Cells to Tissues to Organs

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Students will be able to relate single cells to tissues to organs to organ systems to an organism by creating an analogy using a model train.

Big Idea

Body systems are made of tiny parts working together.

Note to Teachers

In this lesson, I use pieces of wooden train track as a visual for students. Alternatively, you could use Legos or K'NEX to build a house, beads and pieces of string to create a necklace or a small puzzle. The purpose is to illustrate how to use the different pieces to go from single cell to a class "organism".  

The manipulative aspect of this lesson is important for students to be able to develop a conceptual model to represent and understand the concept being taught (SP2).


10 minutes

To begin this lesson, I administer Page Keeley's "Human Body" probe (Keeley, Page. "Human Body." Uncovering Student Ideas in Life Science. (Arlington, VA: NSTA, 2011. 141-44. Print.). 

The purpose of this probe  is to identify students' thinking regarding the cellular makeup of the human body. I want to know if students recognize that the human body is an organized collection of cells (Herman's answer - everything is made of cells - student reply 1student reply 2), and not cells inside "coverings" (Felix and Diandra's answers). 

After students have finished their answers, I tell them to pile them up in the center of their tables since they might want to revisit them before turning them in at the end of the lesson.


40 minutes

I display the presentation.

As we go through the presentation, students use the wooden tracks to create a wooden train layout "organ system".

Slide 7: Each student gets a cell (piece of track).

Slide 11: In table groups, students join their individual pieces of track to form a "tissue". We discuss how this "tissue" can carry out the function of having a train go back and forth (but not all the way around).

Slide 16: Two or more table groups join their "tissues" to form an "organ" capable of performing the function of going all the way around. 

Slide 19: Two or more "organs" are connected to each other in an "organ system".

The use of manipulatives to construct a physical model for students helps students understand how form is related to function and how different parts of a system work together (SP2).  It, also serves the purpose of aiding the students in visualizing how a system works and how its function depends on the relationship between its parts. (CCC Systems and System Models - Systems may interact with other systems; they may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems).

On Your Own

15 minutes

I tell students to gather their computers and navigate to Edmodo where I have posted a sheet for them to complete. The expectation is that they finish before the class period ends.

Note to Teachers: I have students create their own copy on their Google Drive and submit it electronically. If this is not an option for you, I have attached a printable copy. 

This simple sorting exercise strengthens the physical model the students created by allowing them to develop the same concept of a system within known contexts - a human, a plant and a building (SP2).


5 minutes

To close the lesson, I ask the students to re-read what they wrote down at the beginning of the lesson. I ask them not to erase or cross out what they wrote originally, but rather to either add to it or write down a completely different answer in light of what they now know.  I also mention that if they are satisfied with their original answer to write down 1 thing they learned, 1 thing that surprised them and 1 thing they are still wondering about.

I go over these sheets as a way to determine if the lesson was successful and to check the development of student thinking that every structure in an organism is composed of cells.