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Plant Pest Control

This page authored by Jim Bidlack, University of Central Oklahoma, based on original activities by Jim Bidlack, University of Central Oklahoma, and George Johnson, Washington University in St. Louis.
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project


An investigation entitled, "Which Pest Control is Best for Basil" is explored through this learning experience to familiarize participants with scientific inquiry, hypothesis formation, experimental design, data analysis, and interpretation.

Learning Goals

  • Explore the concept of scientific inquiry.
  • Practice formulating hypotheses and designing an experiment.
  • Understand how data are collected and analyzed in an experiment.
  • Critique a scientific investigation to determine if the right conclusions are based on results of real data.
  • Gain an appreciation of science in action and how many questions arise from an experiment.

Context for Use

This learning experience gets students involved in scientific inquiry using real issues, real data, and a peer-reviewed journal article. Participants read the paper and learn about how the experiment was approached, the personalities of investigators involved, and how conclusions were made from data analysis.

Description and Teaching Materials

  1. Go to the website entitled "Which Pest Control is Best for Basil?" The MERLOT description and link can be found at and the direct link can be found at
  2. Follow the steps as outlined at the website including: 1) Explore the issue being investigated, 2) Read the original paper, 3) Gain an overview of the experiment, and 4) Run a virtual experiment exploring the original paper.
  3. In "Explore the issue being investigated," discuss the treatments being investigated and hypothesize how different pest methods may be more or less effective in deterring herbivory. Introduce the concept of a control and how the "null" and "alternate" hypotheses may be written.
  4. After reading the paper, discuss which sentences in the introduction include experiments that can be tested by the null and alternate hypothesis. For instance, discuss how the sentence, "...determining the influence of harvest date and pest control treatment on yield and metabolism..." can be worded to include null and alternate hypotheses.
  5. Proceed briefly to the "Meet the investigator" section to learn about science in action and what types of questions lead scientists to research projects.
  6. Learn about how data are collected and interpreted in the section entitled, "Gain an overview of the experiment."
  7. Run the virtual experiment and discuss the results. Determine whether or not the experiment was properly conducted, appropriately interpreted, and what types of experiments might be planned for the future.
  8. Discuss whether or not good research raises more questions than those answered by specific experiments and if so, how this contributes towards scientific knowledge.

Supporting Files:

Teaching Notes and Tips

Rather than simply reading a journal article and discussing in class, this learning experience gets students involved with the development of hypotheses, collection of data, and analysis of results to needed to make valid conclusions. Integration of background information needed for the experiments conducted and personalities of investigators involved makes reading the paper a little more interesting. Seeing the data analysis helps participants to better visualize results and learn how conclusions may be developed. Students can debate the results, how they are interpreted, and the impact of conclusions drawn from this investigation. More discussion typically occurs as participants get more involved with the individual components of this learning experience.


While a summary of what students gained from this learning experience may be subjective, it also allows them to get more actively engaged in research. A suggested assignment for this learning experience is embedded in this Activity Sheet, entitled "Assignment - Plant Pest Control."

References and Resources

MERLOT description and link to "Plant Pest Control," which provides a link to a peer-reviewed research article on pest control in basil. See

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