Reflection: Developing a Conceptual Understanding Cell Connections - Section 5: Closure: Exit Ticket


Early in my teaching career, I would drill and quiz my student on the names of every organelle.  I would give them these pictures of a cell with each organelle labeled with a number and the students would have to identify each part.  I would give them a percentage correct and my feeling of how well my students were learning was based on how many my students have memorized.

After a few years, I began to feel that this actually didn't mean that my students were learning at all.  One week after our unit, students not only couldn't tell me which organelle was which, but they had a hard time recognizing why organelles were important.  One huge conceptual shift that the NGSS is asking teachers to make is that it is all about conceptual understanding, not memorization.  The big idea here is that students recognize the idea that there are special structures that have specific jobs that help the cells.  It is not to name all of the organelles.  For me, even the student that couldn't name an organelle on this formative assessment, but could recognize that the plant cell would need an organelle to produce food and provide structure is the student that has a strong conceptual foundation.

Now, this isn't to say we don't immerse our students with rich vocabulary and text resources.  It doesn't mean we don't mention the names of the organelles.  It just means that when reading about them, the big idea we ask the students to not is that these special structures do specific jobs specific to the needs of the organism.  We ask them to look at the organelles and think, "How is the structure related to the function?".  

An amazing thing happens when you focus on a conceptual understanding, provide students with text references, and ask them to create models and provide evidence of the big idea....they learn the vocabulary anyway!  As they cite evidence and read text, they are more able to remember vocabulary when they first start with the big idea and have a strong foundation.  Or, they quickly can find the answer, because they know what they are looking for.  For example, they may not remember the name "mitochondria".  But, students with a strong conceptual foundation could say, "I know there has to be an organelle that makes energy for the cell.  I can look that up."

Focus on the big idea.  Provide them with time to read rich text.  Allow them to create models.  Ask them to use their text and models to cite evidence.  The conceptual understanding your students will develop will increase!

  It's about making meaning - not memorizing!
  Developing a Conceptual Understanding: It's about making meaning - not memorizing!
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Cell Connections

Unit 7: Cells: Structure, Function, and Processes
Lesson 3 of 12

Objective: Students will be able to explain that special structures in cells perform roles that contribute to cell function.

Big Idea: In a new spin on the traditional "Cell City", students create a model of a cell using a scenario of their choosing -a video game, television show, sporting event, etc. - as they have people, places and things represent cell organelles based on their functi

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  85 minutes
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