F-10 | Biological Sciences | Geography

Problem: If humanity is to explore further into the cosmos, plants will have to be grown in-flight – as a food source and more… but the conditions required for plants to grow (such as water, light, nutrients and suitable temperature) are difficult to meet’.

  1. Overview
  2. Curriculum Links
  3. Teaching and Learning Sequence
    1. Introduction
    2. Experiment
    3. Research Teams
  4. Why this activity?
  5. References

1. Overview

This unit asks students to become ‘Astrofarmers’, investigating the factors affecting plant growth and devise a plan for growing plants on the Moon’ (Hardie & Cardoso 2020) and also allows them to explore control variables in experimental design.

Teaching method: Guided Science Inquiry
The problem is provided but students devise their own methods and solutions. They will also need to devise approaches to data analysis and presentation. Students learn how to plan and conduct a systematic inquiry.

Teaching model: The 5e Model

Teaching strategy: Envoy (authentic)
Students are placed into ‘research teams’ of 5. Each team member is tasked with investigating a factor which the class identified as affecting plant growth (air, temperature, water, nutrients or light).
Groups are then formed from with person from each research team (i.e. all ‘air’ researchers gather together), and tasked with investigating the factor through experiment.

Skills: Cooperative learning and group work.

2. Curriculum Links

F-10 | Year 7/8

Science Understanding

Biological Sciences

  • Multicellular organisms contain systems of organs that carry out specialised functions that enable them to survive and reproduce (VCSSU094).

Geography – Place and Liveability

  • Factors that influence the decisions people make about where to live and their perceptions of the liveability of places. (VCGGK111).
Science Inquiry Skills

Questioning and predicting

  • Identify questions, problems and claims that can be investigated scientifically and make predictions based on scientific knowledge (VCSIS107).

Planning and conducting

  • In fair tests, measure and control variables, and select equipment to collect data with accuracy appropriate to the task (VCSIS109).

Analysing and evaluating

  • Use scientific knowledge and findings from investigations to identify relationships, evaluate claims and draw conclusions (VCSIS111).

3. Teaching and learning sequence

Lesson 1: Introduction

5e Model stage: Engage and Explore.

Learning Concepts:

  • Plants can only survive and reproduce when certain needs are met.
  • Intelligent design is required to meet these needs in space.
  • A scientific control is an experiment or observation designed to minimize the effects of variables other than the independent variable.

Teaching input:

  • Astrofarmer lesson sequence introduction.
  • Lotus diagram to explore as a class the question: what do plants need to grow? A lotus diagram has the main question in the middle and factors for investigation around the outside.

Student activity:

  • Identify the factors affecting plant growth using a lotus diagram.


Lesson 2: Experiment

5e Model stage: Explore and Explain.

Learning Concepts:

  • A scientific control is an experiment or observation designed to minimize the effects of variables other than the independent variable.
  • A fair test requires a hypothesis, prediction, controlling variables, conducting multiple trials, and ensuring objective measurements.

Teaching input:

  • Teacher provides template to scaffold inquiry.
What question of hypothesis are you going to investigate?Form question/hypothesis.
What do you think will happen? Explain why?Make prediction.
What variables are you changing, measuring, keeping the same?Identify variables.
What equipment will you use?List apparatus.
Describe set-up, label diagram, explain method.Procedure.
What happened?Record results and/or observations.

Student activity:

  1. Class is divided into five groups of five to investigate each of the factors (do plants need light? Do plants need soil? Are plant roots important?) and design an experiment.
Procedure: do plants need light? (Source).
  1. Students are given the materials (cress seeds, radish seeds, white flowers) and an outline of expectations (time allocation, form of report).
  2. Students use template to make observations and form a conclusion to answer their question/hypothesis.
  3. Each group then combines their observations with research and presents findings to the class (ie. Light is important because of photosynthesis, however initial growth does not rely on light due to nutrients in seed).
Lesson 3: Research teams

5e Model stage: Explain and Evaluate.

Learning Concepts:

  • Science is multi-disciplinary, bringing together teams of specialists to investigate a problem.

