Reflection: Rigor The Incredible Edible Cell - Section 4: A Look at Student Work


As a science teacher that does a lot of hands on activities, have you ever had the uninformed teacher walk by and say in passing something like "they get to play in science"?  There is a misconception among teachers that if the kids are up and moving or even smiling and having fun, that there is a lack of rigor.  As we all know, this just isn't true.  

Even if there is candy that students get to eat in this lab, that doesn't mean there isn't rigor. However, as effective science teachers, we know the rigor has to come from the way we design the lesson and the expectations we hold for our students.  Here are a couple of things that are essential for this lab to maintain rigor:

1.  Don't be tempted to provide the students with a sheet of step by step directions telling them which organelle is which candy.  I realize it can be tempting.  The lab will go more quickly, the students won't experience any frustration, and you think you are making sure all of the students are learning the same thing.  However, in my opinion, they actually won't be learning much more than how to follow directions.  If you truly want this model to further understanding, the students are the ones that need to create the meaning.  If you give them a procedure telling them which candy represents each organelle, YOU are the only one creating meaning.  The students need time to go back to the text, look at the candy for structural similarities to organelles, and to try to connect the structures to their functions.  When the students are the ones going through this process, there is great rigor in creating this model.

2.  Connect students to what they are supposed to be learning.  If you don't stop and help them connect to the Essential Question or skill at the beginning, middle, and end of the lesson, middle school students may just think they are "playing".  However, if you begin the class with "What are you going to learn today?" and while you talk with them about their models as them, "How does this connect to the skill we are focusing on today?", they can truly see the meaning and rigor is present.

3.  Use their work as true formative assessment.  Effective formative assessment means that students should receive specific feedback tied to a learning target.  And, students should receive some kind instruction that can individually help them move forward in their learning based on their feedback.  Now, I know that sounds hard!  But, this lesson provides you with a couple of opportunities for this.

a.  As students share their models, if you notice a group is having a hard time including both the structure and function when describing their decisions, don't be afraid to model one organelle and leave.  Ask them to practice the process you just modeled and to call you back once they feel confident, or if they think they need further instruction.

b.  Collect their Venn diagrams and sort them into stacks of learners with similar needs.  In an upcoming lesson, follow the procedure I described in this section to help these groups reach the conceptual understanding they may have been missing.

Sugar doesn't have to just mean fun and games.  I like to say it's just fuel for mitochondria to provide students with energy for rigorous thinking!

  Just because there's candy, doesn't mean there isn't rigor.
  Rigor: Just because there's candy, doesn't mean there isn't rigor.
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The Incredible Edible Cell

Unit 7: Cells: Structure, Function, and Processes
Lesson 11 of 12

Objective: Students will be able to develop and use a model to describe the function of a cell as a whole and ways parts of cells contribute to the function.

Big Idea: The students create a model of a cell as they show how different candies can be used as analogies to the structure and function of organelles!

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