Free teaching resources, games and news.
Plus - how do plants know when their neighbours are being attacked?
Welcome to the SAPS newsletter, packed full of free teaching resources, games and news.
This half-term, we're focusing on resources on transpiration and water use for 11-16 pupils, plus a special feature on mycorrhizae for post-16 students.
And don't forget - if you're feeling inspired to create a new teaching resource that we could share with others through the SAPS websites, we've got grants of up to £500 on offer.
Why water matters
With both droughts and floods becoming more common across the world, how plants use water is an increasingly vital topic.
Scientists across the UK are working on increasing drought-tolerance of the world's major crops, with a new £7 million research programme looking at the potential for drought-tolerant perennial biofuels.
But research over the past few years is already starting to pay off. Severe water shortages in Texas have shown that newer varieties of corn, with deeper reaching roots, do better when water is severely limited. Farmers in Zimbabwe are hoping that locally-bred varieties of drought-resistant corn will help them pull through the recurrent droughts that have caused major food shortages. And in Kenya, improved seed varieties and agricultural techniques have helped harvests double in drought-hit regions.
Resource: Investigating transpiration rates under different conditions
In this investigation, students look at the rate of water uptake by a shoot under different conditions, using a potometer.
This improved design of potometer allows students to combine two measurement techniques, by placing the potometer on a balance, and recording both the change in mass and the volume of water taken up.
View the resource
Online game: Water wars
In this fast-paced game from the Science Museum, students learn about 5 innovative ways to gather water – and then try them out. Can they produce enough water to grow food to keep their growing populations alive?
You could follow this up with a discussion about whether it's better to gather more of the available water, or to produce food that needs less water in the first place. How could people achieve this?
Play the game
Resource: Measuring stomatal density
A classic practical which is always popular, this SAPS resource outlines 3 ways to measure stomatal density and suggests a variety of investigations.
View the resource
Resource: Questions about quadrats
It's that time of year again when Ecology practicals are beckoning - so why not take a look at this popular article about using quadrats?
View the resource
Adaptation in the science lab
Drought tolerant plants are a great resource for the science lab – not only are they easy to care for, they’re a living example of adaptation that you can keep within the classroom. Here's 3 of our favourites:
These amazing plants have specialised cell processes which allow them to survive extreme drought: apparently dead plants spring back to life once returned to water.
Find out more
'Disguising' themselves as stones, these marvellous plants epitomise the role of camouflage and mimicry in a harsh environment.
Even a dried up cactus in the corner of a staffroom can become the start of an intriguing investigation, as one class discovered.
News - How plants communicate when under attack
The roots of most land plants are colonised by mycorrhizal fungi that provide mineral nutrients in exchange for carbon. But recent research has shown a new role for mycorrhizae - acting as a communication and early warning system for herbivore attack.
When bean plants, Vicia faba, are attacked by aphids, they respond with a two pronged attack. They produce produce volatile compounds, particularly methyl salicylate, which simultaneously repel aphids and attract the aphid's enemies.
The amazing thing is that if other plants are connected to the attacked plant via a shared mycorrhizal network, these other plants will respond in the same way - by producing these chemicals, and defending themselves from attack.
Read more from the BBC
Read the abstract of the paper
Images of mycorrhizae - and much more - from the free BioSlides collection
Resource - Using this news story in the post-16 classroom
Students can be asked to design a study which would allow them to investigate whether plants can communicate via mycorrhizal networks. This is an interesting way to enhance students’ skills in understanding mutualism, and in planning, designing and evaluating experimental procedures.
Students could easily work this up into an investigation or independent project, contrasting two groups of plants, one grown in sterile soil, the other in sterile soil inoculated with the mycorrhizal fungus. Mycorrhizae, such as the RHS's Rootgrow, are easily available in garden centres and from the Internet.
A full post-16 investigation into mycorrhizae is available on the SAPS website.
Mycorrhizae are beneficial fungi that grow in association with plant roots.
They take sugars from plants ‘in exchange’ for moisture and nutrients gathered from the soil by the fungal strands.
Did you know?
Mycorrhizae played a key role in the success the early evolution of plants, as they moved from the seas to take over the land. Mycorrhizae provided more efficient nutrient absorption from the low-nutrient soil of early Earth.
Did you know
Mycorrhizae might be the key to producing a better cider from more sustainable orchards. A top team of scientists and brewers are selflessly investigating now.
Find out more from the Planet Earth podcast
Resource - How to read a scientific paper
If you're looking to challenge your students and develop their scientific literacy over the half-term, here's a really useful resource from the American Society of Plant Biologists. This excellent resource explains what a scientific paper is, and how to go about reading one, including a graphical guide to 'what's what' in a journal article. It also tackles questions about understanding numerical analysis and statistical significance,
How to read a scientific paper (PDF)
And for a more in-depth look, this guided case study of a recent scientific article examines each element in detail (PDF).
Best wishes from the SAPS team
The Administratort, Elizabeth McDonald, Dan Jenkins and Ginny Page
Science and Plants for Schools, 1 Brookside, Cambridge, CB2 1JE