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Lesson Plan 12

Salt and germination

Brief description
This fascinating, cheap and very reliable experiment clearly demonstrates the
damaging effects of salinity (salt) on seed germination. Mung beans are germinated
on paper towels in takeaway containers using various concentrations of salt water.
The activity captivates student interest and results are clearly visible within three days.
Use it as part of a unit on plants or Australia’s salinity crisis.
* Readily available from supermarkets and health food stores

Duration: 80 - 145 minutes (total over 3 to 7 days)

Year level: Lower to upper primary
Topics: Plants, germination, salinity
Preparation: 10 to 20 minutes
Extensions: SOSE: Investigate Australia’s salinity crisis

Introduce the experiment
Discuss procedure
Prepare salt solutions
Distribute materials and prepare Petrie dishes
Add mung beans to Petrie dishes and store in cool location

OBSERVATION SESSIONS (over 3 to 7 days) (10 – 15min)

Record the number of beans that have sprouted
Record any other observations that can be made


Record the number of beans that have sprouted
Record any other observations that can be made
Analyse the and present the results using age appropriate
instruments (eg tables, graphs, posters)

Lesson 12 – Germination Experiment Page 1

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Materials and equipment

Qty / Student Description

201 Mung beans (dry)

12 Round takeaway container (lid optional)

2 Paper towels

1 Cling wrap (~ 15 cm piece)

1 Rubber band

1 Packet of salt

13 Distilled water for salt solutions

1 Measuring jug or beaker

1 Plastic cup

1 Eyedropper for adding salt solution

1 Kitchen scales for measuring salt

1 Tweezers (shared)

1 Magnifying glass (shared)

One 500 gram packet of dry beans is sufficient for the whole class – available from health
food stores and some supermarkets
Small and large containers are suitable
Salt solutions prepared by teacher or group – see Teacher Notes Page 7

Purchase mung beans from supermarket or health food store.
Collect sufficient quantities of takeaway containers, plastic cups etc listed in the table
Decide how you will allocate salt solutions to each students (see Teacher Notes P. 8).

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Students’ prior knowledge
No prior knowledge is required or assumed for this lesson plan. The objectives listed
below are suggestions only and may not be appropriate for every year level.

Science skills
Students will: • Carefully prepare and label a Petrie dish (takeaway container)
for the germination experiment
• Carefully add salt solution and mung beans to Petrie dish
• Observe the mung beans over several days
• Record their observations using a table in their science journal
• Infer that high concentrations of salt prevent seeds from

Science concepts
• Low concentrations of salt are naturally present in soil and
• High concentrations of salt are naturally present deep
underground in Australia
• European farming practices, which removed or replaced native
plants with crops that have shallow roots, have raised
groundwater and brought salt to the surface
• High concentrations of salt in the soil or water prevent seeds
from germinating and plants from growing
• Seawater has a salinity of approximately 3.5% (approximately 35
grams of salt per kilogram of seawater)

Positive attitudes
Students will • Develop an appreciation of and concern for the environment
and the environmental impact of farming practices
• Develop a sense of wonder about the amazing process of plant
germination and growth
• Develop an understanding of and appreciation for the scientific
method in investigating real life problems
• Work cooperatively with partners/group members and ensure
• handle all equipment and water carefully and responsibly
• dispose of waste responsibly (eg pour waste water onto plants
or garden beds instead of down the sink)

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Introduction – Whole Class (10 – 15 min)
• Discuss the salinity crisis in Australia – see Teacher Notes (P 10) for a brief
introduction and / or:
• Distribute dry and soaked mung beans (two each per student) to observe and
lead a discussion about germination and the life cycle of seeds. Students will
observe a scar and tiny hole in the mung bean seed coat. Discuss the amazing
fact that each mung bean seed contains all the energy and instructions
required to create a whole new mung bean plant which, under the right
conditions, will grow and produce more mung beans.
• Discuss the objectives of the Mung Bean Germination experiment – to
determine the amount of salt mung beans can tolerate before failing to
germinate. You could use the discussion to develop the procedure together
with the class by asking leading questions such as:
“how could we find out how much salt mung beans can tolerate?”
“how much salt should we use?”
“can we use plain old tap water? does it have any salt already in it?”
• Each student will prepare a Petrie dish with paper towel, salt solution and
mung beans. Failure of a seed to germinate is just as important as a successful
Prepare salt solutions as a demonstration – Whole Class (10 – 15 min)
Students will appreciate just how the tiny the quantities of salt the mung bean seeds can
tolerate if they see the actual amount of salt being added to the water, so if possible, perform it
as a demonstration – you can involve them in the calculations by writing them on the
whiteboard or simple by discussing each step.

