Review by Emily Pohlonski, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2015

Wisconsin Fast Plants

Easiest way to use plants in K-12 science classrooms

Subjects & skills
  • Science

  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
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Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Teachers will find this site exceedingly helpful in making sure that students get the most out of a plant-based inquiry experience in the classroom.

Cons: Most resources are only useful to teachers who purchase the plants and other supporting materials.

Bottom Line: Detailed resource and support website for those teaching science through plants.

Teachers should use Wisconsin Fast Plants resources to support classroom inquiry, not to replace it. It can be tempting with limited time and resources to skip laboratory experiments and simply read about science or do online simulations. However, students need to experience inquiry in order to recognize that results do not always match computer model predictions. Consider participating in the Plants in Space program by growing control plants in your classroom and comparing them to plants being grown in on the International Space Station. Check out classroom activities like Farming in Space that motivate kids with a real problem to solve: supporting long-term space flight.

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Wisconsin Fast Plants is a website that supports teachers using plants in classroom experiments. Scientists at the University of Wisconsin--Madison have bred fast-growing, low-maintenance Fast Plants that are ideal for classroom use, and this site provides ordering information, videos, unit plans, and digital simulations. Activities are available for elementary through AP Biology students using plants to study topics like ecology, genetics, and life cycles.

Tools on the Wisconsin Fast Plants site are ideal for AP Biology teachers responding to the College Board’s increased emphasis on inquiry-based labs. In the Resources section, the Genetics Decision Tree will help teachers choose which Fast Plants are the best model organism for their experiment. Growing and manipulating the plants requires patience and may be frustrating to students and teachers -- especially when they don’t get the results they expect. Helpfully, the site includes computer simulations that model genetic crosses and ensure students will still have a valuable learning experience even if the plants die.

Elementary teachers looking to integrate science with literacy will love the Reading Green Investigation. Over a 15-day period, students grow their own plants while reading five stories about kids who travel the world and discover what plants need. This investigation gives kids an engaging opportunity to physically participate in scientific inquiry while also prioritizing technical reading and writing. Unfortunately, the site only offers free downloads for the teacher’s guide and student lab notebook; schools will need to purchase story booklets and lab supplies.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Activities are designed to be engaging, but growing plants takes time, so some kids might get frustrated. Online simulations aren’t fancy, but they get the point across.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Go beyond just following lab instructions: Activities, simulations, and course materials are thoughtfully designed to provide authentic inquiry experiences for kids and to ensure deep understanding.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

In addition to support on the site, a large community of organizations (like the National Space Biomedical Research Institute) that offer ideas for using these tools. YouTube-hosted demo videos feature closed captioning in many languages.

Common Sense Reviewer
Emily Pohlonski Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Daniella V. , Media specialist/librarian
Media specialist/librarian
Mount Prospect Elementary School
Basking Ridge, United States
Great teacher resource website
I think it's great for lesson planning and research before doing the actual lesson with the students. I don't think it is a website to pass of to the students as there is too much information and students may find it overwhelming.
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