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Daily Do

What Happened to Our Celery?

Biology Disciplinary Core Ideas Is Lesson Plan Life Science NGSS Phenomena Science and Engineering Practices Informal Education

Sensemaking Checklist

Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.


In today's Daily Do, What happened to our celery?, families participate in a Dinner Table Discussion (see below) about the phenomenon of cut celery stalks changing from rigid to wilted (or rubbery) to rigid again. This sensemaking discussion has four parts:

  1. Families raise the question "What happened to our celery?" by introducing the phenomenon of celery stalks, a common snack, changing from rigid to wilted (or rubbery). Students and their families observe the different parts of the celery stalk, taking particular notice of the water that seems to be held inside the stalk.
  2. Families ask students to explain what they currently understand about how and why they think they celery stalks stay rigid (the water stays inside) even though they have been cut.
  3. Families prompt students to generate questions about celery, considering it as both a snack and as a plant.
  4. Families read an article and do an activity together to find some answers to their questions about celery.
What Are Dinner Table Discussions (DTDs)?

This activity is called a Dinner Table Discussion (DTD). DTDs do not have to physically happen at the dinner table. Rather, they are intended to facilitate connections for the family around a discussion about science ideas wherever you may congregate for a meal. Whether you cook dinner at home or order takeout, the DTDs are centered around relevant science phenomena and raise common questions children have about the world around them. The goals of DTD’s are to accomplish the following:

  1. Foster connection among family members through discussion of relevant science ideas.
  2. Prompt students and their families to think about what they currently know.
  3. Help students and their families ask what they want to know more about.
  4. Allow families to discover something new that moves everyone along the learning continuum of a particular science idea.

Like Daily Do’s, these types of activities are considered “micro-learning experiences.” They are not intended to replace classroom science learning, and are not intended to be used as “homeschool” stand-alone science lessons. They are not intended to result in being able to generate robust, complete scientific explanations of phenomena. Conversely, they are intended to move student thinking along the continuum of learning.

These are intended to be family-style discussions, with provided parent talk-moves, that stimulate thinking among family members and move everyone along the continuum of learning. Each dinner table discussion has these components to them linked below. These components provide fertile ground for the discussion to be authentic, phenomena-driven, rooted in science, and focused on sensemaking.

If this is your first Dinner Table Discussion in the Daily Do series, NSTA recommends reading the guidance below before trying your first family discussion.

Dinner Table Discussion —Guidance for Families

Dinner Table Discussions have three main components. The following guidance will support you in facilitating your family discussion.

Introducing the Phenomena and Raising the Question

Our goal is to raise a puzzling question for students that does three things: (1) prompts them to think about what they currently know, (2) makes them ask what they want to know more about, and (3) helps them discover something new that moves them along the learning continuum.

Tell me what you know...

We want to encourage children to explain what they think they understand to be true. These previous understandings are critical to exposing what they know and the questions they have. As they work to explain their current understandings, they will realize they don’t know as much as they think, which will spur the generation of further questions.

What questions do you have?

In developing insufficient explanations for things, students generate authentic questions they have that are the pathway to discovering the answer. In other words, these are our explanatory questions that if we were able to investigate, would help us understand more about what we currently don’t understand. Our goal here is to generate lots of questions, but anticipate the common ones. The common questions are central to developing an explanatory idea, and we want to foster that environment by giving adult family members discussion prompts (talk moves) to facilitate the discussion for students as they work to articulate what they want to know more about.

Pursuing Common Questions

Our goal here is not to develop a robust and complete scientific understanding of a particular phenomenon. Our goal is to help students/children understand a puzzling phenomenon more deeply than they do. Learning is a continuum, and with these discussions, we seek to move students further along the continuum; not push them to the end. The objective is to stimulate thoughtful discussion that is rooted in a scientific phenomenon and a scientific explanation.

What Happened to Our Celery?

Have you ever taken some celery out of the refrigerator just to notice it was all limp and rubbery? It wasn't that way when we purchased it from the store, and it definitely doesn't look like the celery we eat when we have have it for a snack. How can celery go from being rigid one day, then rubbery the next? Can we still eat it? Do we really want to? Can we "fix" the stalks so they are rigid again?

In today's Daily Do, we will figure out what happened to our celery!

