Needs of Seeds

Page Keely, Frances Eberle, Joyce Tugel NSTA Press
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Article , Lesson/Lesson Plan , Assessment Item
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.



This article provides background and tips for using the “Needs of Seeds” formative assessment probe. Students demonstrate pre-knowledge as to whether or not seeds have needs both similar to and different from mature plants and other living organisms. The probe reveals whether students overgeneralize the needs of seeds by assuming they have the same needs as the adult plants that grow and develop from a seed during the life cycle of the plant. “Needs of Seeds” provides an assessment springboard for students to learn about the needs of living things, hone their skills of inquiry, and experience the nature of science. In addition, teachers can gather valuable formative assessment information about their students’ thinking and their ability to identify the evidence they need to support their ideas.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
  • Grade 5
  • Grade 4
  • Grade 3
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

5-LS1-1 Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on the idea that plant matter comes mostly from air and water, not from the soil.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This probe explicitly assesses student understanding of seeds' needs for air, water and warmth to begin the germination process. Student preconceptions are elicited if this probe is used at the start of a unit, and they have an opportunity to explain the reasoning they used to select the things they believe are necessary for germination.

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 author suggests using this activity as a springboard to investigating which of the things on the list are actually required through inquiry. Students could be allowed to plan and conduct investigations to determine which of the things are necessary to sprout seeds (choices are water, soil, hair, food, sunlight, darkness, warmth, Earth's gravity and fertilizer). Other than gravity, each of the others could be a variable to test. Alternately, the students could carry out teacher-provided investigations, making observations to produce data that could serve as the basis for their explanations.

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students are asked to choose the things from a list they believe are necessary for seeds to germinate. They provide a written justification for their choices, and should also be provided an opportunity to share their thinking with the class or a small group. Students listening to the explanations of others can be given a chance to change their choices or engage in argument by providing their own evidence. To more fully address this practice during a unit, students could engage in investigations or do research into speculations based on the probe.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Teacher background is provided, as are likely student misconceptions. It should be emphasized that seeds can germinate without sunlight or soil because they contain stored energy that allows them to grow until they can produce leaves. The connection should also be made to the similar needs of animals for air and water, and the difference that they cannot make their own food.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The probe implicitly deals with cause and effect, and the author suggests that the students test their ideas through experimentation. This would provide a very explicit cause/effect connection. For example, if students sprout seeds in a dark closet or between moist paper towels, they will have proven that sunlight and soil are not needed for germination.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: If the probe is used as the basis for the activities suggested by the author, students will be making sense of relevant phenomena while engaging in argument from evidence and conducting investigations, while extending their understanding of what seeds (and plants in general) need to survive. Connections can also be made to the flow of matter and energy.

  • Instructional Supports: The article provides information and tips to help the teacher anticipate common student preconceptions, and suggests visual props (actual or photographs) be used prior to or during the probe. It uses common terminology, which is easier for struggling students (e.g. sprout instead of germinate). It suggests an Agree/Disagree/It Depends format (with example pictured) as a basis for extended student discourse on the topic. This also provides a link to designing experiments to generate evidence in support of student claims. Students are encouraged to revisit their original responses to the probe to compare and reinforce current thinking.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The probe is intended as a preliminary formative assessment, and it can also be used as a post-test. If the Agree/Disagree activity is used, it provides opportunities for students to express, clarify, justify, interpret, and represent their ideas and respond to peer and teacher feedback orally. As the starting point for student-driven inquiry, it provides opportunities for teachers to observe students planning and conducting investigations.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not include a technologically interactive component.