CancerQuest: Cell Division Gone Wrong (Day 2 of 3)

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SWBAT compare and contrast the cell cycles of normal and cancerous cells.

Big Idea

Get your students connecting the cell cycle to their daily lives through the use of medical treatments and explanations of cancer.

Notes for the Teacher

This is a three day lesson series exploring current cancer treatments.  One student last year told me with pride in his eyes, "This project was IT for me."  Time and time again, students tell me that this project connected for them.  When I ask them why, they tell me the topic is one that matters to them and that they felt they were learning things that were directly related to their lives.  Some students told me they recognized the names of medications their grandparents have used and that although the vocabulary was challenging, that they understood just enough to motivate them to go further in their research or through check ins with their teammate or me.  When the topic is relevant, students will go so far!  I also build in time to do the research in the classroom so that I can provide additional support.  

Over the past few years, I have been focused on and committed to connecting each of our topics to student priorities and this particular project is a great example of the success of this approach in engaging kids and pushing them to pursue their level of science understanding.  

During Day 1, students explore their options on the CancerQuest website.  Standard(s): W.9-10.1eW.9-10.2bW.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1cSL.9-10.3SL.9-10.4RST.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS3-1HS-LS3-2XC-CE-HS-1XC-CE-HS-2XC-SF-HS-1

On Day 2, students work to create their projects. Standard(s): W.9-10.1eW.9-10.2bW.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1cSL.9-10.3SL.9-10.4RST.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS3-1HS-LS3-2XC-CE-HS-1XC-CE-HS-2XC-SF-HS-1

On Day 3, students create a public display of their findings so that others can benefit from their work. Standard(s): W.9-10.1eW.9-10.2bW.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1cSL.9-10.3SL.9-10.4RST.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.5HS-LS3-1HS-LS3-2XC-CE-HS-1XC-CE-HS-2XC-SF-HS-1

The Classroom Flow: Gettting Started on Today's Activity

10 minutes

1.  Tell students to take out their Cancerquest project document.  Let them know they might also find it useful to take out their normal cells vs. cancer cells note page for review and background knowledge as they begin to explore their project topic in depth during today's class session.

2.  Tell students that there first job today is to decide upon a topic and to sign up at the front of the room with you.  Each topic will only have one student researcher.  Reassure students again that there are so many topic ideas available on the Cancerquest website and that never in the history of this project has a student been unable to find something they want to study.

  • Note:  You will need to keep repeating this!  Students have been trained to pick something right away and then deal with it and struggle through the production part of research projects.  This project using this huge web resource is a great time introduce the way adults and scientists do research in real life:  by taking time and care in the pre-research phase in order to concentrate narrowly and effectively once they have determined their best option.  You will have at least 3-4 students in each class period who will not have settled on a project idea today and that is ok!  Encourage them to spend quiet time at home, schedule a follow up for later in the week to discuss options, and suggest some of your own as well.  

3.  Once students have signed up with you for their topic and partner, tell students that then it will be time for them to do some individual research on their approved topic.  Let students know that you will be there to help fill in any gaps in their knowledge/understanding that they find as they research their topic.  Tell them that your job throughout this process is to be their personal coach and partner: as they come upon questions or concerns unique to their project, they can come to you so you can figure it out together.  

The Classroom Flow: Time for Individual Research and Collaborative Conversations

30 minutes

1.  The first ten minutes after your announcements will be busy:  Students will be lining up to get their topic approved with you, signing out their laptops at the front of the room, and finding a place to work with their partner.  Move through the topic approval piece as quickly as possible so the bulk of students can get started on their individual work.  Ask students who have bigger questions to wait until you've signed up students who are ready to do so. At that point, the room will have settled into a calmer place and you will be able to focus more directly on the students who want to brainstorm ideas before committing to a topic.

2.  Tips for a successful work session include: 

  • Have students spread out around the room at the lab tables or their desks:  I tend to organize the room so that each lab table has only one project pair seated there and that the student pairs at desks separate themselves into their own space within the room.  This reduces distractions and off task conversations.  
  • Some student pairs may request to shift to a more isolated spot on the bench just outside the classroom or to go to the library to confer with the librarian.  I typically grant those requests and I make sure to tell the librarian ahead of time about the project and to check on her availability during our class sessions.
  • During this session, I tend to stay at the front of the room and let students get into their own personal research mode and so that students can discuss and sign up for their topic with me one on one.  Many of those conversations can shift into a coaching session about areas to think about researching or specific topics they may need additional information about in order to fully understand their topic.  For example, students may need your help to unpack how vaccines work or how the viruses infect a cell in order to understand how their chosen treatment uses those biological processes to fight cancer.  

3.  This class session is an intense work session for students as they dig into their research topic!  You will see all kinds of self driven, high level, focused individual and collaborative work going on in your room like:  individual internet research; checking reference materials in the classroom; discussing relevant terminology in partner groups; watching video tutorials for background information; taking notes; making sketches; consulting personal calendars to plan out their project timeline; referring to the project documents to familiarize themselves with the expectations for their final product.  

4.  You will rarely see off task behaviors due to the high interest and complexity levels of the topic.  If a student appears unfocused, check in with them.  Typically, they are thinking about what they are reading or seeing, or are trying to think of creative characters they might use in their final product.  If they are in fact distracted, it may be that they are overloaded and need a minute to refocus.  If you see that things aren't changing in a short time frame, go over and offer support.  Students will appreciate and respond to this adult way of interacting during this research session.  

5.  Finally, I find it is really important to start this process together.  After this class period, students are very confident moving forward on their own.  I also stress to them that I am here to support them and that the librarian and computer lab aide are both aware of the project and can also serve as a resource for them as they work on their projects.

The Classroom Flow: Wrapping up

10 minutes

1.  As the class session comes to a close, ask students to return their computers, sign them back in, clean up their work spaces and come back to their desks.  

2.  Ask students to take out their CancerQuest Research checklist and cancer quest rubric one last time.  Using the spokesperson protocol, ask each lab group to come up with one 'burning question' they need to ask you about the project for you to answer in class as a group. 

  • Note: You will get clarification questions about the logistics of how to turn in their group work: the order of the papers, how to format them, where the drawings go, etc.  Deeper questions about their content and writing will come later after they have had time to produce a draft and share it with you individually for discussion.  Remind them that they can do this and that you are here to support their individual exploration of a topic that interests them.

3.  Write down the major reminders/areas for students to consider on the board.

  • Note: Although all of this information is on the written guideline documents, students will ask to take a photo of the board reminders.  I also post them on our class website as an announcement/reminder.
  • Check out this student work sample to see the way in which one student chose to approach her Cancerquest research topic.  Because this student was absent for most of the week, she and I agreed to have her work on it without a partner, which is why you see only one cancer treatment here and not two.  I particularly enjoyed reading her reflections about her learning through this research project.

And now on to Day 3!