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Cells on Ceiling

By Kathryn S. Hopkins


Transparent models of plant and animal cells are created as the products of cooperative learning and independent investigation. Students learn the parts of the cell, its structure, and the difference between plant and animal cells. Other than content, they also learn how to work in teams together and how to think critically and creatively to solve a problem. Each student is assigned a cell part to research, create, and place inside of a clear plastic drop cloth (the cell) the size of one-half of the classroom ceiling. An oral and written report is required after the whole cell is completed.



Group/cooperative learning, model building




Large clear plastic drop cloth (Can be purchased at a building supply company in various sizes), string or wire to attach "cell" to the ceiling, student-created organelles


The warm-up for this activity is a forced-relationship (synectics) exercise whereby students justify an unusual comparison. For example, a nucleus is like a computer because...it organizes information. This format leaves the portion of the sentence after "because..." incomplete for the students to fill in. For example, a chloroplast is like a microwave because.... Or, the cell membrane is like a Ziploc™ bag because.... Each student generates his/her own "reasons" and sentence completions. Comparisons are shared and discussed.

Each student is assigned a cell part to research, create, and place inside of a clear plastic drop cloth (the cell) the size of one-half of the classroom ceiling. Students must use critical thinking skills and problem solving to find the appropriate media for their cell structures. The structures must be scaled to the size of one-half of the ceiling.

Each class plans and makes its own cell. One is a plant cell, and the other is an animal. (If more classes are involved and classes are large, sizes can be scaled down to produce more cells.)

The challenge is finding something (a media) of a size proportional to a "ceiling cell." A cytoskeleton of straws, an endoplasmic reticulum of toilet paper or crepe paper, lysosomes of blue ping pong balls, or chloroplasts of green tennis balls are a few ideas for structures.

The individual report is flexible in terms of format. The presentation could be a scientific paper and informative speech, newscast, HyperCard stack, slide show, dramatization, or story book. Reports must include the following: title, comparison of individual structure to a modern day (common) object, function of structure, appearance of structure, drawing of total cell with all parts labeled, and rationale for choosing the specific media used for the ceiling model.

The teacher can evaluate the students on the oral and written presentation of the cell structure: what was the criteria for choosing the particular media for the cell structure, and did students communicate its function and importance? The three components that need to be considered in the evaluation are the individual report, team work and collaboration, the individual organelle in relationship to the whole cell product. Criteria by which the completed cell is evaluated is originality (media used and presentation), flexibility (media used), fluency of description, and elaboration (attention to detail in making the structure). Students rate each other verbally and on a 1 to 10 scale. Also, each student does a self-evaluation of his/her contribution to the group.

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