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Science is easily linked to the school garden and schoolyard habitat. Literacy for Common Core includes reading non-fiction.  More garden and nature related books are now available for scientific information. The garden is a focus for teaching concepts of classification, plant physiology and reproduction, ecology, plant and animal interaction, animal behavior, weather, and health and nutrition. In addition to the content from books and other media, students at all grade levels can use the garden laboratory for science experimentation.

Younger students may:

  1. Germinate bean seeds in plastic baggies or jars.
  2. Sprout a carrot or pineapple top.
  3. Dissect flowers to learn about the parts and their functions.
  4. Discuss daily nutritional needs while grazing on fruits and vegetables.

Preschool Investigation
Teachers should encourage a sense of wonder and capitalize on their preschoolers' natural curiosity. (I wonder why…)

  1. Guess "what if" you changed something plants need.
  2. Test your idea.
  3. Share what happened by telling about your experiment or drawing a picture.

Primary Grades Observation and Experimentation

  1. Observe in the garden
  2. Record observations
  3. Ask a question, "What if…"
  4. Make a guess as to what will happen.
  5. Test your idea, changing only one thing.
  6. Record data in a journal, on a chart, with a camera
  7. Share your findings.

Using observational skills, all grades might learn animal behavior from those in the garden:

  • Make a toad house and learn about amphibians.
  • Make a scarecrow and observe the birds' reactions over time.
  • Identify and observe insects. Click here to link to the IPM form. After research, sort into beneficials and pests.
  • Build a praying mantis house and study and record their habits.
  • Study local birds and build birdhouses or feeders.
  • Study worms and build a worm bin: harvest the castings. Click here to link to the Compost topic of this guide.


Intermediate, Middle and High School Experimentation

  • Observe and/or research for evidence and information
  • Form a hypothesis
  • Design an experiment to test your hypothesis
          • List materials needed

Give steps for method, testing only one variable at a time and using controls

  • Record the data
  • Show the data on a graph
  • Analyze the data and interpret the results
  • Make comparisons with other similar experiments
  • Suggest further experiments and applications


Some Ideas for Experimentation in the Garden

  • Record growth rates of plants receiving different watering frequencies or amounts.
  • Test the effects of using mulch vs. no mulch.
  • Observe for changes in the growth rate of plants in response to varying sun exposures.
  • Compare the benefits, growth rate, or vigor of plants started from seed vs. those planted from transplants.
  • Record plant growth rate and vigor using no fertilizer versus different chemical and organic fertilizers.
  • Compare plant responses to varying strengths of fertilizer or time of application.
  • Grow plants in different mediums such as soil, sand, water, different potting soils, etc.
  • Test organic pest controls identifying and counting insects, etc. before and after use.
  • Test the vigor of plants by removing weeds vs. leaving weeds among the test plants.
  • Change the environment in a creative, experimental way such as growing half the plants upside down.
  • Treat seeds differently prior to planting to see which germinate fastest.
  • Determine which plants can be grown hydroponically.
  • Use the garden to conduct erosion tests, measure run-off, determine best watering method, etc.
  • Results from experiments are more reliable if the sample size is increased by using multiple seeds or plants for the control and for each variable tested and if several test trials are run. The averages and range of results can then be compared and analyzed. Results may be shared as Science Fair exhibits, written science reports, or oral presentations. While experiments are being run, interest in the garden and science can be promoted by setting up signs to share the purpose and design of the experiment with others.

Life Lab offers more ideas that directly address NGSS standards.  See the following pages that can be copied for handouts.

K-8 Next Generation Science Standards in the Garden
A list of NGSS that are well suited for Garden-Based Learning
Science and Engineering Practices (All 8)

  • Asking questions and defining problems
  • Developing and using models
  • Planning and carrying out investigations
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
  • Using mathematics and computational thinking
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
  • Engaging in argument from evidence
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information

Performance Expectations
Key to codes:
Grade - LS (Life Sciences), ESS (Earth and Space Sciences), PS (Physical Sciences) – Standard Number
K-LS1-1 Use observations to describe patterns of what plants and animals (including humans) need to survive

  • K-ESS2-1  Use and share observations of local weather conditions to describe patterns over time
  • K-ESS2-2  Construct an argument supported by evidence for how plants and animals (including humans) can change the environment to meet their needs

K-ESS3-1 Use a model to represent the relationship between the needs of different plants of animals (including humans) and the places they live

K-ESS3-3 Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment

1-LS1-1 Use materials to design a solution to a human problem by mimicking how plants and/or animals use their external parts to help them survive, grow, and meet their needs

2-PS1-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to describe and classify different kinds of materials by their observable properties

2-LS2-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow

2-LS2-2 Develop a simple model that mimics the function of an animal in dispersing seeds or pollinating plants

2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats

2-ESS2-1 Compare multiple solutions designed to slow or prevent wind or water from changing the shape of the land

3-LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death

  • 3-LS3-1  Analyze and interpret data provide evidence that plants and animals have traits inherited from parents and that variation of these traits exists in a group of similar organisms
  • 3-LS3-2  Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment
  • 3-LS4-2  Use evidence to construct an explanation for how the variations in characteristics among individuals of the same species may provide advantages in surviving, finding mates, and reproducing.
  • 3-LS4-3  Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less well, and some cannot survive at all

4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction

5-PS3-1 Use models to describe that energy in animals' food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun

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

5-LS2-1 Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment

5-ESS3-1 Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment

MS-PS1-3 Gather and make sense of information to describe that synthetic materials come from natural resources and impact society
MS-PS3-3 MS-LS1-4

MS-LS1-5 MS-LS1-6

MS-LS1-7 MS-LS2-1

MS-LS2-2 MS-LS2-3 MS-LS2-4 MS-LS2-5 MS-LS3-2 MS-LS4-5 MS-ESS2-1

Apply scientific principals to design, construct, and test a device that either minimizes or maximizes thermal energy transfer

Use argument based on empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support an explanation for how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures affect the probability of successful reproduction of animals and plants respectively

Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms

Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms

Develop a model to describe how food is rearranged through chemical reactions forming new molecules that support growth and/or release energy as this matter moves through an organism

Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem

Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems

Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem

Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations

Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services

Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation

Gather and synthesize information about the technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms

Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process

MS-ESS2-4 Develop a model to describe the cycling of water through Earth's systems driven by energy from the sun and the force of gravity

MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment

List created by Life Lab. Learn more about connecting Next Generation and Common Core Standards to Garden-Based Learning at http/ standards: