Dec 10 2009

Creating Cellular Superheroes Will Take Teaching Biology Up, Up and Away!

Students use computers to create comic book characters that bring the parts of the cell alive.

Students use computers to create comic book characters that bring the parts of the cell alive.

Cell structure and function are an integral part of any biology curricula, but it is often challenging to engage students with this material, beyond simply letting them observe cells. To make cell parts and processes more interesting, my students created comic book stories that turned the parts of the cell into superheroes.

LESSON DESCRIPTION: This project began with a teacher-created comic book that introduced students to their task and modeled what cell part superheroes might look like. To get information to integrate into their story, students did the following:
• participated in labs on cell observation, diffusion, osmosis and respiration;
• performed web research on energy production, homeostasis and the cell cycle;
• participated in small-group workshops about using Plasq's Comic Life software; and
• completed collaborative work creating graphic organizers for cell parts.
As they learned about cells, students created characters and brainstormed the plot for their stories using online collaborative documents to keep track of group ideas, research and materials. When assembling their comic books, they used a variety of software to create characters that they then imported into Comic Life software. The final products were presented to upperclassmen as study tools for the state standardized test.

SUBJECT AREA: This project was designed for a ninth-grade biology class. We utilized basic word processing and web surfing
resources, as well as Comic Life software. Students also used Microsoft Paint, Adobe Illustrator, Adobe Photoshop or SMART Notebook software to create characters for their comics.

CURRICULUM STANDARDS: The lesson plan is derived from the Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills for Biology, state standards issued by the Texas Education Agency. Each student is required to know that cells are the basic structures of all living things and have specialized parts that perform specific functions. The student is expected to:
• identify the parts of prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells;
• investigate and identify cellular processes, including homeostasis, permeability, energy production, transportation of molecules, disposal of wastes, function of cellular parts and synthesis of new molecules;
• know metabolic processes and energy transfers that occur in living organisms; and
• compare the energy flow in photosynthesis to the energy flow in cellular respiration.

• Organelle Animations: 
• Biology for Kids:
• Interactive Cell:

GRADING RUBRIC: Students were given an itemized rubric outlining expectations for the comic book, such as creating characters whose powers reflected actual cell function, having a realistic villain and depicting cell processes. Students also received a separate grade for the quality of written work, their presentation skills and their ability to state specifically how the comic book would assist upperclassmen when studying for their standardized tests.


Teaching Tips

• Break the comic book task into smaller pieces (for example, character design), which will help students make measurable progress.
• Make one student in the group the “Artistic Director.” This student can learn the software and ensure cohesiveness in the story.
• Use collaborative tools such as Google Docs to help keep all group members on the same page, and you can monitor their progress.
• Include older students in the project to motivate students to prepare a product they can be proud of and get meaningful feedback from their peers.