After so many biology classes, I had begun to realize that it seemed as though I spent a lot of time and energy teaching my kids all about cells, only to have them forget at least half of what they learned by the time we approached cell division, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, etc.
It was one year during the last class of the day, my beloved “G” period. There were 10 students in that class (long, crazy story there– maybe I’ll write about it and get a link in there so you can read it!), and it was a glorious class. It ended up being my favorite class because it was so easy to differentiate. It was so easy for kids to help others out. It was so easy to teach. (Is that an oxymoron?) Relatively speaking, that is, it was easier to teach than classes of 30. And it was more rewarding, because the kids really understood and tended to do better on their tests than the other classes. And there we were, talking about cellular respiration when one student, a bright student, chimed in and asked
“Ms. J., what is a mitochondrion?”
No big deal, I thought. And I answered him. It’s a singular form of mitochondria. He nodded, his pencil at his lips, looking down at his graphic organizer we were doing at the time.
Me: “A-and it’s where cellular respiration occurs.”
Student: “OK, so it’s in the cell.”
Me: “Yes? Yes.”
Other student: “What’s a mitochondria?”
Everyone laughs. But this year, I wasn’t laughing. This was something that I could see happening in many of my classes, even if students didn’t speak up. These big words were coming back to them and they had already been learned- and lost. So, I popped my lap top into the in-focus and brought up some visuals. Remember this? They did… vaguely.
That’s when I had an idea… if only I could have a cell in the classroom always. And not just a poster, but an interactive cell that could grow and change.
The idea is to start with the basics, and build as you go.
What might that look like?
Start off with a display of basic organelles: nucleus, Golgi, endoplasmic reticulum, mitochondria, etc. Then as you teach cell processes, you can swap out the organelles with a different version.
This is what your cell may look like at the beginning of the year:
Here is an example of how the mitochondria might change after you cover cell respiration:
The same goes for protein synthesis, cell division, cell transport, and photosynthesis. Here are some images of more specific organelles as they build upon the content:
This idea can easily be incorporated into any classroom! To purchase a template that’s ready for print and cut, you can download my Interactive Cell Model – it comes with the basics, the add-ons, the scaffolding, and the instructions!