Skip to main content

Cell Biology

Elodea
Digital Teaching Box
Cell Biology
Cell Biology

Cells aren’t just the basis of life; they’re the basis of biology learning. This Digital Teaching Box includes resources for teaching introductory cell biology, from the definition and function of the cell through the future of biology research with pluripotent cells.

Grade Level & Course
High school biology

Author & Affiliation
Laura O’Brien
Biology teacher, Castro Valley High School

Time Estimate
Three weeks

Concepts Covered
Cell structure and function
Mitosis, meiosis, and cell differentiation
Stem cells and iPSCs

NGSS Alignment


Unit 1: Cell Structure and Function

What are cells and what do they do—and how do scientists study something too small to see? This unit introduces students to the basics of cells and emphasizes microscope skills to get them up close and personal with the cells around (and inside) them.

Inside a Cell

Give students a dynamic 3-D look at the organelles of a plant or animal cell with this interactive web app. Note: this resources required Flash Player.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center

Resource Type
Online Interactive

Teaching Notes

  • Explore as a whole class or have students explore on their own.
  • Have students take notes in three columns: organelle name, physical description and/or drawing, and function(s).

Cell Size and Scale

Truly grasp the sizes and scales of different types of cells using this dynamic web app—compare them with everything from coffee beans to carbon atoms.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center

Resource Type
Animation

Teaching Notes

  • Use this animation as a presentation to the class or let students explore it themselves.
  • Ask students whether the relative sizes of any of the objects surprised them.
  • Point out the similar size and shape of the mitochondrion and the E. coli bacterial cell as a transition into endosymbiotic theory activities.

Endosymbiotic Theory Activity

Help students get familiar with endosymbiotic theory firsthand by using evidence to derive it themselves.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Tiger Science Alvarado

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Teaching Notes
Use page 1 first with students; hand out pages 2 and 3 only after they have discussed hypotheses.

Evolution of the Cell

How did cells become cells? This short background reading tells the story of bacterial, archaeal, and eukaryotic evolution.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center

Resource Type
Reading

Teaching Notes

  • Use this reading after or instead of the endosymbiotic theory activity included in this unit.
  • Read this as a class or print copies and have students annotate.

Real Cell Videos

Cells may be microscopic, but students can see them in action with this collection of videos of real cells.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
University of Utah Genetic Science Learning Center

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes
Show a variety of cell types and have students compare and contrast what they look like.

Cell Image Library

Show students real cells from this searchable library of microscopy images, organized by cell type, cell component, and cell process.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Cell Image Library

Resource Type
Image

Teaching Notes

  • Show a variety of cell types and have students compare and contrast what they look like.
  • Show images of cell organelles.

Microscope Lab 

What can a microscope see? Students can determine the field of view of a microscope with this lab.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Skeletal Muscle Microscopy 

Observe the structures of muscle cells in this lab.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Elodea Explorations

Observe plant structure with this microscopy lab.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Cheek Cell Microscopy

Let students stain and observe their own cells for a personal look at cell biology.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Teaching Notes

  • Students explore microscope use, including field-of-view size, so they can estimate sizes of microscopic objects.
  • Students stain and observe a variety of cell types.
  • Students can look up (or estimate, based on the field of view of the microscope) cheek cell diameter and compare it with the Cell Size and Scale animation included in this unit.

Cell Analogy Project

Create an analogy that relates the function of the cell organelles to an object, place, or central theme.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Biology teachers at Castro Valley High School

Resource Type
Assessment

Teaching Notes

  • Perform this assessment after students have some background knowledge about cell organelle structure and function.
  • Students can work individually or in pairs.
Unit 2: Cell Division and Differentiation

Cells come from other cells. This unit explores the processes that produce new cells and some variations that can affect how cells develop.

Modeling Meiosis

Begin with evidence and create a simple model of how meiosis occurs.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Teaching Notes
Use this activity before instruction about mitosis and meiosis so students can practice modeling processes based on evidence.

Comparing Mitosis and Meiosis

Make the differences between mitosis and meiosis clear with this video.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Khan Academy

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes

  • Use this video to supplement classroom activities and discussions, or have students watch it for homework in a flipped classroom.
  • See other Khan Academy videos and articles for more detailed mechanisms of mitosis and meiosis (Meiosis, Meiosis I, Meiosis II, Mitosis, etc.)

Eukaryotic Cell Cycle and Cancer

Interactively explore the cell cycle mechanisms that connect errors in the cell cycle with cancers.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Online Interactive

Teaching Notes
Have students click through and take three-column notes with the headings Phase, Summary, and Checkpoint(s).

Cell Cycle Regulation Activity

Model errors in the cell cycle that can lead to cancers.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Effects of Drugs on Cell Division

Analyze videos of dividing Drosophila embryos to argue, using evidence, about the best cancer treatments from three potential drugs.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Asset Type
Classroom Activity

DNA Replication

Show students real-time DNA replication using this short narrated animation.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes
Use this video when learning about mitosis and meiosis.