Teaching input:

  • Teacher guides student-directed inquiry.

Student activity:

  1. Students, who are ‘experts’ of a particular variable (i.e. air, water, light, roots) are placed in ‘research teams’.
  2. Students are provided with a ‘fact card’ about the Moon to help them consider the particular space environment.
  3. Each research team devises a system which could grow plants successfully on the Moon. An example is hydroponic system where plants are grown in a water-based, nutrient-rich solution without the need for soil. Water could potentially be sourced from surface ice near the Moon’s north and south poles, which under certain conditions could be converted to liquid water.
  4. Students present their designs and ideas to the class.
  5. The class evaluates the ideas and the teacher guides the discussion using questions to summarise the main ideas.
  6. To bring the activity to a conclusion, the students will learn about the MELiSSA project, which is the European project of circular life support systems.


4. Why this activity?

Many students complete Primary School without a dynamic understanding of how and why to conduct scientific investigations – including designing experiments, asking effective questions, isolating control variables, evaluating evidence and making inferences – the very core of scientific thinking (Zimmerman 2007, p.173). Students do not just ‘pick up’ inquiry skills, with most requiring scaffolding and some degree of explicit instruction (Kuhn & Dean 2004, p.866). Research also demonstrates the importance of question-forming, because it ‘organizes and gives meaning to the activity’ as well as teaches students that ‘experiment serves to model phenomena in the world’ (Lehrer, Schauble & Petrosino 2001, p.253).

By providing a real-life context for the experimentation – NASA’s Micro-Ecological Life Support System Alternative programme (MELiSSA) – this activity helps students to gain an appreciation for the purpose of the experimentation, to help them in their justification for a design of a life support system that could be flown to space (Hardie & Cardoso 2020, p.34). This is then used to drive the questioning of the variables which affect plant growth, and the testing of potential ‘misconceptions’ of what plants actually need (e.g. many students may not know about hydroponic gardening).

The lesson sequence itself could fit within a broader, thematic term curriculum involving other subjects such as Mathematics and Geography, which is based on a ‘Mission to colonise a new planet’. This approach to teaching is in-line with the goals of authentic inquiry and supported through many resources produced by NASA and other space agencies (Loston, Steffen & McGee 2005, p.147).

  • Chemical and Physical Sciences (Matter and Energy) – designing a rocket (fuel, materials, etc.).
  • Mathematics – number, place value and percentage/ratio with diseases/statistics on-board rocket, cartesian plane to determine route to new planet.
  • Design and technology.
  • Earth Science (sedimentary, metamorphic and igneous rocks in Australia and on other planets) – evidence for water on Mars/Moon.

5. References

Airbus 2018, Airbus Foundation Discovery Space: Food on the moon, YouTube, retrieved from
Hardie, K & Cardoso, C 2020, ‘Astrofarmer: How to Grow Plants in Space’, Science in School, vol. 49, pp. 33–37.
Kuhn, D & Dean, D 2004, ‘Is Developing Scientific Thinking All About Learning to Control Variables?’, Psychological Science, vol. 16, no. 11, pp. 866–870.
Lehrer, R, Schauble, L & Petrosino, A 2001, ‘Reconsidering the role of experiment in science education.’, in Designing for science: Implications from everyday, classroom, and professional settings, Psychology Press, pp. 251–259.
Loston, A, Steffen, P & McGee, S 2005, ‘NASA Education: Using Inquiry in the Classroom So that Students See Learning in a Whole New Light.’, Journal of Science Education and Technology, vol. 14, no. 2, pp. 147–156.
‘Science’ 2021, Victorian Curriculum, retrieved March 28, 2021, from
‘Teach with Space – Astrofarmer’ 2019, European Space Agency (ESA).
Victorian Curriculum and Reporting Authority, (VCCA) 2017, ‘Learning About Sustainability’,.
Zimmerman, C 2007, ‘The development of scientifc thinking skills in elementary and middle school.’, Developmental Review, vol. 27, pp. 172–223.

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