Cells: Discovery!

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Students will be able to use the information and vocabulary they are exploring to make connections.

Big Idea

Students will get to ask questions about the cell, design a concept map to plan the unit of study, and get the basic vocab of this bundle.

Teachers' Lounge

This is the first lesson in a mini-unit about cells.  The overall unit is titled LIFE IS ORGANIZED.  At this point in the unit students have been able to access the prior learning they've done on the human body, and study and understand the characteristics of life.  The purpose of this mini-unit on cells is for students to know the structure and function of the parts of the cells, understand how the cells get their needs filled, and be able to build a model of cell that shows their understandings.   The entire unit plan is found here.  Unit- Life is Organized.


10 minutes

I always start class by going over the learning goal and explaining to kids what we will be doing today.  Then I show students the video, The Inner Life of the Cell.   

I always show the video twice.  Once for the students to just enjoy and once for them to write questions on sticky notes.  The students then bring their sticky notes to the front of the room and I quickly sort them into different categories that will help us plan the concept map for this bundle.  I generally use categories that develop our learning goals - structures, function, and purpose.  

Many of my students' questions are about, "How does it know what to do? Other questions come in response to the level of activity and the speed of the activity. "This is really happening inside of me?"

As I'm sorting, I will read off some of the questions and continue to point out to students that this is what we will be studying for this mini-unit and these are the things we will learn.  The question about, "How does it know what to do?" is the best question of all - because that's what we are about to learn.

Vocabulary Preload

20 minutes

Now that students are excited to learn about cells and know what they are going to learn about, it is a perfect time to introduce some vocabulary words.  I use a multimodality strategy to introduce only about five to seven words, and do this in collaborative groups of four with each person having an assigned job.  

1- Word expert- states what they already know about the word or what the word means to them.

2- Image expert- States what they think about the picture and what it means to them.  

3- Definition expert- Reads the definition and states what it means to them.

4- Sentence expert- Reads the sentence and states what it means to them.  

Following the powerpoint , the Word experts states the vocabulary word presented in the Cells- Structures and Functions presentation, and adds to it by saying, I'm thinking about....giving what they know (or think they know). The Image expert is next, "This is a picture of......". When I see it I'm thinking of .....". This is what it means to me..... The Definition expert is up next, reading the definition (shown on the slide) and respond to it by stating, This makes me think about... (or something similar). And then the Sentence expert reads the sentence shown on the slide, and then extends it using one of these starters - When I see this I think...This makes me think...This makes sense to me because...

Students are also responsible for recording this information in their glossaries (science journals). This makes them all accountable for each word. 

I use a timer and a bell.  Each person gets 15 sec for their role.  In the beginning of the activity the students need to be trained on what to do and it helps to give them some sentence starters, like "This means..."  "When I hear this I think..."

After each person has rotated through their roles for the first word, I give the students 1-2 min of independent time to make their TIP charts (Term, Information, Picture) for that term. Then we move on as a class to the next term.  Later in the year, when students are familiar with the process this can be released to them to manage their time.  But in the beginning I manage the time to keep the class on track.

This work has meaning and purpose. Students keep these homemade glossaries in their folders and can use them on all the work we do in class including tests and quizzes.  This is a great resource for them to use the rest of the year!

Concept Map Planning

10 minutes

During this next section of class, students take the questions they came up with and create a concept planning map for the mini-unit that fits inside the map for the large unit.  

This concept map allows students to see where they have been, where they are, and where they are going in their learning.  I start this discussion by reminding students of what we have learned so far.  We look back at the map that is already made and remember some important connections.


Then we look at the title of the mini unit and the questions we've asked.  We decide what the topics of the mini-unit should be and this also shows what we need to know in order to be successful.  We use a moveable "anchor" sticker to show where we are in the map and anchor our learning. 



5 minutes

For the closure, I project a picture of a cell and ask students to try to describe it using the vocabulary they learned today. (Practice 8 Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating InformationCommunicate scientific and/or technical information (e.g. about a proposed object, tool, process, system) in writing and/or through oral presentations.)

Then, I ask a couple students to describe what they learned when we connected today's work to our concept map of the unit.  Finally, I state that tomorrow we will start learning about the structures and functions of the parts of the cell and that we will be making our own cell models at the end of the unit.  

Cell Model Assessment Preview

I am giving my students a project to complete at home during this unit.  At the end of the unit we will display our projects in a cell museum.  You can find the rubric and assignment here.  

1) Students chose to do a model or a poster.  I give students the option of a poster to support my free and reduced lunch students.  They can still make a fabulous poster that looks the same or better than anybody else's with no financial outlay.  Models can be made out of any material.

2) Students fill in the structure/function/picture/thinking chart.  This is where students actually show understanding of the structure and function of cell organelles.  Advanced students are encouraged to use metaphors as opposed to make a pure model, as this allows them to display more thinking.  For example, one might say, I chose a whiffle ball for the nucleus because it has holes in it and could hold things inside.  

As the cell models come in, I display them like a museum.  Students are allowed to look at everyone elses and are encouraged to have discussions and give feedback using the rubric.  Depending on time, students can vote on their favorites.