Organelles in the News

My biology classes began our cell unit a few weeks ago. Part of this unit includes learning about organelles. In the past, I have provided hands-on manipulatives for students to use to develop an understanding of the structure and function of organelles, but this year I needed something different. I designed a new task and I am excited to see the results next week.

A little back story: I despise memorization. I think memorizing can be a helpful step in learning, but just memorizing to memorize makes no sense to me. For this reason, I cringe when students make flashcards of vocab words and that is all they use to study for a test. Instead, I encourage students to apply the understanding of the concept. This requires context. Use the vocabulary flashcards as a starting point, and then tell me a real-life scenario that includes that new term or concept. Organelles are complex and varied. The great temptation in teaching and learning them is to memorize. Connecting a name, structure, and function together through memorization may be a good early step, but it does not tell the whole story.

I was faced with the organelle dilemma this week. It is only in the last few years that I really began to understand the importance of organelles. The common example of importance is their role in protein synthesis. But, I know all the organelles serve essential roles. If they did not, the cell would not waste valuable energy making them. I also know we do not know everything – this was my inspiration.

In science, we often find research being done on the things we do not know. We also find researchers using what they do know to solve problems or approach a question in a new way. A benefit of our current situation is almost instant access to current research and findings. With this in mind, I assigned students the task of finding a current news article about research involving an organelle. With guidance about the intent of this assignment, I provided students with the following task:

  1. Find an article.
  2. Read the article.
  3. If the article is interesting and will give you the information you need to complete the rest of this assignment, then continue. If not, go back to step 1.
  4. Paste the link to the article’s website here: 
  5. Which organelle does this article relate to? 
  6. In your own words, describe the function of the organelle that is of interest to the research team. 
  7. Did the research include a connection to other organelles? Explain. 
  8. In your own words, explain what problem the research team is working to understand or solve. 
  9. In your own words, what have the researchers learned or uncovered? 
  10. Why do you think this research made it into the news or was published? What makes it important? 

Just to be sure students would be able to find an article, I tried it out. After typing “ribosome” into the search engine, I filtered the results to only see “news” results. There were over 7000 hits, with the latest published just 9 hours ago! I am still excited. Try it out. 🙂

I am not expecting students to become experts in organelles with this assignment. Instead, I am hopeful they will begin to see the importance of organelles and a context in which they are relevant. What we learn should be relevant and connecting to current events (things we find in the news) helps students begin to grasp the relevance.

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