Sometimes, understanding how the world works, means looking at things we can’t usually see. For example, think about plants that grow from seeds. We plant seeds in the soil and water them. After a few days, a plant appears. But what happens in between? We can’t see the process because it happens underground. Scientists design experiments to help see things that are not usually visible. In this experiments, we will “plant” seeds so that we can see what happens before the stem and leaves appear above the ground.
Seeds are amazing things. Seeds are able to sense when the time and place is right for a plant to start to grow—the scientific term for that is germination. They sense things like moisture, temperature, and light, so the seeds only grow in soil and not in the seed package or in a bag of trail mix!
Water is one of the most important things for growing seeds. This experiment takes advantage of that fact. By placing the seeds in a moist environment, inside a clear container, we will be able to observe the seed germinating. Since the plant cannot continue to grow without soil, plan for a way to transfer the seedlings into soil either in a garden or in a container.
While the main point of this experiment is observation, creating and testing hypotheses is also possible. For example, does soaking the seed before planting cause the seed to germinate more rapidly? Does adding sugar to the water (or using fruit juice) affect how the plant grows? As you make observations, you will probably also have questions. Try to design experiments to answer those questions!
• Clear container with vertical sides (plastic cup, small mason jar)
• Paper towels
• Bean seeds
1. Fold a piece of paper towel horizontally until the width of the towel is about the same size as the height of the container.
2. Shape the towel into a cylinder and place it inside the container.
3. Crush more paper towels and put them inside the container to hold the cylinder upright
4. Carefully wet the paper towels by putting small amounts of water into the bottom of the jar and allowing the towels to absorb the water.
5. Place 2 – 4 bean seed between the towels and the sides of the container. The number of seeds will depend on the size of the container. Be sure to allow room for the seedlings to develop.
6. Make regular observations of the seedlings progress. What changes happen first? Then what happens?
This experiment can be extended in many ways. Try setting up different containers and changing one condition. For example, put one container in a warm room and another in a colder corner of a basement. Use different liquids in the containers. What else could you try?