Pipe Cleaner Mitosis Manipulative for ELL Students

By Scott Jay

pipe cleanerCurriculum Connection: Grade 10 P/D Science, Cells and Tissues Unit

For the SNC2D8 class, I designed a pipe cleaner and yarn in-class activity to help teach mitosis. This activity involves students working in pairs or trios to complete a handmade visual representation of the stages of mitosis along with a brief description of one important detail of each phase. I started the class by using my own drawings and descriptions of the six phases that matched their textbook; interphase, early prophase, late prophase, metaphase, anaphase, and telophase. I used colour-coded drawings to show the difference between the chromosomes, spindle fibres, centromeres, centrioles, and nuclear and cell membranes. I left them on the board and gave students the worksheets, after demonstrating at the front of the class how to use yarn to represent the spindle fibres and weaved together pipe cleaners as chromosomes and had them taped to the pages. Instruction for this activity took about twenty minutes, and took students, at most, thirty minutes to complete the activity.

Students seemed to really enjoy the activity, collaborating with their partners, asking each other clarifying questions in English, working efficiently and with focus. Students, who in other classes had struggled, especially seemed to enjoy the class, and worked hard to complete the task. Every student completed the assignment almost perfectly and demonstrated their learning through a visual element along with the written component. Follow-up assessments showed that mitosis was the part of the chapter that they remembered and understood the best, and in asking the students, they almost always credited this class with why they understood mitosis as well as they did. English language learners were able to associate the terms (such as interphase, metaphase, etc.) with distinct visual representations, be they drawings or the models created; when tests involved matching pictures with descriptions or multiple choice options for labeling the pictures, students were especially successful. This activity takes pressure off memorizing the scientific words and allows students to absorb the language through the visuals which seem to be easier to conceptualize. Seeing the word written on the board at the front of the class, labelled on their model, and in their description, creates enough repetition that is remembered, but also understood in the context of what scientists see is taking place inside the cell.

The aim was to enhance students‘ learning of the chromosomal changes during each phase of mitosis and the role that spindle fibres play in the process. Creating the visuals helps students see for themselves the progression of the phases, and using different colours for the yarn and pipe cleaners that matched the coloured drawings on the board allowed
students to understand the fundamental differences between the different components that mediate mitosis in the cell. I would recommend that students fill out the descriptions of the phases as they make the visual, instead of filling out all the descriptions at the end, as this approach allows students to associate the descriptions with the images of what occurs in each phase.

Note by Leila Knetsch (Scott Jay’s associate teacher):
I encouraged Scott to submit this to Crucible because he was so convinced that it really impacted their learning. All students find mitosis and meiosis somewhat impenetrable because they focus on the wrong details. If you combine that with the language challenges of the ELL learner, it becomes even more difficult. I feel that this activity focuses the ELL students on the chromosomes and the changes they go through.

In-Class Activity

Students are divided into groups of 3-4 and given a sheet of paper and a set of materials (yarn and pipe cleaners).

Each group has to display on their table all five phases using the pipe cleaners as chromosomes, yarn as spindle fibres. In interphase, the yarn is the chromatin.

Additionally, each group draws their representation on a piece of paper, with labels for all five phases, and a brief point-form description of each phase.

The teacher walks around class offering assistance to each group, checking that they are on the right track.

Click here for classroom ready handouts for this activity