Not Just Blocks Anymore!

By Gloria Allen, February 27, 2017

Grade Level

  • Middle School


  • Summer Design Institute

Subject Area

  • Science

Lesson Time

Two 45 minute sessions for classroom activities


After cells had been studied for their internal structures and the functions of those structure, cell level of organization provides a natural bridge from organelles to human body organ systems. Varied strategies to retain and understand the levels are used, but they are best reinforced when students are challenged to design the components including cells,tissues,organs, organ systems, and organisms, with table top BLOCKS!

National Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are adopted by Washington,DC, which are inclusive of common cores as well. Science 7th grade Life Science:The Human Body LS1.3. Structure and Function  : (Disciplinary Core Ideas)The body subsystems are groups of cells that work together to form tissues and organs that are specialized for particular body functions. System Models: (Crosscutting Concepts) Systems may have sub-systems and be a part of larger complex systems. Developing and Using Models:(Science and Engineering Practices) Develop and use a model to describe phenomena.LS1-2 ELA/Literacy: SL.8.5 Integrate visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence and add interest.


Obj: Students will understand the progression of cell levels and the concept that all living things are made up of cells.


Resources: ,text resource Life Science (McDougall Littell)  Chapter1 page30.


Materials for this includes: 1.Cleared lab tables (are great for this) OR 2. Desks pushed together in sets of 4. 3. Set of 48 block approx. 1 x 3.5 inches/ 1 can per set of students working.


Vocabulary terms: Cells, tissue, organ, organ system, and Organism, Cell level of organization >Terms are either in the text, or using the site


Procedures: In order to validate or assess how each student understands the concept of cell level of organization, meaning that cells are individual units which when specialized become tissues, which become organs then organ systems and hence organisms. Students are given a container of blocks to spread out on the lab table. The instructions announce that“you now have cells”. Each individual block represents a cell. The challenge is to design the other levels of cell organization until such time that they get to the organism. The fun, intensity, and excitement comes from the exploration, and designing what they wish and identifying it as part of the level of cell organization. As the teams of students work, their “organisms” vary. Each team has a different product; each organism is different from the other; each creation holds the interest and focus of the students. The additional excitement comes when neighboring lab tables transition to combine their cells and they define the tissue which has an different organ systems and the larger creation spanning two tables becomes and organism. Likewise, the same rules apply and the organism may be small, but still functional. This mirrors reality in that organisms can be large such as elephants, but then they can be small as with insects. The excitement is that the students are allowed to design this themselves and work cooperatively and collaboratively to move from cell to organism fluidly.


I captured the designs with photos. This then is used to assess student understanding. Have them to add written commentary to the printed photo copy of their creations. This commentary serves to validate their understanding of cell level of organization by explaining what level is their creation and how much more would be needed to complete the levels from cell to organism.

Enrichment Extension Activities

Expanding this would have us move the photos and write-ups to our hallway and post the photo gallery for the entire building to view and share. Likewise, these finished products can also be shared on the school family website for sharing.

Teacher Reflection

Reflection: The ease with which students moved to use the blocks to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts was exciting and revealing. Many had not handled blocks for years, yet gravitated toward them with painless effort. There were smiles, comparisons, sharings, competitions, individuals and teams embraced with laughter and cheers. Who said learning can’t be fun. Then, there was pride and accomplishment when seeing their work posted outside the room.

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