Organelle Trail (4 Days)

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Students will be able to identify the specific functions of organelles and explain how different organelles work together.

Big Idea

Each cell has organelles that function together allowing the organism to live.

Note to Teachers

The Organelle Trail is an activity that has been around for a long time, and you can easily find several variations of it online. I love the idea of students finding out information on their own, and sharing with the class (students teaching students). However, the biggest problem I have with this type of assignment is that students become very good at "their" topic and remember it well, but this does not hold true for the topics they did not research themselves. This is why I add a rigorous complementary activity (The Round-up) where they actually have to manipulate the information they gathered from their peers. 

Typically, I have the students work on the Organelle Trail for four class periods,  the Round-up in two class periods and assessment in one class period.

The Organelle Trail is part of my Cells 'R Us project based learning experience. I decided to separate the two to give students an opportunity to focus on structure, before moving on to processes. 

The complete sequence I use is:



50 minutes

I introduce the mini-project by revisiting the "need to know" document we developed a couple of days before in the "Introduction to Cells" lesson, pointing out that in order to successfully complete the final project they must all have a working understanding of what each organelle does for the cell. 

I display the Organelle Trail website, and navigate to the Task tab.

As a class, we read through the requirements and unpack them. This means that for each of them I ask the class, "What are you supposed to do/have for this particular section?" As we are doing this, I have them create a chart or table in their notebooks where they will gather the information needed.   

We then navigate to the Evaluation tab, and discuss the rubric.

Questions that usually surface at this point include:

- Are we working with partners? Yes. (Although this can be done individually, I prefer them to work with one other person to bounce ideas and help each other "derive meaning from informational text." NGSS: Practice 6)

- Can we make the poster on the computer? No, you can print a picture, and you can type and print/glue the information, but you have to have a physical product. (Although this could be digital work, the Round-Up is a gallery walk. I have tried computer gallery walks and have yet to find a process that minimizes screen distractions when doing them. The conversation during digital gallery walks becomes more about the mechanics of the digital work and less about the content.)  

Once we have all agreed on the expectations, I display the Trail tab, show them the links I am providing for them, and explain that these are not the only places to find information, just the ones I recommend.

I continue by pairing the students up using their "Clock Buddies" - making sure that no two low readers or ESL are together (I have copies of the clock buddies, so before-hand I make sure that the number I call avoids the pairings that could have a hard time completing the task), and assign each partnership an organelle (cell wall, cell membrane, nucleus, cytoplasm, mitochondria, endoplasmic reticulum, ribosome, golgi bodies, vacuoles, chloroplasts, lysosomes).  

To close this day, I have them develop a work plan for the mini-project. This is simply having the students set up goals for each of the 3 work days they will have, and can be as basic as:

- Day 1: Research (Crime, Physical Description, Location)

- Day 2: Research (Accomplices) and begin crafting poster.

- Day 3: Crafting (Finish poster, check against rubric)

Note: The assessment boundary for NGSS MS-LS1-2. covers only nucleus, chloroplasts, mitochondria, cell membrane, and cell wall. However, if the students are to begin developing an understanding of how organelles contribute to the functioning of the whole cell, I believe that they should also know the basics of other organelles.

Research Days

75 minutes

At the beginning of both research days, and before they get the laptops,  I have the students bring out their goals for the day and write the statement "Before I leave the classroom today, I should have ______ written down/done. I plan to accomplish this by _______. If I do not get this done, I know that I will have homework tonight!" This simple exercise sets the tone and mind-set for the period, allows students to chunk the workload into manageable sizes themselves, and helps them realize that being off-task will have consequences.

In order to promote collaboration, I tell the students that if they find something they consider useful, they can (and should) post it as a resource on Edmodo, and that I will be giving out XP (participation points) for students that do. 

As the students are working, I circulate the room, checking on their progress. The things I am looking out for include:

  • Paraphrasing of the information - As needed I remind the students of the difference between paraphrasing and patch-writing.
  • Off Task pairs: I remind the students that being of task in class carries the natural consequence of having homework.
  • Struggling students: I provide assistance with key-words, use the Re-wordify site for difficult passages and coach students in the use of reading/note-taking strategies. (NGSS Practice 8 - Obtain, Evaluate and Communicate Information)

In these lessons students are held accountable to themselves for completing each part. Watch as a student recaps where he is so far.

Crafting Days

75 minutes

Just as on research days, I begin by having the students develop a goal statement for the day. I remind the students of the size constraint for the poster (12"x 18"), and remind students that it is more effective to separate the pieces and then glue/tape them to the construction paper than it is to start over on a new piece because someone made a mistake.