Friday, September 29, 2017

Organelle Elections: A Cells Project

This school year has had a rough start. In the first 3 weeks of school, we had a three day week, a full week, and a 4 day week with a day off of school for local flooding. The next week, we had no school on Monday for Labor Day, school on Tuesday as usual, no school the rest of the week for hurricane Irma...and then 2 more weeks off for the hurricane. We are in the area that was hit most strongly by the hurricane, and many of our students (and faculty!) didn't get power back until last week or early this week, two weeks after the storm hit. 

With that said, getting back into the swing of things has been a rough adjustment. On the calendar, we're on week 7 of the school year, but in reality this is our second full week in the classroom, and our kids are 3 weeks behind already in classes that are important for end of course exams, so I knew I'd need to come up with some engaging lessons for our first week back. My freshman bio class was just beginning cell organelles before our break, so to get them pulled back into the class...I staged an election. A cell-ection, actually.

On the first day back after the break, we went back over the cell theory and developed timelines for cell theory. On the second day back, my freshmen worked in groups to complete a cell scavenger hunt around the school (more about that later). When they came into class on the third day, I announced that it was election week and that we'd be choosing a new cell organelle for president.

I split my students into random groups of threes (by asking them to line up around the room alphabetically by middle name without talking, then counting them off by threes- this is a great way to build some classroom community and problem-solving skills very quickly!). Each group was assigned one organelle. The bare minimum for the assignment was pretty simple: create a campaign poster for your cell organelle and create a "smear" campaign against 2-3 other cells. I told them that they'd have the full day in class and most of the next day in class to work on it, and we would have our big election at the end of class. I teach on a block schedule, so this gave them about 2.5 hours to work. Unfortunately, I somehow deleted the document with the instructions- but it was pretty basic, and I adapted it off of someone else's work, so I've added a picture here.

I did give a few extra stipulations. First, I asked students to come up with an original slogan- no altering other slogans. Additionally, their "smear campaigns" needed to be about the functions of the other organelles, and not personal or fictional attacks. Finally, I asked them to remember that cells run independently of the government, so please don't incorporate any current political events in your cell campaigns.

Students were instantly engaged. They started arguing about which organelles to run campaigns against, and the best part is that all of their arguments were science related! The cell wall and the cytoskeleton argued about who provided the best type of support. The nucleolus and nucleus entered into an alliance based on positions in the cell. One group made campaign stickers and passed them out to their classmates, while another group tried to bring in a bribe of candy for the class.
On the second day, my class was allowed to start putting up their campaign posters. My room was covered in posters, all focusing on cell organelles and their functions. I created little ballots but forgot to print them (another oops), so I just cut a brightly-colored sheet of paper into strips and had students write their name, the organelle that they had been campaigning as, and the organelle that they voted for. 

We tallied the votes as a class for maximum effect. Our winner was the cytoskeleton, and I'm sure that my students won't forget organelle structure and function any time soon!