Exciting Cell Projects for Your Students

Cells and Cell Projects
To introduce the cell or for review, you can’t beat manipulatives! Pictures of organelles that can be placed on a picture of an “empty” cell, (just the membrane or membrane and cell wall with cytoplasm and maybe ribosomes) can be a very effective strategy to engage students.
Have students try these:

  • Assemble and compare the plant cell and the animal cell.
  • Pass out the organelles.  Call out the name of an organelle and have the student who holds it bring it to the board and explain its function before adding it to the cell.
  • Have students choose the relevant organelles and use them to explain and enact an overview of protein synthesis.

Cell Projects                                                                                                                                                             Cell models made of cake, cookies, Jello, legos, styrofoam, cardboard, cloth.     One student, a dedicated skater, even made his model using bits of hardware from an old skateboard, housed inside a small metal box that originally held skateboard bearings!  The key to the organelles was pasted inside the lid.  I ran into him in a cafe 15 years later, and he told me he still remembered that model!
So it seems that these projects are time well spent. But after retiring, I wondered. If the high school students have made cell models in middle school and a brief review is sufficient to bring it all back, or if you want to present your class with more of a challenge, then maybe it’s time to up the ante.
How about going beyond the generic cell model and asking /assigning students to create a model of a specific kind of cell? Many cells are fascinating in their own right. With around 200 cell types in the human body, there’s such a rich assortment to choose from! But some students might prefer some type of plant cell or even a single-celled organism. You’ll see some ideas on the next page.

Cell Project—High School Level                                                                                                                        Make a choice from the lists below for research and a presentation. Make a poster to help as you present. Differentiated Cells These cells are specialized cell types that perform special functions. General requirements and questions to consider: Compare and contrast the specific cell(s) you chose to the generic plant or animal cell studied in class. What important function does your cell perform for the organism it is part of? How does the structure of your cell relate to its function? Are any of your cell’s organelles absent or present in extremely large numbers? To what effect? How does your cell function to help maintain homeostasis? Explain. Give special attention to any interactions between cell pairs. Do the cell pairs act together to achieve balance for the organism they are part of? What might happen if the cells’ interaction gets out of balance? Do the cells help each other in some way?                                                                                                                                           Cell Choices:

  • a cardiac muscle cell
  • a striated muscle cell
  • osteocyte/osteoblast/osteoclast
  • neuron and glial cell
  • sperm cell and Sertoli cell
  • red blood cell and platelet
  • vessel element
  • sieve tube member/companion cell

Cell & Protein Choices:

  • adipose (fat) cell and leptin
  • plasma cell and antibodies
  • chief cell and pepsin
  • red blood cell and hemoglobin
  • alpha cell of the pancreas and glucagon
  • beta cell of the pancreas and insulin

In the Age of Technology, Is Touch Obsolete?

Thoughts on Hands-on Aids in Teaching

Clearly technology is marvelous! It connects us to all knowledge all the time. Push a button, and any question is answered. Every structure is pictured; every process is animated. So perhaps tactile learning and kinesthetic learning are now outmoded! But wait. Ask a child. Ask a parent. Ask a lover. Best of all, ask a teacher!

Photo: Baby exploring tree with touch
Babies arrive at birth with an already well-developed sense of touch that continues to inform their perceptions of the world throughout their lives. Above, a 4 1/2 month-old baby, touching the bark of a spruce tree.

Teachers know classrooms are still full of diverse learners. Multiple intelligences and many varied learning modalities still exist. Kids need to move, and they need to use manipulatives. They need the teaching strategies that address these diverse learning styles.   Holding an object in your hand is an intimate act, and it gives possession to the holder. It connects us to the object itself and to the concept it represents. Teachers know how vital it is!

And of course, there is brain research. Marcia Tate and Warren Phillips, writing in their excellent “Worksheets Don’t Grow Dendrites” series, list manipulatives, experiments, labs and models, as well as movement, as essential teaching strategies that address brain-based learning. Tate’s and Phillips’ books cite and quote research rationales from experts in the field. (You can watch Marcia Tate here)

Speaking of touch, many excellent manipulatives are out there. Let students handle a model of a five-pound chunk of human body fat (Life/Form), available at eNasco.com, and they won’t forget your discussion of lipid molecules! Get students at the board, assembling a lipid (triglyceride) molecule from Speak Easies’ Macromolecules Board Kit, holding the pieces and mulling over their placement and function, and the intimacy of touch will facilitate connection, understanding and retention!