Academic journal article Science Scope

Engaging All Students in Science Practices through a Cell Modeling Lesson

Academic journal article Science Scope

Engaging All Students in Science Practices through a Cell Modeling Lesson

Article excerpt

Science is one of the most difficult subjects to learn due to its complex vocabulary, which creates challenges for students trying to comprehend the concepts taught in the classroom. The vocabulary and resulting challenges increase in complexity as students continue on their academic journey. Therefore, helping students become fluent in the language of science during their middle school years is pivotal for their success in the future. Helping students reach this goal can be difficult, especially if the students are English-language learners (ELLs). These students are expected to simultaneously learn English, comprehend the nuances of scientific language, and master science concepts. Middle school science educators need to be aware of science language comprehension challenges experienced by ELLs and be equipped with strategies to teach science language and science concepts.

This article offers a middle school science lesson that facilitates science language learning opportunities through constructing explanatory models of photosynthesis and cellular respiration. This lesson has been field tested in two middle school classes, with one class composed of ELL students. Creating explanatory models challenges students to provide how and why responses through written and pictorial communication (Berg 2015).

The two content objectives of the lesson are: (1) Using simple materials and prior knowledge of cells, students will be able to construct a two-dimensional explanatory model of cellular functions guided by the following criteria: accurate, explanatory, and clear. (2) Using their models, students explain how plants and animals produce energy by using the following terms: mitochondria, sunlight, chlorophyll, chloroplast, glucose, water, oxygen, carbon dioxide, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, and ATP (energy). A language objective was also included to guide an emphasis on building science literacy. The language objective for the lesson is: By using sentence frames, students will explain how plants and animals produce energy by using the terms stated in the second content objective.

Lesson preparation

ELL students should be paired with native English-speaking students so they can develop linguistically through discussions with their peers. Materials for the lesson are listed in the sidebar below, which should not require added safety precautions beyond normal classroom protocol. Students will be using washable glue and will need to be reminded to wash their hands. Also, students will use scissors to cut materials into appropriate shapes. Therefore, they should be reminded to be careful of sharp edges while engaging in this lesson.

Engage (Day 1:20-30 minutes)

Begin by asking students, "How do scientists show what they know or what they think happens in nature?" The first author of this article provided a hint by asking what they saw around the classroom. Before class, he posted examples of explanatory models on classroom walls and attached them to large trifold poster stands. To be explanatory, scientific models need to answer how and why natural phenomena occur. Connecting objects with words, such as the term model with models posted on the wall, helps ELLs build their vocabulary. One example of an explanatory model that he posted and showed is shown in Figure 1. This is an explanatory model because it uses pictures and steps to explain a natural phenomenon. Other examples of explanatory models can be found online (see Berg 2015). Ask students, "What other scientific models have you observed?" Students might give examples such as "I saw a 3-D model of the cell" or "I saw a plastic model of the abdomen of a human." The first author then asked students how they define scientific models. Then I provided the following encompassing definition of scientific models: "A model is any simplification, substitute, or stand-in for what you are studying or trying to predict" (Pease and Bull 2000). …

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