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Cellular Biology Learning Environment
Champlain Valley Union High School
"Cells! Ms. Mahony, we already know everything about
cells!" And so began another day in ninth grade biology. My students truly
believed that the gelatin mold and paper mache cells they had been making since
fourth grade constituted an understanding of the cell. As I had tried with all
of my other units, I planned to spend more time on interactions between the
organelles and less time on memorizing individual structures and functions.
Kristen is currently pursuing her Masters of Education at Lesley
University in Cambridge, MA. Her masters is in Curriculum and Instruction with
a Technology in Education Specialization.
She is on a leave of absence from her teaching position at Champlain
Valley Union High School where she teaches science. Kristen has a B.S. in
Environmental Science and has been teaching systems for the past three years.
As I searched for an activity to accomplish my goal,
a colleague introduced me to "Fly A Cell." At first, I was skeptical of another
computer program, but I agreed to review it. After twenty minutes with the
program, I knew that this would afford my students an understanding of cellular
functions that most wouldn't ordinarily gain until college, if ever.
Several things about Fly A Cell impressed me. Knowing my students, the ability
to manipulate the variables in a "computer game" scenario would appeal to them.
While they could just aimlessly try different combinations, the personalized
and frequent feedback from the program helped to guide their actions until they
formed a purposeful strategy. There were also built-in reference pages that
students could access throughout the simulation when they got stuck. Students
could work at their own pace and demonstrate their progression of understanding
through print-outs of their graphs and data tables.
For these reasons I decided to use Fly A Cell as a culminating activity for the
first semester. I used "Flight School" in class to help students to understand
the interactions within a cell and the role of homeostasis in those
interactions. "Flying" was 30% of my students' midyear exam. The assessment
information I was able to gather showed development of true understanding on
the parts of my students. Each student was able to feel successful in their
progression through the concepts, and I could easily determine their level of
understanding at various times throughout the activity. The content knowledge
my students developed provided a strong basis for the topics which followed
and, I believe, helped them to move toward truly understanding the cell.
How "Fly A Cell" meets National Science Education Standards