Category Archives: Plant Biology

Plant Biology: Core Concepts and Learning Objectives for Undergraduates

Plants are not optional.  Plants are essential for everyone’s daily life because they are integral to most all fibers (e.g. cotton, paper, and wood), sustainable biofuels, pharmaceuticals, and food. In fact, with 9 billion mouths to feed and arable land always at a premium, feeding the world requires new technology.  Plant biology can help.  Your students need to understand why and how. Use the Core Concepts in Plant Biology– with learning objectives and sample student activities – to make sure this happens this year.

Core Concepts Recap: With support from NSF, ASPB pursued a peer-reviewed process with plant biologists and created these concepts to address the need for instructional materials in plant biology. The materials must align with Vision and Change recommendations for transforming undergraduate biology education.

Plants need light, soil, air and water. Metaphorically speaking, students majoring in plant biology do,too. Here’s why using the core concepts and learning objectives of plant biology can cultivate your students’ exposure, inquiry and expertise in this field:

  • Quality soil provides a firm foundation and houses a rich environment of interactive elements that sustain growth.  The Core Concepts of Plant Biology is a field of goals and learning objectives for teaching biology – with plants as model systems to AP or undergraduate students. The concepts are organized to align with and expand upon the four life science domains of the framework for K-12 science education developed by the National Academy of Sciences Board on Science Education. Those domains are: (1) From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes, (2) Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics, (3) Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits, and (4) Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity. Each set of plant biology concepts begins with a description of the foundational knowledge in the domain. This rich soil is fertile ground for your syllabus and your students.
  • Healthy air provides necessary elements for sustained growth.  It also is evidence of a properly functioning biological process (plant respiration) that is integral to a thriving environment. Likewise, mastery of the concept-specific, sample learning objectives will allow students to demonstrate their understanding of a given concept.  The aggregate will serve as a way to measure the ‘air quality’ in your classroom and evaluate how your new crop of budding plant biologists is doing.
  • Timely allocation of light and water fuels photosynthesis, a process which is critical to life on earth. Timely teaching and active learning fuel the process of education which is critical to new knowledge and creativity.So use this curricular guide to help cultivate your course design and instruction for productive yields. Additionally, consider professional development options for teaching undergraduates.  For example, the ASPB Master Educator Program (MEP) offers financial support to successful applicants (ASPB members) to participate in focused, substantive, and practical professional development (PD) with the aim of developing undergraduate plant biology instructional materials. See 

Plants are great model systems. So all undergraduates will benefit from understanding plant biology.  Yet your syllabus may not have room for 10 weeks of plant science. That’s okay.  You can use plants (and these core concepts) to teach genetics, reproduction, bioinformatics and more. If you don’t want to go in-depth on all the concepts pick the core concepts that do fit; rotate others in next season.  For majors and non-majors alike, also be sure to:ASPB Logo






Katie Engen, M.Ed., is the Education Coordinator for the American Society of Plant Biologists. ASPB recently joined the Life Science Teaching Resource Community as a Partner. Their teaching resources may be found here.