Introducing the Phenomenon and Raising the Question

Purchase celery from the grocery store and ask your students to observe it. You can combine this activity with preparing a fun, healthy snack by spreading peanut butter or hummus (for peanut-allergic children) and raisins on the celery. As your students enjoy the snack, ask them to make observations about the celery. Support them in making observations by asking probing questions such as these:

  1. What things do you notice about the celery?
  2. What do you notice when you snap the celery stick in half?
  3. What part of the plant is a celery stalk?

Students will make various descriptions of the celery. They may mention the celery stalk's rigidity, describing the stalks as “hard” or “firm.” They may notice the color. Students might also notice moisture in or around the outside of the celery stalk. All of these observations are valuable for prompting students to think about water being inside the celery stalk.

The leaves need water to complete the process of photosynthesis. Younger students will not know this yet, but older students may.

Celery Plants

Tell Us What You Know...

Ask students to observe the above picture of celery growing in the ground.

Many students have not thought of celery as a plant in the ground. Typically they consider celery as the stalks they eat. This will prompt students to think about this question: “What part of the plant is a celery stalk?” Our goal is to get students to realize the celery stalk is the stem of the plant. From that, we will spark students' thinking about how water moves throughout the plant.

Encourage your children to explain to you what they know (or think they know) about why you water the base of the plant instead of the leaves. If you purchased celery that has leafy tops, encourage children to observe the leaves and describe what they notice about them. 

  • Early elementary students will tell you about how the roots obtain water from the soil for the plants.

  • Upper-elementary students and older students may tell you that leaves carry out photosynthesis and need water to do so.

Ask students to “explain the science of how plants hold, or move, water.” Older students may talk about water “moving” through the plant, while younger students may refer to water “being in” the plant.

Children will attempt many varieties of explanations, but our goal here is not to distinguish between right and wrong answers or ideas. Rather, we want to foster discussion about the “how” and the “why” of water transport in plants. Ask follow-up questions to their explanations, such as “Can you tell me more about that?” and “How do you know that?”

What Questions Do You Have?

You can say something like, “It sounds like we have more questions than answers. What questions do you have about how plants hold, or move, water?” Encourage students to ask as many questions as possible that are relevant to the discussion.

Common questions could include these:

  • How do the roots “suck up” the water?

  • How does the water get from the roots to other parts of the plant?

  • How does the water stay in the plant after it has been cut?

  • Why doesn't it get rubbery right away?

Pursuing Common Questions

Place a celery stalk in the microwave for 30 seconds. Ask students to observe the celery stalk and how it is different from when they first observed it. Ask them to describe what properties have changed and what they observe now that they didn’t before. Students will mention the celery is soft, almost “rubbery,” and it has lost its rigidity. Ask them why they think this happened.

Read the NSTA article by Kathleen Damonte titled “Up Goes the Water.”

After reading the article, ask your children the following questions:

  • What is one new thing you learned that you didn’t know before?

  • Which of our original questions did our discussion and the article answer?

  • What other questions do you have about how plants move water from one part to another?

This DTD has two optional extension activities.

  1. Purchase lettuce heads from the store (romaine works the best) and ask children to make observations of the lettuce when you first purchase it. Allow the lettuce head to wilt for a few days in the refrigerator. Ask students to make observations of it again, noting the leaves are softer and not as rigid compared to when you first observed it. Place the lettuce head(s) into a container of water and observe them the next morning. Ask students to explain what they think happened after placing the lettuce into a container of water.

  2. Get fresh celery stalks (preferably with leafy tops) from the grocery store. Fill a glass half full of water, place the celery in it, and add 3 drops of food coloring (red and blue work the best). After several hours, ask students to make observations of the leaves. Students will notice there are small colored circles that have appeared on the leaves of the stalks. Additionally, students may notice colored lines running along the length of the stalk. Cutting open the celery stalk would reveal multiple colored lines (the same color as the food coloring) running the length of the stalk.

Then read the article titled "How to Revive Lettuce With This Chilling Hack" and ask students to explain how what they learned from observing the celery stalk connects to reviving wilted lettuce.

What Happened to Our Celery?

Now that we understand more about how and why celery (and other plants) hold on to and move water, it makes us wonder about other things about plants and the food we eat. If you and your children would like to pursue an extension activity connected to this Dinner Table Discussion, check out the Daily Do Why is our fruit turning brown?

NSTA Collection of Resources for Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a What happened to out celery? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking Add to My Library, located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos From NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.

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