Science on a CELL-ular Level

by Michael Porter
Our 6th graders are learning about plant and animal cells. Our science experts have devised some clever ways for the students to get some "hands on" experiences with the subject.
As is often the case, lessons begin with reading about the topic, learning new terms, and identifying parts on diagrams.
Dona Kenny, 5th and 6th-grade science classroom teacher, introduced them to the cell unit. Ms. Kenny's class is very interactive, which helps to keep the students engaged.
"When we go through the lesson together, I have the online textbook on the big screen," said Ms. Kenny. "We annotate in the student textbook as we go along. We highlight, underline, star, and circle key information."

Students then do an experiment or kinesthetic activity with each lesson. On this particular topic, they may cut out, colored, and pasted parts of plant and animal cells. 
Later, the students worked in small groups to complete a "Digital Breakout" on the cell. In this activity, they were required to use content knowledge as well as critical and logical thinking skills to solve the puzzles and open the digital locks. 

To help cement the knowledge the students learned in class, Ms. Kenny sent them on a scavenger hunt around the school. Their goal was to locate, identify, and describe how different areas around the campus were analogous to parts of a cell. For example, the fence around the school may represent the cell wall, while the Head of the School's office may be the nucleus — or the "nerve center" of the cell. The mitochondria of a cell converts food energy into usable energy. Obviously, this is the gym in the Smith Center!

To advance their knowledge further, Science Specialist Deborah Landon led the students through a science lab where they extracted the DNA from cells of strawberries.
The students used ethyl alcohol, water, dish soap, popsicle sticks, sandwich bags, coffee filters, and plastic cups in their experiment. The process involved mushing the strawberries, mixing the chemicals, and squishing the paste through the filters.
"The students were surprised that the DNA that was extracted was actually white and not red like the original strawberry," said Ms. Landon. "They also likened it to slime or glue."
Next, the 6th graders will be moving on to their unit on the Human Body.