Photosynthesis with LEGO Bricks

Contributor
Dr. Kathleen Vandiver
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Types
Lesson/Lesson Plan
Note
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.

Reviews

Description

This lesson is a collaboration between the Lego Group and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Edgerton Center. The LEGO bricks provide kinesthetic experiences for students to model the process of photosynthesis. The phenomenon of this lesson is to figure out how plants gain mass.  The lesson first elicits students prior knowledge then helps students understand that the primary source of plant mass comes from the air instead of soil. Students build a glucose molecule by rearranging the atoms of carbon dioxide and water. Through this process, students see that matter is conserved in a chemical reaction. Students also model how plant cells build structures, such as cellulose and starch, from glucose molecules.

The website includes student pages, answer keys, and supporting documents such as posters and instructions for making glucose molecules. An interactive video "Roots, Shoots, and Wood" and "LEGO Education Photosynthesis Teacher's Guide" provides helpful strategies to teach this lesson. The "Photosynthesis Student Key" can also serve as the Teacher's Guide and instructional key. It contains helpful instructional notes that teachers can use for guidance.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
  • Middle School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-6 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on tracing movement of matter and flow of energy.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include the biochemical mechanisms of photosynthesis.

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The phenomenon of this lesson is to figure out how plants gain mass. Part One of the lesson elicits students’ prior knowledge by having them vote on what percentage of a plant’s weight comes from the soil. Students then learn about the experiment by Van Helmont and discover that most of the mass of a tree comes from the air. In Part Two of the lesson students use LEGO bricks to illustrate the process of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. The LEGO bricks provide a concrete experience for students to model these chemical reactions. The lesson also contains a review of chemistry vocabulary, including the terms matter, element, atom, molecule, reactants, and products. Color coding the bricks helps students keep track of the movement of atoms during the chemical reaction. They see that the carbon atoms (black) in the glucose molecule must come from carbon dioxide in the air. This helps the students understand that matter is cycled between the biotic and abiotic components of the ecosystem. To further engage student interest at the beginning of the lesson, teachers can model the presenter in the “Roots, Shoots, and Wood” video by bringing in a heavy log to demonstrate the mass of a plant. Additional probes include Giant Sequoia Tree from Paige Keeley (https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=636) and a video of MIT students misconceptions (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JhCHb6xtqeY). Hands-on lab investigations such as Detecting Photosynthesis (https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=570) are recommended to help students observe and collect evidence of photosynthesis.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
LEGO bricks are great tools for students to model unobservable mechanisms. The process of translating the chemical symbols into a 3D molecule creates a visual memory for the students. A glucose molecule is more complex than carbon dioxide and oxygen; it can take some effort to build one using LEGO bricks. Teachers can use this as an analogy that plants require energy from the Sun to make glucose. Students also model that cellulose and starch are both made of glucose but that they are arranged differently. They can easily see the structural difference between the two by using the LEGO bricks. One suggestion to make modeling even more explicit is to have students draw the LEGO models on the Student Worksheet as they annotate the chemical equation of photosynthesis and cellular respiration.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students use LEGO molecules to illustrate the photosynthesis equation in Part Two of the lesson. Since students are only allowed to use carbon dioxide and water molecules to build a glucose molecule, they realize that photosynthesis also produces oxygen. Students also learn that plants use glucose for quick energy, building structures, and storage for future use. This is illustrated in the “Plants from Thin Air?” poster. Hands-on investigations for photosynthesis and cellular respiration are strongly recommended to deepen this understanding. One example is investigating photosynthesis with elodea. (https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=170)

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This lesson provides a great kinesthetic experience for students to model how matter cycles between biotic and abiotic components. Using colorful LEGO bricks helps students keep track of the movement of atoms within molecules. Teachers can further emphasize conservation of matter by having students count the total number of atoms or LEGO bricks before and after the reaction. Teachers should also add some discussion questions on the Student Worksheet about how matter is conserved. For example, teachers can ask where the carbon atoms in the glucose molecules come from, how many carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen atoms are in the reactants vs. products, etc. It would also be helpful for students to see this at the macroscopic level such as weighing the mass of matter in a closed system as it undergoes chemical reaction. “Maintaining Mass” is a sample lab that demonstrates this concept. (https://ngss.nsta.org/Resource.aspx?ResourceID=668)

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This is a three-dimensional lesson in which students use a model to make sense of the phenomenon of a seed growing into a plant that has more mass. Students use LEGO bricks to model how matter cycles through photosynthesis and how plants use the glucose they produce. The student worksheet focuses more on the DCI. Teachers can incorporate the other dimensions by having students construct their own model of photosynthesis and annotate it with the analogy of LEGO bricks. The CCC can be enriched by discussing how matter is conserved in the chemical reactions.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson is highly engaging and connects well with kinesthetic learners. Many instructional tips are provided in the interactive video "Roots, Shoots, and Wood" and "LEGO Education Photosynthesis Teacher's Guide". More differentiation could be provided, especially for high achieving students, by having students conduct open inquiry investigations. One example is the Leaf Photosynthesis NetLogo Model (https://concord.org/stem-resources/leaf-photosynthesis ).

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Eliciting students’ initial ideas about photosynthesis at the beginning of the lesson produces a discrepant event for many students. This motivates the students to figure out the phenomenon and helps the teachers to identify misconceptions. The "LEGO Education Photosynthesis Teacher's Guide" highlights when to check for student understanding. Students reflect on their learning in the “Photosynthesis Learning Assessment” by stating what they didn’t know before and what they know at the end of instruction. Since no rubric is available for this open response task, teachers would need to come up with a rubric to provide more guidance for the students. It is helpful to have the “Photosynthesis Student Key” with sample student responses. However, teachers need to come up with interventions to help struggling learners.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: - none -