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Cell Structure and Function

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Kara Kitamura Kara Kitamura 360 Points

I am currently working my way through the Cell Structure and Function sci pack and I already feel that I have been leaving out so much information when teaching my students about cells. This sci pack starts with a description of the characteristics of what makes something "living" and dives in to the details of cells. By completing the first section alone, I have come to realize that I have been rushing through teaching cells leaving out some of the key concepts such as the importance of cell specialization. Even though this sci pack does touch on this topic, I want to find a better way to teach this concept to my students. Any ideas?

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Kara,
Page Keeley, Francis Eberle, and Lynn Farrin are authors of a book chapter available in the Learning Center that has some excellent ideas for eliciting students' ideas about living and nonliving things:
Is It Living?. It is from the book 'Uncovering Student Ideas in Science'. I think you will find some excellent ideas to incorporate on this topic.

Mrs Hawk Catherine Hawkins 2400 Points

Thanks for the resource is it living - I am just starting my botony unit with young students and this resource is excellent - I can see a few things that I can modify for their age group easily!

Katherine Tierney Katherine Tierney 1780 Points

Hi Kara, I too completed the cells and functions scipack and found there was an overwhelming amount of information. It opened my eyes to what is missing in my instruction when I teach cells. Reading the scipack provided me with the background knowledge I was lacking. I feel better prepared to tackle cells this year. One area I felt the scipack did not address was the difference between plant and animals cells which is the benchmark I need to teach this year. Does anyone know of a good resource for comparing contrasting plant and animal cells? I have a a model to use, but I need a more interactive activity Please let me know. Katie

Patty McGinnis Patricia McGinnis 25635 Points

Are you familiar with the website "Cells Alive?" There is an interactive cell and it addresses the differences between plant and animal cells. Here's the page that has the interactive cell [url=]Cells Alive site [/url]

Kara Kitamura Kara Kitamura 360 Points

I just finished the Cell Structure and Function sci pack and it was a real eye opening experience. I have been teaching biology for over ten years and I was surprised that I found more information and ideas that I would like to implement in to my lessons. Katherine, I also thought that they only touched on the difference between plant and animal cells too. I like the activity that they provided where they first require you to put the correct organelles on to the t chart showing what organelles belong in which cell and then identifying the organelles in each of the cells. Maybe you could create a version like that of your own. You could also complete it backwards where they first identify all the parts then do the t chart so that it is more of a teaching tool instead of an assessment.

Jane Rodgers Jane Rodgers 3310 Points

Carolina Biological Supply has a CELL CRAFT game where one builds a cell and makes sure that it has enough energy and resources to sustain life and survive the perils of viral attacks. I only made it to level 5 (my cell died 3 times!) The students love is rather addictive. The students barely notice that they are learning concepts about the cell and applying them.

Chris Leverington Chris Leverington 4035 Points

I clicked on your link and it didn't work...but I searched for the game online and got this digital version....its pretty intense...i think its the same game anyways. I died. I downloaded the .exe version....i have a feeling my kids would be playing this outside of class

Carolyn Mohr Carolyn Mohr 92316 Points

Hi Kara and thread participants,
Not everyone knows about the NSTA Learning Center Collections, so I would like to mention at least one that you might find useful. The Online Advisors have put together collections of Learning Center resources for each of the Sci Packs. Each collection contains excellent journal articles, sci packs, science objects, etc., to help teachers understand the concepts and to provide ideas for teaching them to their students. Here are the ones for Cell Parts and Functions:
Cell Structure and Function: Elementary Collection
Cell Structure and Function: Middle Collection
Cell Structure and Function: High Collection

Jason Okamoto Jason Okamoto 1090 Points

Hi everyone! I didn't see this thread earlier, but I looked at the other thread about cells and got some good ideas. I really liked the Cells Alive resource you shared Patricia! The diagrams are nice and clear and there's a lot of information too! I also really liked the game from Chris and Jane. I can really see how the kids could get into that game. I like that they slowly introduce the different organelles as they introduce their responsibilities within the cell. I had a hard time getting my 4th graders to understand the difference between animal and plant cells since they really didn't get the concept of organelles. I need to go back and reteach that. I think I'd like to try using these sites to see if I can do some reteaching. Thanks again for sharing! Jason

Ruth Hutson Ruth Hutson 64765 Points

Chris wrote, 'I clicked on your link and it didn't work...but I searched for the game online and got this digital version....its pretty intense...i think its the same game anyways.'

