How do Plants Eat? – Photosynthesis

Photosynthesis is one of the essential concepts to learn in biology. It is the key chemical process that produces energy for life. However, this complex chemical reaction that occurs inside of plants is complicated for most students to grasp.  Therefore, there are many misconceptions that students have about the process of photosynthesis.  A common misconception is that plants obtain their nutrients from the soil instead of producing organic compounds through the process of photosynthesis.

3 Step T-GEM 


To generate information about the process of photosynthesis, educators can begin a discussion with open-ended questions to measure students’ current understanding. The questions are:

  • What do plants need to grow and survive?
  • Why do you think those needs are important for plants to grow and survive?
  • How do you think plants obtain nutrients?

After the activity, have students come up with answers and compile those answers in a Google Doc to share with the rest of the class. As a group activity, students will discuss and attempt to predict what the relationship between what plants need to grow and survive and how they obtain nutrients is.  Once the discussion is complete, add each student group’s prediction to the corresponding Google doc


Students will explore how plants produce food through a hands-on experiment and by exploring a computer simulation:

A hands-on experiment –  “How Do Leaves/plants Breathe and produce food?” 

In the first activity, students record observations and gather answers to the question as a group 

Exploring the computer simulation

Students will explore the simulation. It is chosen for this phase is to help students visualize the process. According to Khan (2011), computer simulations can enrich generating relationships and can provide students and teachers with the opportunity to observe trends and variables, as well as visualize the process in more specific ways which may lead to enhanced conceptual understandings.


In this phase, students can modify their ideas after the evaluation stage. The phase provides students with a rich environment where they can work collaboratively to help explain the process utilizing technology. The following activities are included:

  • Ask students to revisit their predictions and incorporate their new information or modify their predictions in the Google doc created during the Generate phase.
  • Ask students to work in groups and re-evaluate the relationship between what plants need to grow and survive and how plants manufacture food.
  • Once the relationship is re-evaluated, ask students to create a photosynthesis drawing/diagram with the help of any drawing software and then share the diagram with the class. For example, students can use Cacoo to create a diagram and share it with the class.


Khan, Samia (2011).  New pedagogies on teaching science with computer simulations. Journal of Science Education and Technology 20, 3 pp. 215-232.



  1. Hi Yoo Young,

    Your use of open-ended questions in the initial stages is excellent and I like how you ask students to create a Google Doc and then share with each other – this collaboration portion is so key to deep understanding from my experience.

    In your evaluate section, I came across a simulation that you may find useful to add to your project:

    The simulation itself is about halfway down the page and it may be fun to just let the students play around with the different parameters to see what happens.


  2. Hi Yoo Young

    I like the fact that you brought me back to when I was in elementary school — where we grew plants from seeds and then determined how much light was needed to have them grow. I remember crying when some of the plants died — the ones with no light. It was very emotional, we could not bring them back to life.

    I wonder if students, or if I would have had the same emotional experience if we did the same experiment as a computer simulation.

    A good next step might be to share with us on how to set up a Google classroom — where students record their observations and then share with their classmates.


    1. I remember doing similar experiments, with varying degree of light. I was really visually contrasting to see some plants with poor growth and yellow/white stems vs. plants with healthy green stems.

      Given how much of an impression this left me, I also wonder if computer simulations would offer this same type of emotional investment that I had into my experiment.

  3. Hi Baljeet

    Thank you for the simulation. It is a lot of fun simulating the photosynthesis. It is a bit like playing a game! It appears that there are a lot of computer simulations out there to support STEM education.


  4. I thought the use of the Google doc was excellent for getting students to collaborate and share ideas for what they already knew about photosynthesis before the experiment and simulation. Perhaps this is projected onto a screen in front of the class for everyone to see while the list is being compiled? I found the simulation to be very educational and I think the learning activity afterwards is a great way for students to share what they have thought about.

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