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Sun Power: Graphing the Effects of the Sun's Heat on Growing Plants

Wouldn't it be fun to make a picture of how the sun's heat affects your tulip plants as they emerge from the earth this spring? Those first little green plant leaves that push out of the ground in the spring time remind us that the winter world has come alive. Don't you just want to plant yourself outside right next to that warming soil and experience all that happens around you?

Here is a great project to help you see how our powerful sun can speed up your garden this spring. All you need is a little organization, some big paper, some big colorful markers and lots of excited scientists!

Starting Out
What does the sun have to do with plants sprouting out of the ground? Start the project using a KWL strategy. What do you know for sure? What do you want to know? Talk about your questions and think about how you can test them. Good experiments come from good questions and the desire to find out the answers.

What are Some Good Questions?
You will need to generate some good ideas to focus on. Does the heat from the sun affect your plants? How? Are the high temperatures important to watch; what about the low temperatures? Does the length of the day make a difference?

What do you need? Decide how you will proceed. For collecting daily high and low temperatures, the best and most accurate temperatures would be collected from the site of your plants. If you have a thermometer that records high and low, usually called a "Min/Max" thermometer, this is the best. Look in the weather section of your local newspaper. It usually has the previous day's temperatures listed. Maybe you can find the information on the Internet.

Take frequent trips to the tulip garden site with measuring sticks and notebooks. As a class establish a rule for how to measure the tulips. You might consider measuring the same tulip each time, or measure the same 3 or 4 each time, then take an average height of them for the record each day.

Teacher Tip
Records can be kept by each student in their notebooks and also recorded on a collective classroom chart. Your classroom chart might look something like this:


High Temperature

Low Temperature

Day Length

Plant Height


What Kind of Picture Will You Make?
How are you going to make a picture of the information you collect? You could make a few different point and line graphs, each showing one variable or important part for understanding how the sun is affecting your plants. These graphs could all be put together in the end to give you one big picture of the sun's power. The big graph is a perfect spring board for questions and discussion when you are done.

What did you learn?
Study the big graph and think about each variable's influence on your growing plant. Go back to the original question: "What does the sun have to do with plants sprouting out of the ground? Pull out the KWL organizer you started in the beginning of the project and use it to help you organize all of the things you learned. Were you right about the things you thought you knew? Were you surprised by your results? Can you think of more ways you could study the sun's power on the world around you?

National Science Education Standards

Science as Inquiry
Ask a question about objects, organisms, events. (K-4)

Plan and conduct a simple investigation. (K-4)

Employ simple equipment/tools to gather data and extend senses. (K-4)

Use data to conduct a reasonable explanation. (K-4)

Think critically and logically to make relationships between evidence and explanations. (5-8)

Simple instruments, such as magnifiers, thermometers, and rulers, provide more information than scientists obtain using only their senses. (K-4)

Life Science
Organisms have basic needs. For example, animals need air, water and food; plants require air, water, nutrients, and light. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their needs can be met.

Earth and Space Science
The sun provides light and heat necessary to maintain the temperature of the earth. (K-4)

National Math Standards

Understand measurable attributes of objects and the units, systems, and processes of measurement.

Problem Solving
Solve problems that arise in mathematics and in other contexts.

Data Analysis and Probability
Formulate questions that can be addressed with data and collect, organize, and display relevant data to answer them.

Develop and evaluate inferences and predictions that are based on data.

Create and use representations to organize, record, and communicate mathematical ideas.

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