Reflection: Classroom Setup Plant vs. Animal Cells - Section 2: Explore


When I first unpacked the NGSS standards MS-LS1-1 and MS-LS1-2, I realized that although not mentioned explicitly, we needed to start by understanding the basic differences between plant and animal cells. I believe that the students needed to discover this for themselves. The question then became, "How can I do this without access to microscopes?" After attempting to create my own $10.00 microscope (There are instructions floating around on the internet for this!), I gave up and it wasn't until I remembered the picture sorts that I used to do with my emerging readers, that I figured, why don't I just print pictures and have the students sort them.

The first time I tried it with a class, I realized that I needed to be sneaky about it (hence the spill) or risk having students either not be engaged, or not look beyond color (although some still do). Once I added the spill, and thus the need to have the problem solved before we could start the class, the students were much more receptive. 

Sorts engage students in analyzing the images, looking for patterns. They focus the students' attention specifically on similarities and differences. They also challenge the students to re-sort as "new" rules arise. For example, once they realize that color cannot be the basis of the sort, they start looking at shape and presence of chloroplasts (even if they don't know the word). After the sort, the students are much more confident in their explanations and start attempting to go deeper in their questioning.

Even if I had microscopes, I would probably continue doing this lesson since it encourages a meaningful interaction between the students. Picking up each card and being able to point to what they are observing as they are talking, provides the right amount of tactile interaction, and I don't have to clean up afterwards!

  Why a sort and not microscopes?
  Classroom Setup: Why a sort and not microscopes?
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Plant vs. Animal Cells

Unit 3: Cells and Organelles
Lesson 2 of 6

Objective: Students will be able to differentiate between plant and animal cells, and identify the three principles of cell theory.

Big Idea: All cells are not the same.

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