Though most students understand the observable differences between animals and plants, distinctions between the two classifications begin at a cellular level. The most significant differences between human and plant cells are that plant cells are rectangular and contain cell structures such as cell walls and chloroplasts that animal cells do not contain. A successful plant cell structure project accurately represents the cells parts that distinguish plant cells from animal cells. An age-appropriate project should allow students to identify and explore the various structures of a plant cell.
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A simple, straightforward option for a plant cell structure project compares differences between plant cells and animal cells. A side-by-side drawn and written comparison is ideal for classroom presentations or science fairs; large, tri-fold poster boards provide simple organisation and display options. Hand-drawn representations of an animal cell and a plant cell on the two far folds of the poster board are an option for skilled artists, and printouts of cell types are suitable for the less artistically inclined. Colour-coded cell parts may be used to identify structures that appear in both types of cells; for example, the golgi in each cell might be purple, the microtubules red and the ribosomes yellow. Distinct colours for the structures that appear only in either the animal or plant cell will draw viewers' attention to the differences between cell types; the plant's cell wall could be green, and its plastids might be pink. The centre of the poster is an ideal location for a chart that identifies which structures appear in the animal cell and which appear in the plant cell.
Three-Dimensional Cell Models
Three-dimensional cell projects allow students to create scale models of plant cells and identify various parts of the cell. One option for a 3-D cell model is to construct a plant cell from modelling clay. Quick drying clay moulded into a rectangular shape with rounded edges forms the plant cell membrane; a border in a different colour around the rectangle represents the cell wall. Various clay colours moulded into different shapes represent cytoplasts, flagella and the nucleus. Label flags made from toothpicks and small sections of masking tape identify various cell parts.
Another option for a 3-D plant cell model is to create a cell model out of fabric and batting. Two squares or rectangles of fabric sewn together on three edges leave a section for you to stuff the square or rectangle with batting or cotton before sewing the final edge. A colourful trim or ribbon for the edges serves as a cell wall. Buttons or adhesive rhinestones are playful representations of different structures in the plant cell.
A plant cell structure project can be turned into a delicious and interactive project with edible plant cell models. A box mix offers the simplest way to bake a cake in a 9-inch-by-13-inch pan. A circle removed from the centre of the cake leaves a space to be filled with chocolate mouse, crumbled brownies or another stiff filling to represent the nucleus. A bright layer of frosting serves as the cell wall; the first layer of cake represents the cell membrane. Candies or pieces of chocolate are a delicious addition to the cake and represent various cell parts and structures.
Crispy rice treats are another option for an edible cell model. Dried fruit leather wrapped around a cooled, rectangular batch of crispy rice treats represents the cell wall. Liquorice, gummy candies and chocolate represent various cell structures on top of the rice treats. Requiring students to identify a part of the cell before receiving a slice is one way to make an edible model demonstration more interactive and challenging.
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