From Cells to Biosphere: Anchoring Biological Terms (Day 2 of 2)

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Students will be able to define and connect the levels of organization in biological systems from cells to the biosphere.

Big Idea

Tap into your students' creative power and personal interests in science to create visual examples of basic biology vocabulary from cells to the biosphere!

Notes for the Teacher

The lesson is a continuation from the work our class began during Day 1 of this two day lesson connecting basic vocabulary in biology to a specific organism that each student chooses to investigate.

After today's lesson, students should be confident enough to continue the rest of their work on their own outside of class time.  Providing additional individual support to students as they work through their organism's specific examples at each level of organization is critical to their content learning and overall learning experience in this first project of our year together.  

You may set whatever deadline for the final project that you feel is appropriate for your class.  For me, I typically allow for at least one weekend for visual project completion.  This allows students to meet in a group if they are working with others and it gives every student the sense that they have the amount of time needed to do their best work.  Visual work takes time and many seemingly small tasks can require extended timeframes for completion.  Weekend time allows students to take some risks and plan bigger than they could for a weeknight deadline.  

The Classroom Flow: Connecting and Introducing Today's Task

10 minutes

1.  At the start of the class, point out the list of tasks you wrote on the board yesterday and ask for feedback as to the students' experiences with the definitions for each level of organization.  Clarify specific questions and see my Day 1 video for the most common stumbling blocks for kids at this point in the lesson.  

2.  Announce that students will be given the class period to continue working on their definitions and discovering more specific information about their organism.  Remind students they can collaborate together, ask you for help, and use their devices as necessary.

  • Note:  Please follow whatever device policy you and your school utilizes with students.  I suggest having laptops or other devices available to students if they are not allowed to use their own in the classroom.

The Classroom Flow: Student Collaborative Work Session

40 minutes

1.  Remind students that the class period is intended for them to work on whatever aspect of their project needs their immediate attention.  Post a list of potential jobs they can work on framed as questions:

Have I written down the scientific name of my organism?

Have I completed my written descriptions of the vocabulary I will be working with for my visual?

Have I checked in my with my group and my teacher to make sure all of my vocabulary questions have been answered?

Have I figured out what I want my visual project to look like?

Do I know what materials I want to use?  Do I have them or do I need to go get them?  If so, where and when will I do this?

When do I plan on working on this project outside of class?

What help do I need before we leave for the weekend and I am working on my own?

2.  Allow students to work at either their lab tables or desks to complete whatever project goals they have set for themselves for the class period.  They may assist each other or check in with the teacher for whatever clarifications or assistance they need.

  • Note:   My experience with this session was that I was productive busy and engaged with individual and groups of students throughout the class session.  Students felt comfortable coming up as needed and I was able to address specific issues, clarify points, and challenge students to think bigger in encouraging ways because of the time we gave ourselves to do this kind of quality collaborative work.  

Individual Student Work: Following Up

1.  Assign a due date for this project, announce, and post it in the classroom/online for students.

  • Note: I was able to arrange for some partial work days so that students could continue to work collaboratively and use my supplies for internet access and art-making.  If that had not been possible with our work schedule, I would have allowed for more time for the project to be completed at home.


2.  Expect and encourage a wide range of interpretations!  Check out some of my student samples for this year's visual representations.  I included a large range of student submissions so that you could see the diversity that came out of this more open-ended project.  The key to a good student visual project and an overall understanding of the way these words and ideas connect to one another seems to start with choosing an organism and linking it to a physical place/space in the world.  Once a student has a location, they can figure out what the abiotic factors are (such as the weather) and determine what other organisms live there with their specific organism choice (the biotic factors).  This location piece is a great way to open up the conversation about species vs. populations as well, how they differ and how they are related.  My hope is that these introductory conversations and work will lead to more in depth discussions when we circle back around to evolution and ecology later in the year.    


3.  When it came to grading, I was very sensitive to the anxiety that students might have about being graded 'down' due to a lack of artistic ability.  I kept my expectations for visual work very simple:  

  • the visual work must list out all of the terminology we were studying in a logical, easy to follow way
  • the visual work must explicitly show/state the example name of each term
  • the visual work must show a high level of time and care which could look very different from student to student and group to group  


I also assigned a grade for the work days in class to demonstrate the value I place upon that time and those learning experiences we have in collaboration together in the classroom space.  

The visual presentations students brought in were varied and beautiful overall.  I've included pictures here so that you can see both the quality and diversity of my students' presentations.  I hope you enjoy them! 

3D printer elephant

elephant mobile and sculpture

koala book 

fold out shark

snake mobile

snail sculpture

movable rabbit

fold out lion world book (graphics on front side)

fold out lion world book (explanations on back side)

marine ecosystem world book

grassland ecosystem world book