Cells- they are the basic unit of function and structure of life and tie EVERYTHING into biology. As we delve into genetics, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, these are all processes that occur inside the cell. Evolution depends on genetics, which depends on DNA, which is found…. in the cell. Our nerve impulses depend on a voltage gradient required to deliver information which depends on… cells. Harvesting energy from the sun? Cells!
The whole reason we are able to live and survive comes down to cells. Yet students tend to forget all about them!
5 6 Helpful Tips for Teaching Cells:
1 Everything in biology connects to cells– Give your students a heads up that everything in the course relates to the cell structure and vice versa. If you tell them that cells are the foundation of the class, they will be looking for this later and are more apt to make connections. I use my interactive cell model resource to help them with this throughout the year (link found below).
As you go to to teach other topics, highlight the parts of the cell that they’ve already covered and tie it into the lesson. Making these connections helps students remember.
2. Use simple terms at first– When describing organelles at the beginning of the year, use terms the students can understand. To just say that mitochondria is where cellular respiration occurs is not enough- even to say it’s where ATP is produced is not enough. These are meaningless definitions when learning about cells early in the year because your students most likely do not know what cellular respiration or ATP are. Instead, you could say that mitochondria is an organelle where energy is converted into a usable source- and later add via a process known as cellular respiration in which glucose is converted into an energy form called ATP. Don’t be afraid to fill the gaps in later!
3. My-my-my-my-my-my-my-microscope (to be sung to the tune of Lady Gaga’s Poker Face). Use that microscope! Kids LOVE looking at their own cells. A simple cheek swab slide or a pond water specimen will get kids engaged -and can I get an amen for practicing those microscope skills?
However, if materials are limited- there are plenty of online resources such as this virtual microscope simulation.
4. Use interactive and 3D models- try to use models that are as visually accurate and stunning as possible when teaching cells. Cells Alive and Centre of the Cell are great places to start. I would also encourage you have students make their own mini models are do a collaborative classroom effort to make a cell model (cake, clay, or paper mache!)
5. Use Analogies- Because cell organelle functions are typically taught first, it can be overwhelming for students. Just as a city or a school has a lot of jobs that are contribute to the overall function and well-being, a cell has a lot of organelles with jobs that contribute to the life of the cell.
6. OK, ok- I know I typically do 5 helpful tips but here’s another: Keep it real. One of the best ways to reach kids is to connect to their bubbles. I love using these videos to show the amazing world of cells in an entertaining way:
And as promised, here’s the link to the interactive cell model– this is designed to start off basic and change and grow as your students learn more.