Differentiation and the Fate of Cells

Explore early cell division and differentiation, from single cells through embryos, with this short video and discussion of three germ layers.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes
Use this video when discussing early cell differentiation.

Unit 3: Stem Cell and iPS Cells

Pluripotent cells may be the future of biological research. Use this unit to introduce students to the basics of both stem cells and iPS cells.

Modeling Stem Cell Development

Give students hands-on experience with embryonic development by modeling with Play-Doh.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
NWABR

Resource Type
Classroom Activity

Teaching Notes

  • Warm-up before the activity: Brainstorm everything you know/think about fertilization, zygotes, embryos, fetuses, and stem cells.
  • Wrap-up: Discuss, amend, and/or correct the warm-up terms.
  • Add or clarify the terms totipotent, pluripotent, and multipotent.

Human Embryonic Development

Introduce students to the progression of embryonic development with this video.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes

  • Point out to students that this video shows in-vivo fertilization in a woman’s body; embryonic stem cells used in the lab come from in-vitro fertilizations in petri dishes (from embryos from fertility clinics that would otherwise be discarded, and with informed consent from donors).
  • After watching, have students summarize, illustrate, and/or explain to a partner the early stages of embryo development.

Creating Embryonic Stem Cell Lines

Show students how stem cell lines are created in the lab.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes
After watching this video, have students summarize, illustrate, and/or explain to a partner how stem cell lines are established.

Mouse Embryonic Stem Cells

Show students what real stem cells, and heart cells derived from stem cells, look like with these videos and images.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Exploratorium

Resource Type
Image, Video

Teaching Notes

  • Show mouse embryonic stem cells (two videos) and heart cells grown from mouse embryonic stem cells (two videos).
  • Questions for students (think-pair-share): What do all the cells have in common? What differences do you notice between the embryonic stem cells and the heart cells grown from embryonic stem cells?

Human iPS Cell Line

Introduce students to the human iPS cell line using this image from the Gladstone Stem Cell Core.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
UCSF

Resource Type
Image

Beating Cardiomyocytes Derived From iPS Cells

Show students the motion of cardiomyocytes as they beat in this video.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
Youtube

Resource Type
Video

Teaching Notes
Questions for students: How do the iPS cells compare morphologically (how they look) to the embryonic stem cells? What are the advantages and disadvantages of using still pictures and videos?

Stem-Cell-Based Therapies

Explore some therapies using adult stem cells and look at some experimental stem cell therapies in progress today.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
HHMI

Resource Type
Web Interactive

What Are Stem Cells?

Help students understand the basics of stem cells with this introductory overview.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
TedEd

Resource Type
Video

Stem Cell Resources

Open up the range of stem cell biology with these general resources.

Resource Link

Resource Attribution
University of Utah Learn Genetics

Resource Type
Multiple

NGSS Alignment

Science and Engineering Practices

Developing and Using Models 
Develop a model based on evidence to illustrate the relationships between systems or components of a system. (HS-LS2-5)

Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking 
Use mathematical representations of phenomena or design solutions to support claims. (HS-LS2-4)

Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions 
Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future. (HS-LS1-6), (HS-LS2-3)


Disciplinary Core Ideas

Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

  • The process of photosynthesis converts light energy to stored chemical energy by converting carbon dioxide plus water into sugars plus released oxygen. (HS-LS1-5)
  • The sugar molecules thus formed contain carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen: their hydrocarbon backbones are used to make amino acids and other carbon-based molecules that can be assembled into larger molecules (such as proteins or DNA), used—for example—to form new cells. (HS-LS1-6)
  • As matter and energy flow through different organizational levels of living systems, chemical elements are recombined in different ways to form different products. (HS-LS1-6), (HS-LS1-7)
  • As a result of these chemical reactions, energy is transferred from one system of interacting molecules to another. Cellular respiration is a chemical process in which the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and new compounds are formed that can transport energy to muscles. Cellular respiration also releases the energy needed to maintain body temperature despite ongoing energy transfer to the surrounding environment. (HS-LS1-7)

PS3.D: Energy in Chemical Processes 
The main way that solar energy is captured and stored on Earth is through the complex chemical process known as photosynthesis. (secondary to HS-LS2-5)


Crosscutting Concepts

Systems and System Models 
Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales. (HS-LS2-5)

Energy and Matter

  • Changes of energy and matter in a system can be described in terms of energy and matter flows into, out of, and within that system. (HS-LS1-5), (HS-LS1-6)
  • Energy cannot be created or destroyed—it only moves between one place and another place, between objects and/or fields, or between systems. (HS-LS1-7),(HS-LS2-4)

This work was supported by the Office of the Director, National Institutes of Health under Science Education Partnership Award Number R25OD016525. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the NIH.