Lab 4: Cell Structure, from "Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science" by Enderle, Bickel, Gleim, Granger, Grooms, Hester, Murphey, Sampson, Southerland

National Science Teachers Association
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Experiment/Lab Activity
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Lab 4:  Cell Structure, is one of a series of lab investigations for the middle school student from the book, "Argument-Driven Inquiry in Life Science:  Lab Investigations for Grades 6-8".  Students are introduced to The Cell Theory, design a simple experiment, and engage in argumentation.  "Checkout Questions" are provided to facilitate student reflection on what was learned.  Students are assigned a short investigation report to finish processing their experience.  Significant background information is provided for teachers and to a lesser degree in the student hand-out in the introduction.  The standards addressed in the lesson are also included in the teacher's notes.  

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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Performance Expectations

MS-LS1-1 Conduct an investigation to provide evidence that living things are made of cells; either one cell or many different numbers and types of cells.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on developing evidence that living things are made of cells, distinguishing between living and non-living things, and understanding that living things may be made of one cell or many and varied cells.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This activity could serve as an introductory lesson to cells. It introduces students to plant and animal cells which have contrasting characteristics that are emphasized in this lesson. Students begin by examining known slides of plant cells and animal cells. They are then presented with a research question (what type of cell is on the unknown slides) from which to develop a simple experimental design which students will use to collect data. An introduction to cells in the form of a reading passage is provided in the student lab hand-out. The teacher will need to instruct students in basic microscopy skills. As a supporting activity to the Performance Expectation, slides of unicellular plant-like protists and animal-like protists could be presented to students to observe and analyze their characteristics and categorize them as "plant-like" or "animal-like" protists. This will help them understand that the basic unit of life is the cell, and that there are unicellular as well as multicellular life forms.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This activity provides an opportunity for students to participate in argumentation. A simplified graphic organizer, "Argumentation Presentation on a Whiteboard" scaffolds students through the argumentation process. Students are given the choice of four unknown slides from which to choose and develop their argument. Several questions are provided for the students to assess whether their argument is convincing, and students share their work with others in a round-robin format. During the round-robin, one member of the group stays with the group's work and explains it to others, as they visit. The remaining group members go to other groups and listen and critique their arguments, resulting in a process during which every team evaluates each other's work.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Guiding questions are provided to assist students in the design process for the simple experiment they will carry out. Teachers are encouraged to facilitate student development of a data table so students can realize the maximum benefit of an exercise in experimental design. If students are unfamiliar with the experimental design process, the teacher will need to provide instruction and model how to design good experiments and collect appropriate data.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The activity provides a good opportunity to begin an exploration of cells by using plant and animal cells which bear important differences from each other for the beginner student. Students observe these slides and note the cells' similarities and differences, as they can be observed by the student under the microscope. To further the support of the Disciplinary Core Idea, teachers can provide slides of unicellular protists and have students categorize them as plant-like or animal-like based on their characteristics.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This activity provides students meaningful experiences in microscopy that support the Crosscutting Concept. Students observe two slides each of animal cells and plant cells and collect data (type determined by students in the design process) on their characteristics as seen under magnification. They apply this knowledge to determine whether slides of unknown cell samples are either plant or animal cells.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This activity provides three-dimensional learning by incorporating student learning about the differences in cell structures between plant cells and animal cells with experimental design and argumentation. In this case, students observe plant and animal cells using a microscope to learn about their characteristics. They design a simple experiment to attempt to determine the identity of several slides of unknown cells. Students participate in an argumentation session to process their observations and complete a short investigative report to detail their experience and learning.

  • Instructional Supports: By using student-collected data, this activity provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning. Several guiding questions are provided to facilitate students through the experimental design process and the argumentation session. Students have opportunities to build on feedback from other students as to whether their answer to the research question is the most valid and acceptable, and there is scaffolding in the form of a graphic organizer to support students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: A "Checkout Questions" page is provided for a more immediate summative assessment (6 questions total). Students are also assigned a two-page "Investigative Report". The report is divided into three sections and three major questions are provided for students to address in the report, which includes the results of their argumentation session. Their is no rubric or sample answers provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not have a technology component.