The Carolina Biological link for Cell Craft is here. As Chris said, you can also find it on the sites on the web. My children and their friends play it on Congregate. However, some schools block the Congregate site. My children think it is really fun and it teaches some important biological principles.

Nicole Weber Nicole Lofgren 2880 Points I also like this site. Thanks for the sci pack tip though. I am going to get that one now.

Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

Cells Alive is an excellent resource. I just checked it out and will be sure to harness the power of this activity when teaching this unit in the Spring. It's a great way to 'hook and hold' the attention of even the most apprehensive of learners. Thanks for sharing.

Ronaldo Relador Ronaldo Relador 45315 Points

I am now an advocate of this scipack. It is really great learning experience.


Lorrie Armfield Lorrie Armfield 51438 Points

I used some of the Science objects in my classroom with my scholars last year. The resources took a challenging topic and presented the concept in such a clear, concise fashion. My scholars developed the enduring ubderstanding needed to transfer their knowledge of the structure of the cell (and it's organelles), to he real world ( creating a 'Cell City').

Kathryn Mattila Kathryn Mattila 2625 Points

I definitely agree with you. I have my cells unit coming up at the beginning on next semester and I really am leaving a lot out for them. I feel like this year, I will be more prepared and be able to get big ideas and concepts across to my students better. Thank you for resources.

Sandra Dolbin Sandra Dolbin 4985 Points

Hi Everyone, I actually was wondering the exact same thing that was being threaded throughout much of the discussion: The difference between plant and animal cells and how to address it in such a way that fourth graders would understand and be engaged with it. I’m also in the process of working on the Sci Pack “Cell Structures and Function” and I noticed that it is lacking in the area that I need to teach (the difference between plant and animal cells). This seems to be a benchmark that little to no information is available (well, on a level that is relevant and teachable to fourth graders that is). I’m glad that I read through each of the posts in this forum as many of you shared some great links and sites that could be utilized with fourth graders. Thank you for the links to the interactive sites as well as the link to the cell structure and function: elementary collection. I found these sites to be informative and I am definitely going to use the interactive site with my students.

Kendra Young Kendra Young 17180 Points

Hi Sandra, For fourth grade students, I would focus on just two or three key differences between plant and animal cells. Plant cells have a cell wall and chloroplasts, animal cells have only a cell membrane and no chloroplasts. If you wanted to challenge them, point out that in plant cells a central vacuole is larger than the cell's nucleus, but in animal cells the nucleus is the largest organelle. I'm also attaching a collection of resources I've used in my own middle school (7th grade) classroom. I think these activities could be easily modified for your fourth graders, especially the cell as a candy factory idea. I was unable to find brown/cream legos in sufficient numbers, so our peanut butter cup factory became an oreo cookie factory with black/white legos. I found that doing this activity prior to introducing cells and then again after teaching the material really solidified the parts of the cell, and that's what you have to teach in order to teach the differences. Another favorite of mine is the jello cells. It's messy but one of the most "worth it" projects I've ever done. Also, when teaching the differences, I would suggest using black and white copes of cells. Students will naturally try to classify cells according to the colors of the organelles. While chloroplasts really are green, mitochondria aren't really red or blue (the colors they're most often depicted in). Using black and white copies forces them to look at the internal structures of the organelles to determine which is which. Good luck! This is my very favorite topic to teach! Please let us know how it goes. Kendra

Cells Collection (16 items)
Dawn McCoart Dawn McCoart 6215 Points

Thanks so much for the Carolina Biological site cell game. That is something I can see my students using. I've used Cells Alive for a while, they do a nice job with Mitosis, too. The SciGuides for Cells have a lot of nice information adn some great links to outside sources to check out. Dawn

