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Kimberly Rogers

Type of Entry:

  • Project

Type of Activity:

  • Hands-on
  • simulation
  • group/cooperative learning

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Special Needs (gifted, ESL, visually impaired)


This project is an alternative to the traditional methods of teaching a unit. It is designed as a cooperative learning activity. Cooperative learning is an important instructional tool when structured correctly. Otherwise it is a disaster, with the brunt of the work falling on one or two conscientious students. I have designed this project so there is something for everyone. In addition, each student is held accountable for his/her role in the group.

When the project is complete students will know what a cell is and where cells are found. They will know the function and role of each organelle, as well as the differences between plant and animal cells.


This project can be used as the means to teach about the cell. It answers the following questions; What is a cell? Where are cells found? What are cells made of? What do each of the organelles do? I use this activity in place of my "cell unit" and have f ound it to be very effective.

For the teacher, preparation is minimal. Most important is to keep your mind open to the creative ideas of your students. As many resources (books and computer) as possible should be available for students to use for research. The entire unit takes 7 -10 class days, from start to finish, and preparation on the teacher's part is approximately 1 hour.


Materials Needed

  • As many resources as possible (textbook, sample textbooks you receive as a teacher, college books etc.)

  • Butcher paper

  • Light microscopes

  • Cell slides - prepared and wet mounts - order Paramecium ahead of time.

Students inevitably will ask for things like, glue, markers, scissors, tape, rulers etc., it's a good idea to have these on hand.

Optional Materials

  • Access to Internet - a good way for students to learn how to use this invaluable research tool.

  • Have VCR, videodisc and overhead available for student to use during their presentations. I try to avoid the traditional poster style visual aides and encourage students to use these other form of multi-media.

  • Video Camera - to tape presentations


Begin the unit by looking at a variety of cells under the microscope, making drawings of the cells, and noting the actual size of each. The students typically look at their own cheek cells, Elodea cells, blood cells, Paramecium and bacteria. This gives st udents an idea of the variety in cell size and shape as well as the differences between plant and animal cells, and eukaryotic versus prokaryotic cells. If possible, order Paramecium from a biological supply company so they get an idea that this single-ce lled organism moves. This is merely an introduction to expose students to real cells, so they have a frame of reference for the rest of the unit. This should take 2-3 days in class, depending upon the level of proficiency at using the microscope.

Next, randomly group the class into 6 groups of 5 or 6 students each. I have 3 X 5 notecards of various colors with numbers on them, called my "all-purpose group cards". I hand the cards out to the students and tell them to get into groups either by colo r or number. They never know which it will be. This allows me to quickly and easily randomly group the students for any type of cooperative learning activity. Each group will be responsible for one of the following; mitochondria, nucleus, cell membrane an d cell wall, endoplasmic reticulum and ribosomes, golgi apparatus and lysosomes, or cytoplasm and cytoskeleton. These can be separated and arranged differently as the teacher sees fit, to accommodate the number of students in the class.

The students are then given a brief introduction about organelles and are told that each group will be responsible for teaching the class about one or two of these organelles. Each presentation must include the following;

  • What is your organelle's function and why is it important?

  • Where is your organelle found in the cell and why?

  • What would happen if your cell didn't have this organelle?

Furthermore, the class will construct a giant cell. Place butcher paper up on a wall and draw a large circle. The students are required to make a model of their organelle, structurally and proportionally correct to the size of the cell. This model must be able to attach to our giant cell on the wall. The last requirement is to make up a poem about their organelle. The poem must rhyme and make sense scientifically. For extra credit, the group can write and perform a song! The song is extra credit so if stu dents feel uncomfortable with this, they are not penalized. Most students love this form of self-expression!

Before we begin I review the rules for group work, focusing on the idea that none of us is as smart as all of us together. I emphasize the fact that everyone is good at something and that the first thing they should do is divide the tasks up among each gr oup member, so everyone is responsible for something. If a student feels his or her strength is in writing, that student can write the poem. The tactile learner and ESL student can work on the model. The artistic student can work on a visual aide for the presentation. The dramatic student can put the information into the form of a skit. This is an opportunity for everyone in the class to shine. The various strengths of each group dictate what type of presentation they put together. I strongly remind them that no one is done until everyone is done and that they have the responsibility to help any group member who needs it or asks for it.

The students are given three days in class to plan and research their organelle. They use their own textbook, my college textbooks and any sample Biology texts I can find. Furthermore each day I take some into the computer lab to research on the World Wid e Web. This exposes all of them to the wealth of information available to them on the Internet! Three class periods usually isn't enough time to get all the research done, put together the presentation and practice. I schedule the project so it falls over a weekend, therefore they have time to get together outside of school to work and practice.

This project has many goals, and evaluation (see attached evaluation form) is aimed at achieving those goals. One is that they give scientifically accurate information about their organelle, and so they receive points for discussing each of the points men tioned earlier. They are also given points for the accuracy of their model. Secondly, I want them to learn how to successfully and productively work as a team, dividing up the required tasks, each taking responsibility for the final product. They did not get to choose their groups so they are not necessarily working with their closest friends. As I help them with their research each day, I watch them. They get a maximum of ten points each day for productively working, not goofing around or being antagonis tic towards the forward progress of their group. Furthermore, when the presentations are finished, each group member evaluates the other members in his or her group. The students know this prior to beginning the project, and the evaluations are done anony mously. On a half sheet of paper, the students write the names of everyone in their group, including themselves. They evaluate each group member on a scale of 1-5, 5 being the highest. They also must comment on why they gave the group member that score. These are tallied and part of the students final score. It is amazing how honest the students are! I like using cooperative learning in the classroom, but there are many drawbacks, if not done properly. One major drawback is that all the work falls on on e or two people in the group. By evaluating their work habits daily, and knowing they will be evaluated by their peers at the end, this problem has been eliminated.

The presentations usually take two days. During the presentations the listeners are busy filling out a chart I give them at the beginning of class. This chart helps focus the students on the important information they need to obtain from each presentatio n. The organelles are listed down the left-hand side of the page and across the top are the important points to get from each presentation. If their chart is not filled out at the end of the presentation they have the right to ask the group questions. Thi s holds the presenting group accountable for putting together a thorough and understandable presentation. On the back of the chart, the students must draw a detailed cell, half animal cell and half plant cell. Students keep this chart for reference throug hout the year and for other science classes. Lastly, I video tape all presentations. When the students know they are being videotaped they really put on a show. The students love to watch themselves afterward as well as other classes' presentations. In ad dition, I use the videotapes year after year to show new classes the type of thing I expect when I assign this project. Overall, my cell unit takes about 2 weeks. When we are done, the students all want to do it again!

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Following is the evaluation sheet that I use each day to evaluate their work. I fill the rest out during the presentation. This makes the grading very simple. The only part that takes awhile is adding the evaluation scores from the lab group members.


NAME _________________________GROUP ___________________

DAY 1     __________
DAY 2     __________
DAY 3     __________

10 PTS______

15 PTS______

15 PTS______

15 PTS______

10 PTS______

20 PTS______



MAXIMUM 10 PTS______

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