Shedding Light on Plant Processes

Wow!  It’s been a very busy eight days since I first handed out the scripts for our Photosynthesis Follies.  Yesterday and today we performed for twelve different audiences!  They included almost all of the students in our building and lots of parents and family members.  Over and over again we explained the process of photosynthesis to all those who came to listen.

Back in our classroom, in the chunks of time between those performances, the students took a closer look at the words photosynthesis and transpiration.  They began with basic definitions and then created word sum hypotheses.  Watching the videos it is obvious there is more to discover.  In the first video, Jacob’s research took him in many directions!  He was one of three who rather excitedly asked if he could work on this at home too!  This was the first time the students were off on their own to explore.  The lists of words he found to prove the <ic> suffix and the <photo> prefix are impressive.  He had come across many examples of <syn> as a prefix as well, but didn’t have them all written down.



In this video Zoe is also looking at photosynthesis.  She has found evidence to support her word sum hypothesis  <photo> + <syn> + <thesis>.   Next up is understanding what each morpheme means and how they help us uncover a deeper sense of what photosynthesis is.



In the next video this team of girls came up with some interesting ideas.  It is so second nature for the students to begin with the notion of sounds in words.  I found it interesting that this was one of the few groups that recognized that there is an <e> that was dropped when the suffix <ion> was added.  More investigating will uncover the other morphemes in this word.

The boys in the second half of this clip made a great discovery minutes after my camera battery gave up.  They had found the word <expire> and were comparing it to <transpire>.  I can’t wait to see what comes of this!



What an exciting time.  The students are ready for the challenge of figuring things out on their own.   This is going to be a wonderful year!

4 thoughts on “Shedding Light on Plant Processes

  1. This comment comes from Ann Whiting:

    Mary Beth this is so exciting to see how thoughtfully your students are examining these words. I find it so interesting to hear similar comments being made in my classroom of Grade 7 students as they too try to figure this out. Word inquiry such as this is not about age appropriateness( a levelled approach to learning). Your students are making the same connections and discoveries as my students, and the many teachers who are new to this inquiry make. All too often it’s the students who are swifter in grasping this and less daunted. Perhaps they don’t cling as tenaciously and become so entangled in sound and wretched syllabification!!

    Mary Beth, I am so impressed with the way that you are leading your students, not supplying the answer, but leaving a question with them to consider and giving them time to think further. I’ve been intrigued by this process of guiding but not dominating, not supplying the answer, allowing students to make “mistakes” but not to become so enmeshed in this that it causes frustration and allowing students to experience the process of questioning, hypothesising, finding evidence, then further revising hypothesis and so on. I love the fact that so often we are co- investigators with our students, sharing and finding connections due to their work. I look forward to more inspiration, and illumination from your students.

    Thanks Mary Beth as ever so impressed by what you are doing and leaping into so enthusiastically,


    • Ann,
      Thanks for your comments. This is indeed the most exciting subject I’ve ever taught. Students are used to the model of “You find out the answer and then come and check with the teacher who has the correct answer in her book.”

      But this kind of word investigation is based on logic and reasoning and proof. They are already learning not to rely on me for answers, but for guidance and steering instead. I am as free to share my curiosity about words as they are.

      I believe that long ago these students learned to stop asking questions about spelling. They were taught to sound out words and if the spelling didn’t match the sounds, well then, they just had to memorize the spelling.

      The study of words in this way is bringing order and sense back to the universe for my students.

  2. Old Grouch,
    Thank you so much for your thoughts. Your discoveries gave us so much to think about this morning! We made a list of other words we knew in which the digraph ‘ph’ represented /f/, as well as words we knew in which the digraph ‘ch’ represented /k/. Such rich discussions that I’ll be sharing more of it in my next post. There were so many lightbulbs going off that our classroom was positively glowing! Thanks!

  3. Jacob’s masterly investigation got me thinking.

    I know that spellings which have the digraph ‘ph’ to represent /f/ are signalling a near certain Greek connection. Add to that the fact that the connecting vowel letter ‘-o-‘ is also a strong signal of Greek origin, and I was beginning to get the feeling that ‘photo’ is not only complex (that means it contains more than one element), but also that one of its elements could well actually be a base.

    But “feelings” are not science; I need evidence that conclusively proves that ‘photo’ actually is complex.

    Bingo – a word search for ‘phot’ that is NOT followed by ‘o’ brought up ‘photics’ – “the branch of science concerned with the properties and phenomena of light.” Then I found this statement in The New Scientist of 1994: “The tendency to sneeze on exposure to bright light is termed the ‘photic sneeze’.”

    So thanks, Jacob. I’ve made a discovery thanks to your example. I now know that the single word ‘photosynthesis’ has two base elements, which has compounded my joy.

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