A Diverse Cellular World (Day #1 of 2)

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SWBAT investigate actual cells and their component parts and develop a sense of wonder about the microscopic world.

Big Idea

Life, on the macroscopic level, is rooted in the microscopic form and function of the humble cell.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

Teaching Challenge: How can I develop a classroom culture that encourages student engagement, curiosity, and a desire to understand the world through scientific exploration?

As I have explained elsewhere (and in particular, the Anticipatory Set of this lesson), my aim is to teach skills that enable students to be the active inquirers in tasks that engage them whereby they discover the target content and standards for the topic. Of course, this may sound very "ivory tower" to some, and this culture and student buy-in may not happen immediately. Furthermore, not all content can be discovered this way; there are a great many concepts that need to be articulated, demonstrated, and reinforced by the instructor however I love seeing the look of surprise in my students' faces which comes, primarily, from them taking the lead in their learning. To do this well, though, requires a lot of intentionality and pre-planning on my part. For example, for students to successfully complete this lab, they must have had several layers of scaffolded content and skills:

1. Knowledge of cell organelles

2. Proficiency in microscope use

3. Criteria used in drawing specimens

4. Preparing fresh specimens via the wet-mount technique

So, with regard to these particular lessons I hope you will find the "bread crumb trail" that I have laid out so that you can see the purpose and planning behind setting up students to successfully use microscopes to gain a sense of wonder about the microscopic world. Furthermore, students ought to see the connection between structure and function of all cells; in particular their very own! Learning can't get much more personal than this...

I hope you get some value from my work! Please find the more intricate details of the included lesson plan.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

20 minutes

Basic Skill of the Lab: A proper introduction to the goals and steps of the lab are explained at the start of this two day investigation. Primarily, the skill of preparing wet-mount specimens is necessary before diving right in. Over the past few years, I have gone to creating videos of lab-related techniques or demos that I post to YouTube. These are especially helpful when I demonstrate things in class. My class is a bit of a shoe-box (both in size and in dimension) therefore students in the back cannot properly see what I am doing with a live demo. So, for their sake (think equity) these videos are projected on a larger screen and can be accessed individually (as in my case all of my students have laptops).

Target Organelles: By following the Cell Diversity Lab PPT slides, students will gain the content and particularly nuances of this lab. In particular, students are surprised that only a handful of organelles can actually be seen when compared with a typical cartoon diagram of the cell (see slides 6-11). 

"But I am not an artist!" No doubt, all life science teachers have been told this by some of their students. To this claim, I simply reply that I am not grading this as an art teacher would. Rather, there are very simple criteria that any student can do reasonably well that demonstrates what they have seen through their eyes that is translated through their drawings.

[Here is a sheet of six Microscope Drawing Checklists that can be copied and cut for student use.]

Instructional Input/Student Activities

30 minutes

During this time period, I just circulate to have conversations with students about what new things they are discovering (and completing the Cell Diversity Lab handout) and assist with the technical aspects of the lab. The class vibe is so chill as kids are working together and in pairs. They report back to me how interesting this whole scale of the universe is, especially how their own cells look under the microscope!

Pairs-work: Students having fun and working together. Makes a teacher so proud!

Solo-work: Student deep in thought.

Setting up a wet-mount specimen: A student is in the process of setting up his slide: Wet Mount Onion Specimen

Student Discovery! Here a student explains what he has discovered in his investigation: Student Video

Sample specimens: By using my cell phone camera these cool images were captured. I can then use these pictures to guide other students and show them what to look for by sharing these images with them.

1. Cheek Cell

2. Onion Cell #1

3. Onion Cell #2


Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

As the lab activity winds down for today I ensure that students properly store their microscopes and clean and store their slides and cover slips.

I then conduct a quick review (by randomly calling on students) of the organelles found in each cell and ask students to report out what jumped out at them (not literally-that would be traumatizing, for sure!). In this sense, what was memorable.

Continue to Day #2...