Children dread memorizing odd names of plant cell organelles in order to pass a quiz. You can make learning a lot simpler by showing children how to create a dazzling, decorated cake that resembles the innards of a plant cell.
Novel botany lessons can aid in the retention of facts and deepen students' appreciation of nature.
Planning Edible Plant Cell Projects
Children can make a plant cell cake model in class or as a homework assignment. High school students can compete with one another to see who can develop the most detailed model of a plant cell. Dreaming up plant cell cake ideas with candy is intriguing, but don’t overlook food safety.
Review your school’s policy on allowing food in the classroom. Nuts, dairy or gluten may be prohibited, for instance. Consider providing hand sanitizer and disposable, latex-free food preparation gloves.
Introducing the Assignment
Present a plastic model or other visual aid of a typical plant cell. Identify each part of the cell that you want children to learn.
Note that the size and shape of each part of the cell is related to function. Explain how parts of the cell work together like members of a sports team.
Presenting the Activity
Provide groups of three to four children with a square or rectangular unfrosted cake in a tinfoil pan. You can substitute cupcakes if you wish to give all children an opportunity to make their very own plant cell.
Provide bowls of assorted candy and containers of frosting at the front of the room. Instruct children to pick out pieces of candy to represent each part of the plant cell.
Inside the cell is a fluid called cytosol that contains water and proteins. The fluid along with the suspended organelles is commonly known as cytoplasm. Enzymes break down large molecules in the cytoplasm.
Start the activity by instructing children to take turns frosting the cake, which will be labeled as cytoplasm in the plant cell model. Completely frost the top before adding the other parts of the cell. The frosting will hold pieces of candy in place.
Cell Wall and Membrane
Plants cells have a boxy shape reinforced by a cell wall containing cellulose, protein, polysaccharides and sometimes lignin for added structural support. The cell wall maintains homeostasis so the plant doesn’t rupture or dry out. The cell membrane inside the wall is more flexible and helps regulate molecular transport.
Instruct children to make a cell wall around the entire outer edge of their cake. There are many options for making a cell wall. Miniature marshmallows, green licorice or pretzel sticks are good choices. Consider using thin strings of licorice or green piped icing inside the cell wall to depict the cell membrane.
Nucleus and Nucleolus
As the command center of the cell, the nucleus coordinates cell growth and metabolism. Most of the hereditary material of the plant cell is contained in nuclear DNA. The nucleolus at the center of the nucleus produces ribosomes needed by the rough endoplasmic reticulum to make proteins.
Select a candy item that is big and round with a filled center such as peanut butter cup. Proportionally, the nucleus should be quite prominent. Other options include a pineapple slice with a cherry or a filled snowball pastry cut in half.
Chloroplasts contain green chlorophyll and other pigments that absorb different wavelengths of light energy. Chloroplasts have an inner and outer membrane and resemble round discs. Inside are stacks of thylakoids. Photosynthesis occurs in the thylakoid membrane.
Green chlorophyll is typically the dominant pigment in chloroplasts. Therefore, green jelly beans or green flat candy wafers are fine choices to represent chloroplasts. Suggest placing three to four chloroplasts in the cytoplasm.
The endoplasmic reticulum is attached to the nucleus and communicates with the cytoplasm. Proteins are modified and transported to the Golgi apparatus. Licorice stings or dried fruit can be shaped to look like the endoplasmic reticulum.
The Golgi apparatus works in tandem with the endoplasmic reticulum. Proteins and lipids are packaged and processed in vesicles and then transported. The Golgi apparatus sends proteins and lipids to the right place. Gummy worms work well for the purpose of representing the Golgi apparatus.
Oblong-shaped organelles called the mitochondria break down glucose and produce adenosine triphosphate (ATP) molecules through cellular respiration. The mitochondria provide energy at night when the chloroplasts do not have access to sunlight for the process of photosynthesis.
Oblong candies like Hot Tamales or red jelly beans can be used as mitochondria in this lesson.
The central vacuole is a large membraned sac in the cytoplasm that holds water and keeps plants from wilting. Other functions include retaining nutrients, minerals and enzymes.
Detoxification of waste products and harmful toxins like herbicides also occurs. Children will like squishing a jumbo marshmallow to make a large, flat vacuole.
Plants have tiny organelles called ribosomes that synthesize RNA and protein. Ribosomes are located in the endoplasmic reticulum and the cytoplasm. Proteins can be used by the cell or transported out of the cell.
Round cake sprinkles, chocolate chips and other round candies like M&Ms scattered around the cytoplasm nicely depict ribosomes.
Edible Animal Cell Model
Children find it interesting to compare and contrast plant and animal cells. Generally, square cake pans could be used for making model plant cells while round cake pans illustrate more flexible animal cell membranes.
Identify the parts of an animal cell not found in a plant cell such as lysosomes, centrioles, cilia or flagella that must be included in an animal cell model when modifying the lesson.
About the Author
Dr. Mary Dowd studied biology in college where she worked as a lab assistant and tutored grateful students who didn't share her love of science. Her work history includes working as a naturalist in Minnesota and Wisconsin and presenting interactive science programs to groups of all ages. She enjoys writing online articles sharing information about science and education. Currently, Dr. Dowd is a dean of students at a mid-sized university.
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