Cell Biology

Find these activities / resources to increase student success with cell biology below:
1) Transcription – a story to explain transcription
2) cell membrane / phospholipid bilayer – short activity or demo
3) cell model
4) Mitosis activity
5) Visual mitosis
6) Mitosis animations


Once upon a time, in my earlier life, I was the only white server in a Chinese restaurant run by Hispanics (that didn’t speak English let alone Chinese).  I tell you this because it gives you the foundation of explaining protein synthesis.

Many times students confuse the terms Transduction, Translation, and Transcription.  This story is used to explain Transcription vs. Translation.  We will assume that the customer entering the restaurant is “DNA”.  DNA comes in and wishes to place an order.  DNA sits down and opens the menu (the unwinding which exposes the gene).

I, messenger RNA, come over to take the order.  When DNA tells me what it wants (Chicken with cashews with extra onions), I copy down the order (Transcription).  The act of me writing it down means that I am “Transcribing” DNA’s order from the triplet of information:  (Chicken, cashews, extra onions) to my codon of information: (Cx, nuts, eo).  Both pieces of information mean the same thing, but my information will be interpreted by the computer more directly.

Now when I start to input the information into the computer, it had a language program already installed.  The computer could take the information that I put in and “Translate” it into Spanish (anti-codon).  By changing the language, the Hispanic cook staff (the ribosomes) could interpret what it was the DNA wanted by converting it into the language they understood and therefore create what it was DNA wanted in the first place.

In short, this is a change from a nitrogen based language of mRNA to the amino acid language of a synthesized protein. Bottom line:  it’s all about how the cell communicates.

Jennifer Menon, MA
Assistant Professor of Physiology at Johnson Community College


To help illustrate the simple efficiency of the phospholipid bilayer as a mechanism for separation have students do the following in class or at home.
Fill a small bowl with water.  Add some oil to the top.  Use a toothpick to move the oil around on the surface.  Try to mix it up a bit.
Add some food coloring to the mixture and irritate again.

What have you learned about the way fats (lipids in the membrane) interact with water?  Could you explain the phospho-lipid bi-layer to a child?

Adapted very slightly from:

This is not a terribly new idea, but it might be new to some of you!   It can be a lot of fun.
Have students build a 3-d or 2-d model of a cell using household items : broken toys, containers, bits of junk or trash… even food, if it’s to be graded or shared quickly!

Some ideas for the structure:
a fish bowl with items affixed to the sides or dangling by strings from the top
a ball cut in half with items affixed to sides or suspended on toothpicks above inner surface of ball
a plate or plastic bowl
and for the innards!….
cytoplasm: jello, water, plastic wrap
endoplasmic reticulum: yarn with or without knots, cooked  spaghetti
ribosomes: pepper, punches from black paper
mitochondria: kidney beans, macaroni
vacuole : plastic bubble packing
nucleus : smaller ball cut in half, tire from toy car, glasses lens
chromosomes : pencil shavings, shreds of coconut

Have students explain why they chose what they chose in terms of whether it was chosen to mirror form or function, and to describe that form or function.  If they have to think about this question while they choose they will learn more.

This idea comes from: Jennifer L. Menon MA
Lead Instructor in Anatomy and Physiology National American University / Instructor in Anatomy and Physiology
Johnson County Community College

“I’ve always considered Mitosis an abstract concept for most students (myself included). So, a few years ago, I got the idea to make jump ropes one of my teaching tools.  I begin by explaining about the various phases and what transpires in each.  Once they have a fuzzy grasp on that, we take a field trip to the outside with the ropes.  I then explain that part of the class has just become centrioles and we string jump ropes between them.  I then ask them what they’ve created.  (I’m looking for Mitotic spindle as an answer).  Then I explain to the rest of them to pair up and hold hands.  They are now duplicated genetic material, they have been condensed, and are now being held by centromeres.  I then explain to the class that the hand-clasping couples now need to line up on the ropes with their hands holding the ropes between them. I then have them all scrunch together in the middle of the ropes (Metaphase).  The students are then asked to release hands and half of the pair go to one end of the rope, the other half of the pair to the other end of the rope (Anaphase).  Once all students are clustered into two groups I come through and take the ropes leaving them in two matching groups (Telophase).”

Professor Menon has also created some A&P bingo games:

For more info about these games, you can contact her at: jmenon@everestkc.net

This is an expansion of an earlier idea and a great supplement to the above idea.
Challenge students to use objects that they can arrange and then photograph or video to show the process of mitosis.
They might use string, paper clips, necklaces, cooked spaghetti, strips of paper, pipe cleaners or anything they can think of to represent cell membranes, telomeres, mitotic spindle, chromosomes, etc.  Then the students arrange the articles and photograph or video their representation of each stage of mitosis.  Rearrange the pieces and take the next photo of the next stage of mitosis.  If using video, the student could provide a voiceover explaining what’s happening and if using photos he or she could supply a label for each photo.  After checking the photos or videos for accuracy they could be posted on-line for other students.  Or have someone bring popcorn and watch them all one day!

From Cells Alive – a very cool animation that allows students to follow step by step, click on each phase, or watch the whole process start to finish.

This animation is the copyrighted property of John Kyrk. It may not be displayed except on the web site.  It’s a really good one that moves smoothly but slowly while highlighting the correct phase from a list at the edge of the graphic.

From the University of Arizona : Tutorial and animation of mitosis which uses different colors for centrioles and chromosomes.
http://www.biology.arizona.edu/Cell_bio/tutorials/cell_cycle/cells3.html (all 3 sites retrieved 9/29/10)

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