Teaching Cell Biology

Many science students are looking for short-cuts to make learning cell biology effortless. There are none, but there are strategies to help compare the two cell types.

There are only two basic types of cells. No kidding! But for new biology students, learning the similarities of and differences between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells can be a daunting task. Here are some tips on how to create a project that will help science students actively learn, while creating a study tool that can be used throughout the semester.

* Strategy for Learning New Science Information *

It is not enough to just passively read textbook chapters on prokaryotic and eukaryotic cell structure. All of this new information needs to be put into a framework that helps the student sort it all out. A great way to do this is to have students create a table comparing several features these two cell types. This simple strategy actually works well for learning many different types of new and complex concepts. Here’s how to do it.

1. Go to a Reliable Source: The first step is to find the raw information that is needed. For learning about prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells, basic information on these cell types can be obtained from a textbook or from reliable sources on the internet. For online articles comparing prokaryotes and eukaryotes, see:

    * Differences between Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Cells
    * Similarities of Prokaryotic and Eukaryotic Cells

2. Organize Relevant Information on Cell Types: Just reading these articles would be a form of passive learning. For a student to really think about, sort out and retain this information, it is necessary to do something with it, such as organizing key points into table that can be used for studying. Many biology textbooks already have the key similarities and differences between cell types organized into a table, but just copying or reading a preexisting table is still passive learning. It is much better for a student to create his or her own original table.

3. Create a Table Comparing Prokaryotes and Eukaryotes: Begin building a table in portrait orientation (with length longer than width), either by hand, in Excel, or in a Word document. Make three columns. Label the first Trait, the second Prokaryotic Cells and the third Eukaryotic Cells. Then create many lines to the table, with the Trait column of each line listing some cellular characteristic to compare. Some of these comparisons will require information be filled in on the table, other traits can be marked as yes/no or by a check mark for the type of cell that possesses the trait. There can also be headings within the table, to help organize the traits into related categories. The following are some ideas for traits that can be compared between these two cell types:

~ Cell Size ~

~ Genetics ~

    * type of genetic material
    * location of genetic material
    * mode of reproduction / cell division
    * nucleus (y/n)
    * nucleiod (y/n)
    * plasmid (y/n)

~ Cell Envelope ~

    * plasma membrane (y/n)
    * cell wall
    * capsule (y/n)
    * peptidoglycan

~ Organelles ~

    * membrane-bound organelles (y/n)
    * ribosomes (y/n)
    * cytoskeleton (y/n)
    * Golgi apparatus (y/n)
    * endoplasmic reticulum (y/n)
    * mitochondria (y/n)
    * chloroplast
    * vesicles (y/n)
    * lysosomes (y/n)

~ Extensions from Cell ~

    * flagella cilia (y/n)
    * pili (y/n)
    * fimbriae (y/n)

This list in not exhaustive, but is a good place to start. The list of traits can be added to as new material is revealed in additional lectures, as the biology class progresses.