Every teacher has that one unit they don't like to teach. For me, it was cells. Having taught every grade from 6th to 12th, it seemed like no matter how hard I tried, the same thing happened every year. I taught organelles, students memorized them for a test, and then completely forgot about them. Later when I taught mitosis and would ask "Hey, remember centrioles?" I would get blank stares. But what was even more frustrating was the fact that students just didn't get how organelles worked together. I tried everything I found on the internet. I tried the "cell is like a factory" analogies. I tried to have students make cell models out of clay or food. I had them make posters. I even had them write me a "tour through the cell" book (inspired by the magic school bus). And guess what? None of it really worked. Sure, students would come in with really cool jello models and beatiful posters, but if I asked "How do the endoplasmic reticulum and golgi work together?"..... more blank stares.
After 9 years of teaching cells, I was ready to cry. Then one day I was venting to a professor at a local university and he said he had his students group their flashcards together and lay them out like dominoes. Inspiration hit! Why couldn't I have my students link them together like puzzle pieces? I immediately got to work.
I made a list of all the organelles my students needed to know. I decided to make 2 versions of the activity since I teach multiple levels of biology. In the first version (picture on left), I linked two organelles together, and students would have to write out the relationship between them on the connecting puzzle piece. To make it harder for my honors students, I would have them figure out which organelles go together on their own (picture on right).
For the second version, I had students lay them out on butcher paper and connect as many puzzle pieces as possible. They called me over to check before gluing. What was great about this activity was that every group had a different final product, but all of them had correct answers. By the end of the activity (it took them 2 class periods) they had a much greater understanding of which organelles worked directly together and why. (Insert happy dance here). Students also took pictures of their posters and used them as a study tool before the test. So if you were as frustrated as me, kiss your cell factory goodbye and check out my lesson plan HERE.
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There is a lot of hate in our world today, and many of feelings and situations can manifest themselves in our classrooms. It can seem hard to combat at times. This past year at my high school was rough. I won't go into detail, but after multiple tragic events parents were scared to send their kids to school. As teachers we had to make sure our classrooms felt like a safe and inviting place to be. There are multiple ways to accomplish this. First, don't be afraid to have the hard conversations. I couldn't get caught up in the fact that I was falling behind in my curriculum, and absences were through the roof. It wouldn't do me any good to keep on teaching without taking a time out and discussing what was going on with my students. They want to know that you understand what they are going through, and that we were going to all get through it together.
Another thing that I have found to be helpful is to find a service related project that all the students can rally behind. As students work together on a project that is meaningful to them, they will be strengthening relationships between their peers and building a classroom community. I was inspired by the Mr. Rodgers quote that I kept seeing on Facebook: "When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my Mother would say to me, look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping." I wanted to find a way for my students to feel like the helpers and not the victims. One project that I'm going to have my students work on next year is centered around the website water.org. They are a non-profit organization that helps bring clean water and sanitation to people in countries that are in desperate need. I'm having my students get into groups and create a fundraising proposal on how they would like to raise money that can be donated to water.org. They will have to come up with an idea that is feasible (for example, they can't decide to sell t-shirts when we don't have the money to get them made in the first place). Classes will vote on the best proposal and then put it into action. Check out the lesson plan I have created for FREE available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store.
Becca of Science Rocks
Hi, I'm Becca! I've been teaching science for 10 years at both the middle and high school levels.