ERIC Identifier: ED478716 Publication Date: 2002-10-00
Author: Haury, David L. Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Science Mathematics and Environmental Education Columbus OH.
Teaching about the Life and Health of Cells. ERIC Digest.
The cell is "the ultimate irreducible form of every living element,
and...from it emanate all the activities of life both in health and in
sickness." Rudolph Ludwig Carl Virchow (1858, translated 1860)
We've learned a lot about living cells since Robert Hooke (1665) viewed cork
through a crude microscope and likened the hollow chambers to the cells of a
monastery. Now we know that living cells are dynamic micro-environments,
complete with microtubule transport networks and protein motors (see
http://www.hhmi.org/news/vale.html). With the development of cell theory in 1839
(Mazzarello, 1999), Biology became a theoretical science, and with the
publication of "Die Cellularpathologie" (Virchow, 1858), modern clinical
medicine gained a scientific foundation. Since then, good health came to be
viewed as an outward expression of healthy cells, with disease arising from the
cells of a tissue. Now, modern biotechnology is moving us along previously
unimagined avenues to health that involve the use of undifferentiated cells
(stem cells) in developing cell therapies, replacing diseased or dysfunctional
cells with new, functioning cells. Biologists' understanding of cells has been
greatly enriched in recent decades (Flannery, 1999). Though a long established
field of study, cell biology has been transformed from the study of microscopic
curiosities to a theory-based study of life itself, and now to a powerful new
tool for creating health by marshalling the body's own life forces. It seems
time for the study of cells in school biology to become transformed as well.
Study of organisms and cells in biology has
been eclipsed in recent years by attention to the rapidly developing fields of
molecular and population genetics, with older domains of biology serving
primarily foundational and contextual roles. Indeed, the "National Science
Education Standards" (National Research Council, 1996) limit attention to cell
biology to such general ideas as structure and function of cells, the cell
cycle, meiotic cell division, membrane physiology, cell differentiation, and
examination of cellular structures and processes associated with energy
production, transport, synthesis, waste disposal, and genetic storage. These are
important areas of foundational knowledge in biology, but has the content in
this area become frozen in time?
No; there is an important new role for cell biology at the precollege level,
and it relates to biotechnology and the enhancement of human well-being. Cancer,
HIV, and other significant threats to human health operate at the cellular
level, and it is time to address such topics systematically and directly. The
"National Science Education Standards" do promote attention to understandings
about science and technology, understandings about personal and community
health, and understandings about the historical perspectives of science. Cell
biology is central to some of the most important topics and understandings in
these areas. For biology teachers, study of cells offers the opportunity both to
examine long-understood phenomena related to the structure and function of
living beings, and to explore quickly emerging ideas and technologies related to
the use of cells to enhance health. While not neglecting foundational content in
cell biology, particularly areas where students are known to have conceptual
difficulties, biology teachers are beginning to enrich the study of cells and
biotechnology with attention to their roles both in causing disease and
As long-standing as some foundational concepts in cell biology may be, they
continue to cause cognitive dissonance among students. Some of the most widely
studied misconceptions in cell biology relate to the concepts of diffusion and
osmosis (Odom, 1995; Zuckerman, 1998; and others--see suggestions below for
searching the ERIC database). While studying conceptual difficulties, Friedler,
Amir, & Tamir (1987) found that use of textbook definitions, teleological
language, and other issues related to use of language and textbooks may
contribute to misconceptions. Indeed, some textbooks in the past were found to
contain errors and misconceptions (Storey, 1992a, 1992b) relating to cell
physiology and energetics.
In more recent years, researchers have focused on ways to address conceptual
difficulties related to diffusion and osmosis within the classroom. Promising
practices include use of discussion groups in constructivist-informed classrooms
(Christianson & Fisher, 1999), use of concept mapping and the learning cycle
(Odom & Kelly, 2001), and computer animations (Sanger, Brecheisen, &
Hynek, 2001). Recent research has also focused on ways to help students better
understand concepts related to meiosis (Harrell, 2001; Wynne, Stewart, &
The "National Science Education Standards" (NRC, 1996) and Virchow's work
(1858) have some elements in common: Both emphasize the importance of inquiry
and experimentation; both link science and technology; and both emphasize the
central role of science in personal and social perspectives, at least in the
context of health and disease. Following are examples of instructional
approaches and materials that present cell biology concepts in the context of
Cell Biology And Cancer. The National Cancer Institute (1999) has produced a
supplemental curriculum guide that brings the latest medical discoveries to
classrooms. This inquiry-oriented module uses case studies and data analysis to
help students understand basic scientific principles related to cancer as a
cellular phenomenon, experience the processes of inquiry and learn more about
the methods of science, and recognize the role of science in society and the
relationship between science and personal and public health. This module
includes five major sections: (1) Understanding Cancer, (2) Implementing Module,
(3) Student Activities, (4) Additional Resources for Teachers, and (5) a
glossary and references section. A CD-ROM is also included, as well as linkages
between the module and both the "National Science Education Standards" and the
contents of major biology textbooks.