Rochelle Tamiya Rochelle Tamiya 4095 Points

Hi Kara, I hear you! I took the course last year and chose this scipack as well and let me tell you...boy was I blown away (like you) with the information that there actually was that I was leaving out of my curriculum. Here I thought I was "hitting" all that I should! ;0). I did make adjustments to my curriculum last year to incorporate some of the things that I was leaving out of my curriculum. For example, although I teach organelles and their functions, I had students get more in-depth with them by doing a cell analogy powerpoint (the nucleus is like the brain, it controls all activities of a cell). I also targeted the specialization of cells by having students choose a cell (blood, nerve, muscle, etc.) and had them do a report and presentation on their cells. Students needed to inform others of the cell structure and specialized function but they also needed to present an artifact with their "report". Some of the students made collages, posters and powerpoint presentations while others got really creative and made 3D products using tubes, beads, etc..It turned out really cool and students were able to see that we have more than just red and while blood cells in our bodies!

Cally Carlson Cally Carlson 3000 Points

That cell craft game is definitely a winner! I could definitely see using that in the classroom!

Travis Toriano Travis Toriano 990 Points

I just started the SciPack and also realized that I could have expanded on many parts of my instruction. The biggest hurdle is the amount of class time that we have with the students, between state assessments and other interruptions my unit on cells is already pretty tight. With the move to more instructional time I think this resource has provided me with possible lessons to expand upon. Although I just started the SciPack I already realize I can really expand on the idea of surface area to volume ratio. Also this would help with interdisciplinary planning as my school transitions to teaming. Thanks to the information I can easily see more connections which can be made between my students math class. I also have had a chance to check out the interactive resources you all have posted on the forum. Thanks for the resources!

Eve Nishikawa Eve Nishikawa 3190 Points

One suggestion I have for a cell lesson is to do a double bubble. For those of you who have never heard of a double bubble before, it is sort of like a making a web, however you use two circles instead of one. You use a double bubble when you are comparing two things. In one circle I put animal cell and the other plant cell. From there my students had to put all the similarities between the two topics. If they found a difference then they would have to only attach it to the topic it is related to. They had the option of either looking at a model of the cells I had in class or they could look at color pictures. I found this very effective and most of my students were able to accomplish the task. After they finished they also had to write about their double bubble. They had to tell me what they learned and about their differences and similarities. It is a fairly simple benchmark to meet but make sure not to go overboard with the parts of the cells. Just stick to the basic parts especially since many of the names are very difficult for 4th graders to remember. I have attached an example of a double bubble. I didn't fill in everything but at least this gives you a start.


Monica Chavez Monica Chavez 1500 Points

I have my students create a power point presentation where they provide analogies of how the cell organelles compare with real world "jobs." Last year, I had each student present and then reflect. The pre and post test proved the presentation project to be successful. I did gather from their reflection that they would have preferred to do it in pairs. I will make this change because I believe students would have learned more from one another. To prepare students for their power point, I had them take Cornell notes on each cell part and make riddle cards. However, I feel that the abstract concept of cell organell parts is irrelevant to students. Does anyone have suggestions on how to make this benchmark more relevant so students would better understand why they must learn each organell part?

Opt_out Opt_out Tara Soleta 1560 Points

I am beginning to teach Cell Division and Differentiation for my 5th graders and I found the recommendation of Cells Alive interactive site very helpful! My students have learned the basics of cell structures and function. The scipack develops ideas and concepts of how organisms have longevity and their environmental factors that affect it. This site will be enable me capture my students attention with the vivid graphics and interaction. I believe that in reviewing the cell basics with them they will be able to better understand the in depth concepts of division differentiation.