• Using the kitchen scales, plastic cups, salt and distilled water, prepare salt
solutions of various concentrations for the class to use – discuss the procedure
and perform calculations together with the class if appropriate (see Teacher
Notes P 6 for details)
• Allocate groups, discuss safety issues and distribute worksheets and materials

Prepare Petrie Dishes – Individual Groups (20 – 25min)

• Group manager collects materials
• Investigate dry and soaked mung beans with magnifying glass to identify parts
• Each student prepares a Petrie dish with paper towel and a label
• Moisten paper towels
• Place beans on paper towel
• Store beans in a bright, cool place away from direct sunlight

Conclusion – Whole Class (10 – 15 min)

• Discuss student predictions – set science journal writing tasks

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Procedure continued …
OBSERVATION SESSIONS (3 to 7 days – 10 to 15 min each)
• Observe and record results at approximately the same time every day –
students will be very keen to check progress often so it is worth discussing the
importance of recording the results at the same time (ie regular intervals)
• Each student counts the number of beans that have sprouted in the Petrie
dish they prepared and records the number in their science journal

CONCLUDING SESSION (20 – 30 minutes)

• Once all the results have been recorded, calculate the average number of
beans that have sprouted by the end of each day (the results are easier to
interpret if the total numbers sprouted are recorded everyday – eg if three
have sprouted on day 1, record 3 / if 6 more sprout the following day record
the new total of 9)
• Calculate the averages for each salt concentration tested (if appropriate,
students can perform these calculations – if not, perform them on the board)
• Discuss the results and important observations from the experiment such as:
Mung beans will not germinate and grow if water salinity exceeds
approximately 0.25%
The salinity of seawater is approximately 3.5% so the salt tolerance of mung
beans is much less than half that of seawater salinity levels
• Discuss the experiment and whether the method answered all of the students’
questions – if not, discuss what changes could be made or other ways the
questions could be answered, and if possible, follow some or all of these up

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Teacher’s notes
Preparing salt solutions
Perform this a teacher demonstration for younger students or to economise on time.
1. Equipment and materials:
Distilled water
Table salt
Plastic cups or bottles
Accurate kitchen scales
Measuring cup (250ml or larger)
Small cup (for salt)

2. Measure salt required into cup on scales (see table below

for amount to use)
If the weight required is less than your
scale’s smallest increment, measure out
2 or 4 times the amount, pour into a
pile and use a spatula to halve or
quarter the pile as illustrated.

3. Add salt to measured volume of distilled water and stir

Repeat for each of the concentrations required as per

table below

Amount of salt to add (in grams) to demineralised water (in millilitres) for
various salt solutions

Salt concentration (c) Grams of salt to add (s)

(by weight*)
250ml 500ml
Tap 0g 0g
0% 0g 0g
0.25% 0.6g 1.3g
0.5% 1.3g 2.5g
0.75% 1.9g 3.8g
1.0% 2.5g 5.1g
1.5% 3.8g 7.6g
9.1g 18.1g
(equiv. to seawater)
salt to add = concentration × weight of water ÷ ( 1 – concentration)
s = c W / (1–c) [* Note: 1 ml of water weighs 1 gram]

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Preparing ‘Petrie dishes’
Each student can prepare their own Petrie dish, add a label (see below) and salt
solution. Share scissors and pens if necessary. It is advisable to check each Petrie dish
before allowing students to add salt solution to ensure labels match solutions added
and guarantee clear experimental results.

1. Fold two sheets of paper towel in half two times to

produce a square eight sheets thick

Use the ‘Petrie dish’ (takeaway container) to mark a

circle on the top sheet

2. Cut paper towel into circle

3. Add label to Petrie dish (see below for suggested

label details)

Use an eyedropper or pipette to moisten paper

towel – drain off any excess water

Suggested label information

Mung Bean
Germination Experiment

Salt (NaCl)
Concentration: __________________

Date: _________________________

Prepared by: ___________________

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Adding Mung Bean seeds

1. Hint: use a flat surface and a playing card or piece

of thin cardboard to count and separate beans

Use container lids to collect and carry beans to


2. Carefully place mung beans on paper towel with


3. Space mung beans evenly apart on paper towel

4. Store in a well lit area but away from direct sunlight

to avoid towel drying out – observe daily for next 4
to 7 days
Note: move dishes carefully to ensure the beans do
roll around – separate any beans that have rolled
into each other after moving the container

