A teacher once told me “Oh, I hate teaching the cell. The kids just can’t learn all that vocabulary,” and then walked away. She didn’t even give me the chance to say “that’s because your teaching a list of words, instead of teaching them about cells”.
I remember that moment, as a perfect example of how not to teach science, or anything else. Words are useless, unless you know how to use them. It’s not enough to teach the names of the organelles in a cell. Kids need the story. We all need the story.
In a cell, we find complex and fascinating structures that work together in a bio-mechanical system. These structures (organelles) are not just a list of words and definitions. They’re the basic unit of life!
It was our first Maker Faire. We’d brought our new project, and were excited to share it with everybody. Since our Cell Project was developed specifically for 7th grade science curriculum, we naively thought “we’ll just get 7th graders at our booth”.
Yes, some 7th grade kids and teachers did indeed come to our booth. So did kids and adults of all ages. We had to think fast and adjust our workshops as we were running them. It was an exhilarating and exhausting experience.
So, what do we do? Kids sit down with us, to build a cell model with clay. We talk them through the protein pathway, as they build their models. They take it home and let it dry for at least a week. Then a grown up slices it open and they can examine their cross sections. Seeing the 3D model in 2D.
Over the Maker Faire weekend, we build cell models with about 800 kids.