock
101470 Activity Points

Fri May 13, 2011 10:42 AM

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


Karim Moghrabi
Karim Moghrabi
610 Activity Points

Sat May 14, 2011 11:29 AM

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.

Mario Patino
Mario Patino
1205 Activity Points

Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:07 AM

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.


Sarah Horan
Sarah Horan
1765 Activity Points

Wed Jun 13, 2012 10:07 AM

Here is the link for NOVA Illuminating Photosynthesis

Sarah Horan
Sarah Horan
1765 Activity Points

Tue Aug 07, 2012 12:45 AM

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

Andrea Lowry
Andrea Lowry
160 Activity Points

Sun Jan 13, 2013 9:06 PM

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.

Sue Mack
Susan Mack
3115 Activity Points

Mon Jan 14, 2013 9:00 PM

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.


Patricia Rourke
Patricia Rourke
45890 Activity Points

Sat Jan 19, 2013 11:57 AM

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 Young
Kendra Young
16980 Activity Points

Tue Feb 05, 2013 7:21 PM

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.

Brandi Schonberg
Brandi Schonberg
720 Activity Points

Sat Feb 09, 2013 8:19 PM

Cheska Robinson
Cheska Lorena
4915 Activity Points

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