National Agricultural Literacy Curriculum Matrix
Plant Nutrient Deficiencies (Grades 6-8)
6 - 8
1 Class Period
Students discuss the definition of “fertilizer” and relate it to plant nutrition and the need to restore nutrient balance in agricultural soils. They discuss how people and crops can suffer from nutrient deficiencies. Students assume the roles of plant doctors and diagnose nutrient deficiencies in corn plants.
- Master 4.1, Alfalfa with Calcium Deficiency (Prepare an overhead transparency.)
Master 4.2, Humanity Against Hunger (Prepare an overhead transparency.)
Computer access with internet and headphones (if using the web version of activity)
- If using the print version of activity:
- Masters 4.3a–c, Corn Case Studies (Make enough copies so that each student group works with 3 case studies.)
- Master 4.4, Plant Doctor Evaluation Form (Make 1 copy for each student.)
- Masters 4.5a–d, Plant Doctor Reference Manual (Make 1 copy for each student group.)
Essential Files (maps, charts, pictures, or documents)
commercial fertilizer: commercially prepared mixtures of plant nutrients that include nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium applied to the soil to restore fertility and increase crop yields. Commercial fertilizers contain nutrients in known amounts that plants can immediately use.
macronutrient: a nutrient that must be present in a relatively large amount to ensure the health of the organism that are building blocks used to make essential biomolecules
nitrogen fixation: a biological or chemical process by which elemental nitrogen, from the air, is converted to organic or available nitrogen
nutrient deficiency: a condition where the amount of a nutrient essential to the health of an organism is lacking or present in an insufficient amount
organic fertilizer: fertilizer that undergoes little or no processing and includes plant, animal, and/or mineral materials
Background Agricultural Connections
Interest Approach – Engagement
- Draw on your student's prior knowledge by asking questions such as, "Do people and animals need food to survive?" and, "Can too much of a specific kind of food be harmful to us?"
- Then, ask the same questions about plants. "Do plants need food?" and "Can they receive too much of a specific kind of food?"
- After completing this lesson, students will be able to
- recognize that plants, like people, require essential nutrients to be present in the right amounts in order to be healthy,
- use reference materials to diagnose plant nutrient deficiencies,
- define fertilizer as a type of “food” for plants, and
- appreciate that fertilizers are used to replenish nutrients in agricultural soils.
Activity 1. No preparations are needed except for making photocopies and transparencies.
Activity 2. Students will be working in teams for this activity. Divide the class into groups of 3 students. Use scissors to cut Masters 4.3a–c, Corn Case Studies along the dotted lines separating Primary Information from Secondary Information in each case study.
Teacher note: During Activity 2: Humanity Against Hunger, you have the option of dividing the students into small groups or conducting the activity with the whole class. The images used in the activity are provided as black-and white photographs. The images are also available in color on the CD provided with the curriculum supplement. If you downloaded the supplement from theWeb, you can request that a CD be sent to you by e-mailing the Nutrients for Life Foundation (email@example.com).
Activity 1: Take a Plant to Dinner
- Begin the activity by reminding students that in the previous lessons they explored how plants obtained nutrients from the soil and transported them through the xylem tissue. Explain that in this lesson they will investigate how to identify crop plants that are lacking an essential nutrient. Ask students, “What is fertilizer?”
- Student responses will vary. Some will mention plant food.
- Mention that plants make their own“food” through photosynthesis. Ask, “Why do we need to give them additional food through fertilizer?”
- Student responses will vary. Notice that in the case of photosynthesis, “food” refers both to the element carbon, which accounts for about half the weight of the plant, and the light energy that is trapped and used to support plant metabolism. There are two important points that need to come out of this discussion. First, plants require essential elements (building blocks) that are not supplied by photosynthesis. Second, students should recall that most essential elements are found in soils and absorbed by the plant through its root system.
- Ask students, “If farmers have fertile soil, then why would they need to use fertilizers?”
