How to do Project Based Learning With Plants

In the Spring time, it is the perfect time to introduce the life cycle of plants to your students.

They are seeing new growth all around them. Also, when you start the process now, you will have plants to use as Mother’s Day gifts come May.

But the best kind of plants to grow in the classroom, are the ones that grow any time of year. The kind of plants that grow so easy and barely need any light. This is my kind of plant, because I don’t have a green thumb. I basically kill every plant given to me. So I created this unit for the non-green thumb teachers out there.

I like to do a well rounded Plant Unit in which I can incorporate my Science, ELA standards and writing standards.

Planting Seeds

I always start with the growing of plants first. This way the students can observe and study their plants all the way through the unit. I suggest you do a few extra to use for dissection later or for students who accidentally drop theirs.

You will never guess how easy and really inexpensive it can be to grow these plants. All you need is popcorn kernels (yes you read that right), sandwich bags with the zipper, paper towels, and some water. That’s it!

Planting Seeds

People are always amazed that you can actually grow a plant with a popcorn kernel. It’s fun for the kids to guess what they will be growing. They almost always say, POPCORN!!

Ha ha! Wouldn’t that be cool, but no, we are growing corn. I have never actually gotten so far as to get corn from the plant, like I said I don’t have a green thumb. But one of my students had his grow (after he took it home) to about 3 feet tall!

One year I worked at a school and the principal let us plant them at the school and they grew about 2 feet and then the gardner pulled them out. [Insert mad teacher face]. Oooh I was not happy! I guess I needed a sign that read “Science Experiment in action. Do not touch.”

If you are doing Distance Learning and only want to do the planting part of of this unit, it is available. It also includes parts of the plant activities. These are great to learn together. Some teachers will put popcorn kernels in a Ziploc bag and mail them to students so they can grown them at home to participate.

CLICK HERE to read our blog article that gives more details about Planting Seeds in the classroom.

Observation Time

Plant Science Lab

While the growing is happening, the students are observing the process all the way. I like to have 3 bags per student so that they can experiment with different variables. When the students observe they get to write and draw their observations in their lab books. These lab books are used throughout the unit to document the changes that they see.

Parts of the Plant

Meanwhile we are learning about the way plants grow and the parts of plants. I like to use various picture books, mini books (in our unit), interactive activities, and videos online.

One of my favorite picture books to use is “From Seed to Plant” by Gail Gibbons.

I also do several activities on the parts of plants. I love this flip book that we make. It also serves as a mini book for them to read at home.

Parts of Plant Activities
Parts of Plant Activities
Parts of Plant Activities


Throughout the unit I do various plant writing assignments. They are easy to slip in while the students are in plant mode. I do these during our writing block.

Edible Plant Inquiry Lab

After we have learned all about how plants grow and what they need, we do this super cool inquiry science lab on all the parts of plants that we can actually eat.

Students love this! Even though they are eating vegetables. This is also a great way to introduce to your students different fruits and vegetables that they have never tried before.

Hint: You can ask your local grocery store or Farmer’s Market for a donation of the produce if you can’t afford the expense. They love donating. If your school is a “no food zone”, the activity can also be done without the tasting part, but it is way more interactive and fun if they get to taste, smell and feel all these fruits and vegetables.

Edible Plant Parts Science Lab

Meanwhile, students are still checking on and observing their plants that they are growing in their bags. The plants start to bud out within a few days. It is fun when it is fast like that!

Project Based Learning on Plants
This is after a few days

Once the plants get to be 2-3 inches tall, it is time to transplant. This is completely optional and some years I haven’t done it. But there are a few ways to do it.

Project Based Learning on Plants
We waited a little too long on these ones to transplant, but they still turned out.


  • Paint little pots for Mother’s Day (these must be done and dry before you transplant), then use potting soil and gently put the plants in and add a little more soil and pat down.
  • Put in little pots (keep them in the room for further observation) but they will still need some sunlight. Add some potting soil and gently put the plants in and add a little more soil and pat down.
  • My favorite idea (which can be combine with the other two if you wanted) is to plant it in a cake ice cream cone. Only put about 2 in here because it isn’t very big. Add just a bit of potting soil around the plant. But then the child can take it straight home and plant it in the ground. There is no “transplanting it later” and risking the breaking of the roots. These can still be kept around for further observation.

Dissecting Plants

The last part that I hit is dissecting of plants.

You can save some of your corn plants to do this part or do it in conjunction with this other one.

Hint: Go to your local florist or grocery store first to ask for donations or there is always your own yard. All your asking for is their flowers that they were just about to throw away. If you can’t get any donations, then you can buy a few at the store. I would just get 1 per 4 children if you have to pay for them. It can easily be done as a group.

The purpose is for students to dissect the flower so they can see all the parts then they will glue (or tape) the parts onto a paper. They get to be scientist and gently take apart the flower and investigate it.

Its one thing to read about flowers, see flowers, do activities, but then to actually feel them and take them apart, it is much more interesting and impactful.

This can also  be an end of the unit assessment if you give each student a flower, blank paper and then have them dissect and label.

Do you have to do all the parts?

Absolutely not, if you are pressed for time, find the one that is the most bang for your buck or the one that is going to have a lasting impact on your students. I separated our full Plant Unit into small pieces for those teachers who can’t do the whole thing.

How can you make this a project based learning unit?

Using this full unit will help you hit all the parts of a complete project based learning unit. Each element of PBL is covered!

1st Grade PBL Plant Unit

2nd Grade PBL Plant Unit

PBL Projects

Plus it covers your NGSS standards, many ELA standards, science standards and more.

This blog article contains an affiliate link. I do get paid a tiny bit for it, I use what I earn to help my classroom.


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  • Allison Grass September 14, 2020 at 9:44 pm

    How much water should the students put in, and how many paper towels did you use? Thanks for this fun idea!

    • specialtreatfriday October 4, 2020 at 6:07 am

      The paper towel should just be damp. I used just one paper towel.

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