Allocating solutions
The table below suggests the number of Petrie dishes to allocate to each salt
concentration for various total numbers (ie number of students in your class). You
could allocate these randomly by drawing them from a box and giving one to each
Salt concentration Number of Petrie Dishes
Class of 18 Class of 27 Class of 30
No water (dry) 1 1 1
Tap water 2 3 4
0% 2 3 4
0.25% 3 4 5
0.5% 3 4 5
0.75% 2 4 4
1.0% 2 4 4
1.50% 2 3 2
3.5% 1 1 1

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Recording results
Mung beans will sprout overnight on moist paper towel and do not necessarily need
to be stored in a dark place. Typical results for this experiment are listed in the table
and photographs below.

Total beans germinated (out of 20)
Day 1 Day 2 Day 3 Day 4 Day 5
No water
0 0 0 0 0 No change by day 5
Sprouts are up to 5cm long by
Tap water 7 19 20 20 20
day 5
Sprouts are up to 5cm long by
0% 5 18 20 20 20
day 5
Sprouts are up to 5cm long by
0.25% 6 14 20 20 20
day 5
Beans sprout but there is very
0.50% 2 7 20 20 20
little growth by day 5
Bean coats split but little or no
0.75% 1 2 4 4 4
Bean coats split but no growth
1.0% 0 3 4 4 4
– dried out by day 5
Beans coats split but no
1.50% 0 0 2 3 3
growth – dried out by day 5

3.5% 0 0 0 0 0 Beans drying out

0.25% Salinity - Day 1 0.25% Salinity - Day 3 1.5% Salinity - Day 3

Six beans have sprouted. All 20 beans have sprouted. Beans look very dry –
Sprouts are approx 3 to Sprouts are approximately 3 of the bean’s coats have
6mm long 10 to split but no sprouts have
35 mm long grown

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Australia’s Salinity Crisis
Salt is naturally present in huge quantities below Australia’s vast surface. It has built up over
many thousands of years through natural processes and native plants have adapted to cope
with it. Many native woodland plants have deep roots and consume large amounts of water,
preventing water from leaking through the soil and reaching the water table and salt deep
underground. Until European farming practices arrived, the salt remained deep underground,
well beneath the fertile topsoil from which plants draw their water and nutrients. But crops
such as wheat and many others have shallow roots and consume much less water than native
plants. The excess water leaks through the soil and eventually reaches the ground water
below. Each successive rainfall then raised the water table bringing dissolved salt from deep
underground to the surface. Once it reaches and the topsoil, plants can no longer grow and
eventually die off. The surface water evaporates leaving large salt deposits. This has already,
and is continuing to happen on a grand scale in Australia. These salt concentrations will take
many generations to reduce. The problem does not only affect growing plants but also
threatens to contaminate drinking water supplies and causes corrosion of buildings, roads,
and underground pipes and cables. Altogether, the costs to individuals, communities and
Australia’s economy are enormous.

How water brings salt to the surface

To understand how the salinity crisis has arisen, consider a bucket with a layer of salt at the
bottom, covered with pebbles and a layer of topsoil as illustrated.
If the plants can consume all the water supplied to the
bucket before it reaches the pebbles, the salt stays put
at the bottom. If the plants are removed or replaced plants
with others, which consume less water, but watering
continues at the previous rate, the water will reach the soil
pebbles and eventually, the bottom of the bucket. Each
watering adds to the water collecting at the bottom,
progressively raising the level. The salt layer will dissolve
into this ‘groundwater’ and rise up with it. Eventually, salt
the level of salty ‘groundwater’ will reach and
contaminate the soil, killing all the plants. Once the soil Figure 1 Over-watering dissolves salt
and raises it to the surface
has been contaminated, the salt is almost impossible to

Further information about Australia’s salinity crisis:

Department of Heritage and Environment – Salinity
ABC Science Feature – Salinity (Our silent disaster)

CRC for Plant-based Management of Dryland Salinity

Salinity – Australia’s Silent Flood (ABC TV series)
Four part documentary examining the threat of salinity, from its ancient origins to future
forecasts. The series looks at every state affected and talks to Australia's foremost authorities
from the farming, environmental and scientific worlds. Narrated by award winning Australian
actor David Wenham and produced by ABC Education's Lifelong Learning in conjunction with
Land and Water Australia.

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