- Student responses will vary. Students should recall that as plants extract nutrients from the soil, and people remove crops from the fields, the soil becomes depleted of nutrients. Fertilizers are used to restore nutrient balance to agricultural soils in order to sustain crop growth.
- Remind students that plants and people are both made of cells and that cells need nutrients to be healthy. Ask, “What happens to us if we don’t get enough of an essential nutrient?”
- Student responses will vary. Students will recognize that when we have a nutrient deficiency, we get sick.
- Ask students to consider calcium. Explain that it is an essential nutrient for both plants and people. When people do not get enough calcium in their diets, it is removed from their bones, weakening their skeletal system.
- Display a transparency of Master 4.1, Alfalfa with Calcium Deficiency. Explain that the photograph shows alfalfa growing in soil lacking calcium. Point out that plants also become ill when their “diet” lacks calcium. Explain that, just like people, plants must have each of their essential elements present in the proper amounts in order to be healthy. In the next activity, students will investigate plants with nutrient deficiencies.
Activity 2: Humanity Against Hunger
Teacher notes: Introduce this activity with a brief discussion about Africa and farming. Use guided questions to bring out that sub-Saharan African farmers have traditionally cleared land, grown food and harvested their crops, and then moved on to clear more land for the next planting. After harvesting their crops, the farmers left the land alone hoping that it would eventually regain its fertility. Increasing population growth has limited this traditional farming practice that worked so well in the past. Today, many African farmers grow crop after crop on the same land, “mining” or depleting the soil of its nutrients. Most of them realize that they need to repair the soil but often they lack the knowledge and/or the money needed to do so.
Critical thinking is important to this activity. Not all of the information provided to students is helpful in identifying nutrient deficiencies. For example, the presence or absence of weeds in the fields is not a useful piece of information.
The Web version of this activity can be accessed at https://www.nutrientsforlife.org/games/humanity/ The activity has an audio narration. If headphones are available, then students can work at their own pace. Students working in groups can hear the narration through the computer’s speakers. In the event that neither headphones nor speakers are available, read the narration (provided in Step 5) out loud to the class while the image of the jeep is driving along the horizon. The Web version allows students to type their initial observations into an online page that is identical to Master 4.4. However, the Web program will not save this information. If you would like students to complete Master 4.4 as an assignment to turn in for a grade, you will need to provide them with a copy of Master 4.4 and ask that they record their answers on pen and paper while conducting the simulation.
If the students’ computers are linked to a printer, then they can print an Award of Merit at the conclusion of the activity, which indicates that they completed all of the required steps correctly.
- For this activity, divide the class into groups of 3 students. Each group will evaluate 3 case studies.
- If sufficient computers are available, allow each student to work alone.
- Instruct the students to access the “Humanity Against Hunger” activity at: https://www.nutrientsforlife.org/games/humanity/
- At the activity home page, instruct the students to begin by clicking on “Step 1: The Food Crisis in Africa. ”Ask for a volunteer to begin reading the article.
- Pause for a moment after reading for a brainstorming session with the students. Ask, “Can you think of ways to solve Africa’s food shortage problem?”
- Instruct students to click on the car keys icon to access their “Humanity Against Hunger Assignment.” At this point, the students will complete the Web activity on their own, following the directions from the Website.
- If your computers do not have audio, read to students the following introduction while the jeep is driving across the horizon:
- Welcome to Africa. As a volunteer with Humanity Against Hunger, it will be your mission to help alleviate the food shortage on this continent. To begin your briefing, click on the remote control for the slide projector.
