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This content is taken from the National STEM Learning Centre & Science and Plants for Schools (SAPS)'s online course, Teaching Biology: Inspiring Students with Plant Science. Join the course to learn more.

Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds ALEX JENKIN: Plants are truly amazing organisms, able to survive anywhere without being able to run away. From trees which can pull water over 80 metres into the atmosphere to one which has lived for over 4,000 years, from plants which set devious traps for insects to those that survive months without rainfall, plants provide surprising context for key biological processes. Welcome to the course. This week, we’re going to look at how plant examples can be used to engage students. And to do this, we’re using a topic that many students find uninspiring, osmosis. For many teachers, a key tool used when teaching about osmosis is the practical investigation where potato tissue samples are immersed in sucrose solution.

Skip to 0 minutes and 52 seconds For your students, this reliance on potato tissue can be uninspiring and can develop

Skip to 0 minutes and 57 seconds misconceptions, such as: osmosis only occurs in potatoes; potatoes, rather than being composed of cells, are like lumps of bread that just soak up water like a sponge; and, that osmosis happens slowly. There are many amazing plant responses that are brought about by osmosis. And we can use these as spectacular conceptual hooks with which to engage students, helping them to understand osmosis as a dynamic cellular process. And understanding it is key to understanding other areas, such as the kidney or the process of tissue fluid creation. We’ll also explore some resources that can be used to help inspire your students about osmosis and water transport and think about where you might look for fascinating plant contexts and how you might use them.

Why use plants in science teaching?

From trees which can pull water over 80m into the atmosphere, to one which has lived for over 4000 years. From plants which set devious traps for insects, to those survive months without rainfall. Plants can provide surprising contexts for key biological processes.

Students need to be able to apply their understanding of key biological processes to new contexts, and many students find this difficult. By using plants in your scheme of work, you can give your students additional opportunities to practice this skill.

This course is designed for teachers of biology to students aged 11-16 years old, supporting you to develop your practice in improving student learning through practical work. Through examples from selected topics you’ll explore approaches to teaching the subject based upon sound pedagogy and share your experience in the classroom with others.

If you would like to join in with the practical work, you can download the equipment list (PDF).

This week

This week we are looking at osmosis, and considering how to contextualise learning. The activities this week will support you to:

  • Develop your subject knowledge of the transport of water in plants.
  • Develop your subject knowledge of osmosis and your awareness of its importance as a driving force in biology.
  • Explore practical work which develops students’ understanding of key concepts.
  • Consider how the use of animations and modelling can support learning.

Course support

The course is led by Beverley Goodger, Biology teacher and SAPS Ambassador, Alex Jenkin, and Karen Hornby, Subject Specialist at the National STEM Learning Centre.

Beverley and Karen will be on hand between 28 September - 1 November 2020 to support each of the three weeks from the course start date. At the end of the course, there is also a Question and Answer (Q&A) session with the course educators. Post your outstanding questions by 23 October 2020 to step 3.15.


We’re very grateful for teachers and students from Wyggeston and Queen Elizabeth I College, Leicester, and Tarleton Academy, Preston for allowing us to film excellent examples of practical lessons and speak to us about their teaching of biology and plant science. We hope you find their insights and experiences useful to reflect upon and consider.


For our first discussion, say hello and share your views on the advantages and drawbacks of using plants in the biology curriculum. We’ll aim to explore these ideas further during the course.


When you complete a step on the course, click ‘Mark as Complete’ at the bottom right. This helps you keep track of your progress. Mark over 90% of the course steps complete and you’ll be eligible for a Certificate of Achievement when you Upgrade.

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This video is from the free online course:

Teaching Biology: Inspiring Students with Plant Science

National STEM Learning Centre

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Find out what this course is like by previewing some of the course steps before you join: