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Peat Pots
Administration Procedures

Grade 5-8 Performance Task
Contributed by: New York State Education Department (NYSED)
NYS Alternative Assessment in Science Project (1996)

Credit/Source: Earth - The Water Plant - NSTA (1989)


Students will place a peat pot in water to observe and calculate the rate of capillarity in a model of a soil.

This task assesses students' abilities to make simple observations, collect, record, and represent data, use a data table to represent data, apply mathematics to solve for an unknown, use a graph to represent data, and draw conclusions from experiments.

This task is designed to take students approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Overall Task Content Area:

Earth Science

Specific Knowledge Areas:

Structure of the Earth System

Performance Expectations:

  • conducting investigations
  • using equipment
  • gathering, organizing, and representing data
  • formulating conclusions from investigational data
  • applying scientific principles to develop explanations and solve new problems

National Science Education Standards:

8 ASI 1: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
1.4 Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence. Students should base their explanation on what they observed, and as they develop cognitive skills, they should be able to differentiate explanation from description providing causes for effects and establishing relationships based on evidence and logical argument. This standards requires a subject knowledge base so the students can effectively conduct investigations, because developing explanations establishes connections between the content of science and the contexts within which students develop new knowledge.

1.5 Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations. Thinking critically about evidence includes deciding what evidence should be used and accounting for anomalous data. Specifically, students should be able to review data from a simple experiment, summarize the data, and form a logical argument about the cause-and-effect relationships in the experiment. Students should begin to state some explanations in terms of the relationship between two or more variables.

1.8 Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry. Mathematics is essential to asking and answering questions about the natural world. Mathematics can be used to ask questions; to gather, organize, and present data; and to structure convincing explanations.

8 D ESS 1: Structure of the earth system
1.5 Soil consists of weathered rocks and decomposed organic material from dead plants, animals, and bacteria. Soils are often found in layers, with each having a different chemical composition and texture.

(Use the "hot" link on the PALS home page to check the full text of related National Science Education Standards, if desired.)

National Council of Teachers of Mathematics:

MEAS2: Apply appropriate techniques, tools, and formulas to determine measurements:
Grades 6-8 k. select and apply techniques and tools to accurately find length, area, volume, and angle measures to appropriate levels of precision

NO1:Understand numbers, ways of representing numbers, relationships among numbers, and number systems:
Grades 6-8 q. understand and use ratios and proportions to represent quantitative relationships

AL2: Represent and analyze mathematical situations and structures using algebraic symbols:
Grades 6-8 f. develop an initial conceptual understanding of different uses of variables

AL4: Analyze change in various contexts:
Grades 6-8 e. use graphs to analyze the nature of changes in quantities in linear relationships

AL3: Understand mathematical models to represent and understand quantitative relationships:
Grades 6-8 c. model and solve contextualized problems using various representations, such as graphs, tables, and equations

DAP2: Select and use appropriate statistical methods to analyze data:
Grades 6-8 e. Find, use, and interpret measures of center and spread, including mean and interquartile range

PS1:Build new mathematical knowledge through problem solving:
Grades 6-8

COM1: Organize and consolidate their mathematical thinking through communications:
Grades 6-8

REP1: Select, apply, and translate among mathematical representations to solve problems:
Grades 6-8


General Instructions to the Teacher:

This task is designed to take approximately 20 minutes to complete.

Students will be working individually during this exercise.

Students should be ready to work as soon as the period begins. The materials should be set out at each lab station, if possible. A central supply area, if needed, should be easily accessible. All supplies should be clearly labeled.

Materials for "Peat Pot":

The teacher will need:

  • 1 large waste basket
  • extra supply of dry peat pots

At each stations students should have:

  • small peat pot (2-3 inch diameter)
  • small dish with diameter larger than pot
  • funnel
  • metric ruler
  • graduated cylinder
  • stopwatch or watch with second hand
  • water
  • paper towels

Advance Preparation:

  • Peat pots' size and capillarity will vary.
  • Recommend - that the teacher determine capillarity rate prior to test.
  • Small disposable pie plates can be used for water dishes.
  • If peat pots are unavailable, clay pots may be used (time will vary).
  • Peat pots may be dried and reused.


  • Be careful.
  • Teachers and students should always exercise appropriate safety precautions and utilize appropriate laboratory safety procedures and equipment when working on science performance tasks.


1. Use of different materials, i.e. paper column (to compare materials and their capillarity) i.e. sand column.
2. Vary the length of time of activity.


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