Cell Biology and HIV. DiSpezio (1997) has developed a curriculum package (book
and video) that brings research on the HIV virus into science classrooms.
Instructional activities, readings, model design, guided discussions, and
examples of research in action are used to bring the science behind this
infection into focus. Fundamental areas of biology and health education covered
include cell biology, general virus and HIV structure, immune system function
and HIV infection, drug therapeutics, and infection prevention. The video
features animations of concepts contained within the book, interviews with
leading scientists and health care workers, compelling stories of adolescents
living with HIV, and prevention strategies.
Cell Biology and the Common Cold. Gillen and Mayor (1995) describe activities
and problem-solving exercises related to cell biology, rhino viruses, and new
trends in treatment of the common cold.
This is an area of cell biology where instructional leadership and curriculum
development are needed. This is topic of great pubic interest, it represents the
cutting edge of research, and there are many issues related to science,
technology, personal health, and social perspectives. But there are few
published resources offering background information and instructional guidance
for school science teachers. Following are selected resources on the Web that
point the way:
Cells: A Primer"
Institutes of Health
Cells: Scientific Progress and Future Research Directions"
Cells and the Future of Regenerative Medicine"
National Academies Press (Read the book online)
GENERAL WEB RESOURCES
and Cell Structure"
Form and Function: Lesson Plans and Ideas"
g the Cell"
RESOURCES IN THE ERIC DATABASE
There are many records in
the ERIC Database pertaining to cell biology that have not been included here,
but it takes a little searching to find them. The term cell biology is not used
to index records in ERIC, so it is best to search using cytology as a
Descriptor, combined with other relevant Descriptors, Identifiers, or keywords.
Related Descriptors include: "diseases", "diffusion", "misconceptions",
"cancer", "acquired immune deficiency syndrome", "protozoa", or "microscopes".
Related Identifiers include: "osmosis", "mitosis", "meiosis", "organelles",
"cells (biology)", "cloning", and "stem cells". You can narrow your search by
combining these terms with one or more of the following Descriptors: "science
activities", "science curriculum", "science instruction", "laboratory
experiments", "science laboratories", "concept formation", "scientific
concepts", or similar terms. You can further narrow your search by using
education level Descriptors, such as "elementary education", "middle schools",
"intermediate grades", "junior high schools", "secondary education", or
individual grade levels. You can search the database on the Web at
Christianson, R. G., & Fisher, K. M. (1999,
July). Comparison of student learning about diffusion and osmosis in
constructivist and traditional classrooms. "International Journal of Science
Education", 21 (6), 687-98. [EJ 586 724]
DiSpezio, M. (1997). "The science of HIV". Arlington, VA: National Science
Flannery, M. C. (1999, January). At home in the cell. "American Biology
Teacher", 61 (1), 64-68.
Friedler, Y., Amir, R., & Tamir, P. (1987). High school students'
difficulties in understanding osmosis. "International Journal of Science
Education", 9 (5Z), 541-551.
Gillen, A. L., & Mayor, H. D. (1995, September). Why do we keep catching
the common cold? "American Biology Teacher", 57 (6), 336-42. [EJ 512 682]
Harrell, P. E. (2001, April). How a dragon gets its wings. Science Teacher,
68 (4), 52-57.
Hooke, R. (1665). "Micrographia". London. [Facsimile edition available on
CD-ROM, published by Octavio]
Mazzarello, P. (1999, May). A unifying concept: The history of cell theory.
"Nature Cell Biology", 1, E13-15. [Available online at:
National Cancer Institute. (1999). "Cell biology and cancer". Colorado
Springs, CO: BSCS; Seattle, WA: Videodiscovery. [ED 451 029] [Available online
Odom, A. L. (1995, October). Secondary & college biology students'
misconceptions about diffusion & osmosis. "American Biology Teacher", 57
(7), 409-15. [EJ 518 917]
Odom, A. L., & Kelly, P. V. (2001, November). Integrating concept mapping
and the learning cycle to teach diffusion and osmosis concepts to high school
biology students. "Science Education", 85 (6), 615-635. [EJ 643 870]
Sanger, M.J., Brecheisen, D. M., & Hynek, B. M. (2001, February). Can
computer animations affect college biology students' conceptions about diffusion
and osmosis? "American Biology Teacher", 63 (2), 104-109. [EJ 625 569]
Storey, R. D. (1992a, March). Textbook errors and misconceptions in biology:
Cell energetics. "American Biology Teacher", 54 (3), 161-166. [EJ 473 425]
Virchow, R. (1858). "Die Cellularpathologie in ihrer Begr1ndung auf
physiologische und pathologische Gewebelehre". Berlin: Verlag von August
Wynne, C. F.,Stewart, J., & Passmore, C. (2001, May). High school
students' use of meiosis when solving genetics problems. "International Journal
of Science Education", 23 (5), 501-15. [EJ 627 121]
Zuckerman, J. T. (1998). Representations of an osmosis problem. "American
Biology Teacher", 60 (1), 27-30. [EJ 560 015]
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