- When the slide show begins, read the following: Africa. A continent full of mystery. A land of exotic animals. A land that is literally a geography lesson with vast deserts, rugged mountains, broad savannas and dense jungles. Although Africa may be rich with diversity of plant and animal species, it is also rife with hunger and poverty. Starvation and malnutrition abound,despite the fact that nearly two-thirds of Africans depend on agriculture for their livelihoods. How can this be? How can so many people involved in agriculture be so undernourished? One of the major reasons is a serious depletion of nutrients in the soil. African farmers have traditionally cleared land, grown a few crops,and then moved on to new land, leaving their old land depleted of nutrients As a soil scientist—or agronomist—for Humanity Against Hunger, your task will be to help farmers identify nutrient deficiencies in their crops and provide them recommendations on how to improve their existing soil with nutrients to increase their crop yields. In the village where you will work, the main crop is mealies, or maize, very similar to what you call corn. As this is an older farming community, much of the farmland has been overused and the soil has been depleted of many essential nutrients, resulting in small crop yields and crops that are more susceptible to disease. During your stay in the village, local farmers will show you samples of their maize and describe their growing conditions. You will then be asked to make an initial analysis of what might be wrong with the farmer’s soil. To assist you in your analysis, click on your field manual for reference. Consult it often. After your initial evaluation, you will then need to make a diagnosis by answering a multiple choice question. Are you ready to start?
- If your computers do not have audio, read to students the following introduction while the jeep is driving across the horizon:
- When the students have completed the assignment, ensure that they print out their certificates to turn in to you.
- After the assignment portion of the activity, encourage students to explore the “Additional Resources/Links” section.
Concept Elaboration and Evaluation
After conducting these activities, review and summarize the following key concepts:
- Nutrient deficiencies in plants display various symptoms such as yellowing or rusting of leaves or poor growth.
- Applying various forms of fertilizers can eliminate nutrient deficiencies.
- Various parts of the world are more or less prone to nutrient deficiencies depending on the quality of their soil and the agricultural conservation practices used.
Optional Homework Assignment This lesson stressed diagnosing nutrient deficiencies in crop plants. Such nutrient deficiencies can be remedied through the use of fertilizers. Instruct students to research and write a short paper that describes how to interpret fertilizer labels and correctly apply fertilizers to ensure economic, social and environmental sustainability. You can provide students with information from the Teacher Background section or have students perform their research using theWeb. Students’ papers should explain the NPK ratio and describe the importance of applying fertilizers in the right amounts, at the right times, and in the right places.
This lesson is the fourth in a series of five related lessons. Refer to the following lessons for further depth.
Suggested Companion Resources
- All About Corn: e-learning modules for educators and students (Multimedia)
- Mobile System Removes Phosphorus From Manure (Multimedia)
- Phosphate Mining Video (Multimedia)
- Potash Mining Video (Multimedia)
- #SoilScience Reader (Booklets & Readers)
- How a New Evolutionary Map Could Help Farmers Eliminate Fertilizer (Website)
- Learn How To Compost (Website)
- Smartphones Enlisted to Battle Crop Disease (Website)
- Unlock the Secrets in the Soil (Website)
- Web Soil Survey (Website)
Agricultural Literacy Outcomes
Agriculture and the Environment
- Compare and contrast the advantages and disadvantages involved when converting natural ecosystems to agricultural ecosystems (T1.6-8.a)
- Discover how natural resources are used and conserved in agriculture (e.g., soil conservation, water conservation, water quality, and air quality) (T1.6-8.c)
- Discuss (from multiple perspectives) land and water use by various groups (i.e., ranchers, farmers, hunters, miners, recreational users, government, etc.), and how each use carries a specific set of benefits and consequences that affect people and the environment (T1.6-8.d)
Education Content Standards
Plant Science Systems Career Pathway
PS.01.02Prepare and manage growing media for use in plant systems.
PS.01.03Develop and implement a fertilization plan for specific plants or crops.
MS-ESS3: Earth and Human Activity
MS-ESS3-4Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s systems.
MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics
Common Core Connections
Speaking and Listening: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.1Prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.SL.2Integrate and evaluate information presented in diverse media and formats, including visually, quantitatively, and orally.
Language: Anchor Standards
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.1Demonstrate command of the conventions of standard English grammar and usage when writing or speaking.
CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.CCRA.L.4Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases by using context clues, analyzing meaningful word parts, and consulting general and specialized reference materials, as appropriate.