Liamarie Thomas Liamarie Thomas 2360 Points

Aloha Jane, Thank you for sharing that web site, game and idea! I also could not open it so I tried the one that Chris Leverington shared and it worked! I died very early on! But I guess practice makes it more fun!? I think this is an awesome game for the students to reinforce their learning. I liked the background information and ecyclopedia option to help them define terms. The video seemed cute even I didnt really see the direct connedtion but maybe its just me?? I also liked the double bubble lesson idea that Eve Nishikawa shared. I might use the outdated transparencies that I still have taking up space in my closet in order to do the double layer. Maybe that would work nicely? I cannot wait to do all of these lessons with my students! Thank you for all of the great ideas!

Erin Mendelson Erin Mendelson 2690 Points

Hi! In another Scipack titled Science of Food and Safety, there was a terrific lab experiment with Elodea plant. I recently received a high power microscope through another professional development course. I've been looking for different ways to implement labs using the computer. Under the microscope, the chloroplasts, cell walls and membrances can clearly be seen. Students will look at the Elodea on a wet slide. Then, on the next slide, a salt solution will be added to the slide. Through osmosis the water in the vacuoles will exit the cells and thus the cell membranes will collapse like a ballon with out air. I plan to show a short video clip so that the students will know what to look for. I am hoping with this lab students will see that although plants don't "move" they are living organisms.

Monica Chavez Monica Chavez 1500 Points

Woo! I just completed the cell structure and function sci pack! It has so much detailed, specific information that I wish I could provide to my gifted and talented students. There were a lot of interactive computer animations I also felt would benefit all my students. I especially liked the section on cell surface area ratio because it involved math. This is a great reminder to me how I can make a lesson where students recognize the purpose to having small cells. Overall, I felt this sci pack was a great refresher on many important facts. I like how the information was organized because it helped remind me how to align my curriculum and to be mindful of the common preconception students might bring. The pedagogical section, it was helpful to have helpful ways to teach this unit that I feel is very abstract, but can be understood in chunks. Again, this was great for me to review and to prepare my students in understanding how to better approach teaching and learning about cells.

Nichole Montague Nichole Montague 4675 Points

I am just getting started on the Cell Structure and Function SciPack for one of my PD courses. I have never taught about cells, so this is a great refresher. The problem is, I teach 6th grade physical science and need to come up with a couple lessons utilizing the content in this SciPack. I am wondering if anyone has any good ideas to tie in with physical science standards - energy transfer or any type of inquiry activity that might help me relate the content to physical science grade level standards?

Tina Alcain Tina Alcain 3305 Points

I always do the Jello cell for this unit and my students really enjoy it. I make the jello cell with yellow jello so it's easy to see and they use candies like red hots, fruit roll ups, jellybeans, etc to represent the different organelles. I have the students work in pairs or threes (if there is one extra person). They finish their jello cell and then have to tell me what candies they used for the different organelles and their functions. Does anyone have any ideas as to how to make this activity jump up a level?? I need my students to be higher level thinkers but I need help as to how to do it effectively.

Liamarie Thomas Liamarie Thomas 2360 Points

Aloha Tina~ I like your cell-jell-o idea. I would love to try this!! Another idea: I showed my students a cell rap from YouTube. I liked this video because it explains what the different cells functions are, what they might look like, characteristics of the different cells and/or what its job is. I also liked that they repeated some important key points. I had my students take 2-column notes on specific vocabulary that I chose. Then they needed to use at least 5 key terms and definitions as they created their own group rap, song or skit. My 5th graders were actually really into the idea. They were really creative. It was also a great time for me to assess the kids in multiple ways. Whether or not each student was being a community contributor, had leadership qualities, performance/speaking skills, and if they really understood the cell functions or not. It was entertaining and informative for both the students and myself.

Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

Hello everyone, I'm just jumping into this discussion and I love all the ideas. I've been trying new ways for my fourth graders to work on their understanding of plant and animal cells. Last year I had them build their cells with construction paper on card stock and we built each cell by parts so that they could understand what makes each cell unique. This year we went over the similarities and differences and I gave them crayon air dry clay and had them build their cells based on the diagrams in their science book and I was blown away. Their creations were amazing. Then we used string to label each of the parts of the cell. I did have them label the ER and the mitochondria as well as the nucleus and nucleolus. We did this for the animal cell. For the plant cells the students will use construction paper but they have to build their plant cells so that they are 3-Dimensional. I want them to be creative and make their plant cells "pop out" almost like a pop-up book. They always go above and beyond and I'm excited to see what they will make. I love the jello idea but I'm a health freak so I'm not going to feed my students "sugary" substances. I know that model looks great but I can't give them "sugar" it goes against my fit and healthy classroom policy. Thanks all, Ryan

Tina Alcain Tina Alcain 3305 Points

Ryan -- sorry I don't have that fit and healthy rule in my classroom...but I was thinking if you didn't want to do jello, maybe you could do play-do instead. It's really easy to make and you can make as many batches as you need and just make them each a different color. The play-do lasts pretty long and the kids really like making different things with it. The recipe is 2 cups flour (I sift mine to make the play-do smoother)2 cups water, 1 cup salt, 2 T oil, 1 T cream of tartar. Put it all in a pot on medium-low heat and cook until it comes away from the sides of the pot. I think the cream of tartar is VERY important because without it the play-do becomes really sticky and yucky. After the dough forms a ball put it onto a baking sheet and cool it off until you can touch it. Knead a few times until the dough looks very smooth. My students love play-do, even in high school. I think your students will like making their cells out of play-do instead of construction paper. Let me know how it goes.

Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

Hi Tina, Thank you for the great recipe. I will try that with future groups. The reason I wanted to have them work with construction paper is to have them work on the Habit of Mind of "Creating, Imagining, and Innovating." But I love the idea of creating play-doh. My fourth graders had fun with the air dry clay. I wanted to challenge them with the construction paper task. Thank you for the great suggestion. I will definitely be making the play-doh.

Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

Another update on my 3-D construction paper cells. The students were able to create great looking plant cells just by using construction paper and their creativity and imagination. I will try to post some pictures in future posts. Their plant cells have the ER, chloroplasts, a distinct nucleus and nucleolus along with the mitochondria and a cell wall. They were able to make everything stand like a pop-up book by creating a folded base. I gave them no instruction on how to build their cells. I wanted them to use their own creativity to design and build their cells. I was very impressed with what they have done so far. Many of the students share what they did with their classmates and their classmates learn by watching their peers. I love it. I will show you what they created. Ryan

Tina Alcain Tina Alcain 3305 Points

Ryan - I would love to have the lesson plan for your construction paper cells. I might be able to change it up to fit my 10th grade class.

Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

Hi Tina, When I finish writing it up I will post it for you to use and adapt. No problem.

Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

My students have been working on their clay models and the construction paper models and I wanted to put some pictures so you have an idea what they are doing. I was excited with their creations and from here we will discuss the similarities and differences between the animal cells and plant cells


Ryan Towata Ryan Towata 3340 Points

Here is a picture of students animal cells using air dry clay.


IMG_1893.jpg (2.64 Mb)

Tina Alcain Tina Alcain 3305 Points

We are studying cell structure and function right now in Biology class and I think I have exhausted every website resource out there for worksheets and activities for my students to do. I usually do the Jello lab cell activity but I think this year I will be having the students work in group and make their cells out of Play-Doh instead. I had the students color their animal and plant cell pictures and after we go over the organelles again they will color a different drawing to see if they "got it". Does anyone think I need to do more? Or do you have any advice for me. I find that repetition is always good in science, but then it gets to be redundant after a while. (After the 2nd coloring the students will do their Play-Doh cells) I want them to understand fully, and I know that I cannot have 100% of my class be proficient, but at least meets proficiency would be nice.

Abra Pitters Abra Thomas 460 Points

Teaching cell structure at the middle school level is a challenge due to the ammount of new vocabulary. I had success this year by comparing the classroom to a cell. Linking common recognizable items to the function of the cell. For example: the trash can is similar to a lysosome.

Cheska Robinson Cheska Lorena 5075 Points

Oh man! I just finished teaching about cell structure and function. I wish I found this thread and the mentioned scipacks sooner! :( I'm now onto body systems--- is there a scipack for this??? Thanks, Cheska

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