What Does NGSS Say About Cells?

The cell is a staple of any biology course, usually the chapter comes just after an introductory chapter on the scientific method.   Science teachers all over the world show students pictures of cells for labeling, students color cells, and some even create 3 dimensional models of cells with candy or other items.   I have hundreds or worksheets and activities listed on the Cell Worksheet page.  Obviously, there’s not enough time to use every one of them.    I expect many teachers just pick the activities they like or fit with their textbooks or curriculum.

Now that many schools are reworking curriculum to align with the Next Generation Science Standards, and teachers must make the decision about how much of the cell to include in their biology class.

Cells are included in the NGSS, but there is nothing direct to say students should know all the parts of the cell and what their function is.  Instead, the standards lists very general goals that will indicate that students understand the cell and its role in biological processes.

HendomembraneS-LS1-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the  structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Lessons that align to this standard would need to include the location of DNA in cells, and how DNA is used to provide the instructions for making the proteins that are essential to life.   Generally, in the cell unit, this is where you explain how the ATGC’s of DNA are the code to make mRNA, which is then used to build specific proteins.  Lessons that compare the cell to a factory are a good start, but for many textbooks, how DNA figures into this process isn’t addressed until later chapters.

Cell City Analogy – compares a cell to a city

Enzyme Lab – use liver to show how catalase breaks down hydrogen peroxide into oxygen and water, bubbling is used to measure the reaction at different temperatures.

HS-LS1-2 Develop and use a model to illustrate the hierarchical organization of interacting systems that provide specific functions within multicellular organisms.

Cells aren’t mentioned in this standard, but it is implied.  In order to understand hierarchical organization, you would need to start with the premise that cells are the basic unit of structure and function.  You would also need to explain cells provide the energy in the form of ATP to perform life functions and contain the DNA with the instructions for these life functions.

Levels of Complexity

HS-LS1-3 Plan and conduct an investigation to provide evidence that feedback mechanisms maintain homeostasis.

Homeostasis is addressed when students learn about osmosis and diffusion.  Cells react to their external environments; a cell placed in a salty environment will lose water.  An organism that lives in freshwater is more likely  to gain water and must use contractile vacuoles to remove the excess fluid.

Why Are Cells So Small? – measure the surface area and volume of boxes as a cell model
Cell Size Experiment – use agar and a basic solution to illustrate how fast fluids can diffuse into a cell, dependent on cell size
Observing Osmosis – use an egg, vinegar, corn syrup, will take a few days
Salt and Elodea – quick lab to observe the effects of salt water on elodea cells

Case Study: Cystic Fibrosis – for AP Biology, examines the role of cell membrane proteins in clearing mucus from the lungs.

HS-LS1-4 Use a model to illustrate the role of cellular division (mitosis) and differentiation in producing and maintaining complex organisms.

This one is pretty obvious.  We won’t be throwing out those mitosis worksheets anytime soon!

Mitosis in an Onion – view picture, identify the stages of mitosis in each of the cells
Cell Cycle Label – label a picture of the stages of mitosis, identify parts of the cell such as the centriole and spindle
Onion Root Tip Lab – view real cells with a microscope, requires lab equipment and prepared slides
Onion and Whitefish – view cells, if you missed the classroom lab; virtual version of the mitosis lab
Mitosis Internet Lesson  – view animations of mitosis; questions
Meiosis Internet Lesson –  view animations of meiosis, compare to mitosis
Cell Cycle Cut and Paste – students arrange words and draw arrows to illustrate mitosis

Cancer: Out of Control Cells – article describing how the cell cycle relates to cancer, includes questions

HS-LS1-5 Use a model to illustrate how photosynthesis transforms light energy into stored chemical energy.

This implies students will be learning about plant cells.  Lessons may need to go into more detail about how photosynthesis is accomplished in the chloroplasts.

Plant Cell Lab  –  microscope observation of onion and elodea
Plant Cell Coloring – color a typical plant cell

HS-LS1-7 Use a model to illustrate that cellular respiration is a chemiCellular Respirationcal process whereby the bonds of food molecules and oxygen molecules are broken and the bonds in new compounds are formed resulting in a net transfer of energy.

In order to understand cellular respiration, you will need to include the mitochondria.   Both animal and plant cells have mitochondria, and students are taught that the organelle is the “powerhouse” of the cell.  Prepare to go into more detail about how the mitochondria harvests ATP from sugar.

 Case Study:  The Cyanide Murders –  explores cellular respiration and why we need oxygen
Animal Cell Coloring – color a typical animal cell  |  Animal Cell Labeling
Cheek Cell Lab –   observe cheek cells under the microscope


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