Lab 5: Photosynthesis: Why Do Temperature and Light Intensity Affect the Rate of Photosynthesis in Plants? From Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9-12

Victor Sampson, Patrick Enderle, Leeanne Gleim, Jonathon Grooms, Melanie Hester, Sherry Southerland, Kristin Wilson
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.



“Lab 5:  Photosynthesis: Why Do Temperature and Light Intensity Affect the Rate of Photosynthesis in Plants?” is one of 27 lab investigations for the high school student from the book, Argument-Driven Inquiry in Biology: Lab Investigations for Grades 9-12.  This application lab assumes a basic understanding of photosynthesis and can be used as part of a learning sequence in which students work to make sense of a real-world phenomenon related to photosynthesis.  The lab asks students to design experiments, construct arguments, and develop conceptual models to answer the guiding question.  “Checkout Questions” are provided to facilitate student reflection on what was learned.  Students are assigned a short investigation report to finish processing their experience.  Significant background information is provided for teachers and to a lesser degree in the student hand-out in the introduction. The standards addressed in the lesson are also included in the teacher’s notes.  Teachers are encouraged to refer to the introductory chapters and appendices of the book for important background on the practice of argumentation and resources for classroom implementation.  Student handouts are provided in the book, but a separate student laboratory manual is also available:  Additional supporting resources are also available at

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-5 Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on illustrating inputs and outputs of matter and the transfer and transformation of energy in photosynthesis by plants and other photosynthesizing organisms. Examples of models could include diagrams, chemical equations, and conceptual models

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific biochemical steps.

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 authors did not cite specific performance expectations, but they did cite the lab’s direct alignment to each dimension of this performance expectation. Although the lab calls for students to develop a “conceptual model” to answer the guiding question, there is little information provided in the lesson to distinguish this “model” from an explanation. The connection to modeling could be strengthened by using this lab within a sequence of learning experiences in which student develop, revise, and use a conceptual model (e.g., a labelled diagram of the process) to explain a natural phenomenon related to photosynthesis.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The lab calls for students to develop a conceptual model to answer the guiding question, but the lab does not provide additional support for the practice of modeling. Without additional scaffolding, that conceptual model is likely to equate directly to the written explanation. This lab could serve a valuable role in a larger instructional sequence, in which students develop, revise, and use a model to explain an authentic phenomenon related to photosynthesis, such as the relative growth of seedlings in dark and light conditions.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Although the lab addresses many aspects of the argumentation practice, the round-robin argumentation session is a key feature of argument-driven inquiry and focuses heavily on students ability to provide and receive constructive critiques on their arguments. A simplified graphic organizer, “Argumentation Presentation on a Whiteboard” scaffolds students through the argumentation process. Students are given the chance to choose and develop their argument. Several questions are provided for the students to assess whether their argument is convincing, and students share their work with others in a round-robin format. During the round-robin, one member of the group stays with the group’s work and explains it to others, as they visit. The remaining group members go to other groups and listen and critique their arguments, resulting in a process during which every team evaluates each other’s work.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
After students construct a data table that best helps them make sense of their data and think about the patterns they see, a scientific explanation is written based on the evidence. Students identify the guiding question, their claim, their evidence and their justification of the evidence. This is written on a whiteboard and used in the argumentation session of the activity. The protocol for writing an explanation is included in every activity in the book and is an excellent way to have students understand the process of how scientists report their findings after analyzing their data. The justification aspect, explaining why their evidence is important and how it relates to the claim, is important for students to articulate their thinking.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The lab is written as a highly guided inquiry lab, where the guiding question is provided but students are responsible for designing experiments. A more open approach would be appropriate for students with strong lab experience and strong background knowledge on photosynthesis. For example, students could be asked to develop their own method for determining the rate of photosynthesis, to design their own experimental setup without a model, and to investigate the effects of other environmental factors (e.g., light color, CO2 concentration, or pH) on the rate of photosynthesis.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Understanding the matter and energy inputs and outputs in the process of photosynthesis is key to students’ ability to interpret evidence collected during this lab. As the teacher notes suggest, it is important that teachers support students in developing their understanding of this core idea during small-group and whole-group discussions. The lab provides students with the choice of investigating light intensity or temperature, and teachers might choose to provide additional choices. However, the teacher will need to ensure that all students develop a complete understanding of the inputs, outputs, and energy transformation that occur during photosynthesis.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lab handout prompts students to use the equation for photosynthesis as a model to understand the matter inputs and outputs during photosynthesis. Analyzing these inputs and outputs, along with energy transformations, allows students to interpret the evidence they collect to answer the lab’s guiding question. Teachers may want to place more emphasis on energy transformations than is done in the hangout, and teachers can further emphasize this crosscutting concept during small-group and whole-class discussions.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The lab hinges on the the guiding question, “Why do temperature and light intensity affect the rate of photosynthesis in plants?,” so cause and effect plays a central role in the lesson. To fully address the performance expectation, students need to develop an understanding of the mechanism of photosynthesis. This will likely require additional learning experiences that leverage models to help students explain how light energy is transformed into chemical energy during photosynthesis.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lab would be strongest when used as part of an instructional sequence focused on an authentic anchoring phenomenon, such as the growth of seedlings in light and dark conditions. As it stands though, the lab does engage students in a three-dimensional exploration of the phenomenon of photosynthesis. The Teacher Notes include a table that shows alignment to the standards for each of the 27 lab investigations in this book. To support lesson planning, each investigation has been aligned with A Framework for K-12 Science Education; CCSS ELA, and CCSS Mathematics. The tables also outline specific concepts, which are described as supporting ideas, that are addressed in each activity. The book provides extensive instructional strategies to support the implementation process, but the teachers need to model and provide instructional activities to support the disciplinary core ideas.

  • Instructional Supports: By using student-collected data, this activity provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning. Several guiding questions are provided to facilitate students through the experimental design process as well as the argumentation session. Students have opportunities to build on feedback from other students as to whether their answer to the research question is the most valid and acceptable, and there is scaffolding in the form of a graphic organizer to support students. The Teacher Notes for each investigation include information about the purpose of the lab, background and new content, the time needed to implement each state of the model for the lab, the materials needed, and hints for implementation. The book provides suggestions on how to engage students to reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of their investigations and ways to improve the way they design future investigations to solve problems.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Each lab investigation includes a set of checkout questions. The questions target the key ideas, crosscutting concepts, and the nature of science concepts for each of the 27 lab activities. Teachers must act as facilitators and resources for the students. They should rotate among the groups asking probing questions and listen to students’ questions and answers. Students should be encouraged to answer their own questions and should be allowed to fail in order to develop new solutions. Teachers can use the students’ responses, whiteboard presentations, and scientific reports to determine if students learned what they needed during the lab or if remediation is required. A “Checkout Questions” page is provided for a more immediate summative assessment (6 questions total). Students are also assigned a two-page “Investigative Report”. The report is divided into three sections and three major questions are provided for students to address in the report, which includes the results of their argumentation session. There is no rubric or sample answers provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Although the lab incorporates probe technology, the lesson is does not feature interactive technology.