Classroom teacher; Art teacher could be helpful
Producing, Executing and Performing
In this lesson, students use calculation to predict the number of cells that result from a series of cell divisions. They then graph the results to represent their findings. Students use this investigation as a starting point for an exploration of pattern and repetition in nature, culminating with an activity in which they create a repeated or random pattern of their own. This lesson will help students gain an understanding of how patterns are reflected in nature.
Identify and describe the exponential growth of a hypothetical dividing cell
Create a graph showing their results
Examine examples of patterns in nature
Create a patterned drawing
What You'll Need
1 Computer per Small Group
1 Computer per Classroom
Understand cell reproduction
Be familiar with the Fibonacci sequence, tessellation, and other mathematical patterning found in nature
Prior Student Knowledge
This lesson builds on prior lessons in the 'The Magic Universe of Cells' unit, so students should understand basic cell anatomy and function, including mitosis.
Students should have some experience with exponents.
Students should have experience with drawing and interpreting graphs.
Students should be familiar with the use of microscopes.
Large Group Instruction
Small Group Instruction
If microscopes are used, slides with live cells should be prepared.
Resources in Reach
Here are the resources you'll need for each activity, in order of instruction.
1. Remind students that living things, including cells, reproduce, and review the process of mitosis if necessary. (See the Point out that different plants and animals take different lengths of time to reproduce and explain to students that different cells also reproduce at different rates, even within the same organism. Some cells take 20 minutes to reproduce, while others may take 24 hours. Some, like skin cells, continually reproduce, while others, like those in the liver, don’t usually reproduce in adult humans at all. Vocabulary handout located within the Resource Carousel if students need to refresh their memories.)
2. Ask students to calculate the number of cells produced in a hypothetical scenario. Have them imagine a cell that divides into two cells every hour for 12 hours. Assuming no cells die during the 12-hour period, how many cells would exist after 12 hours? While students will probably not have an immediate answer to the question, encourage discussion of possible approaches to the problem.
3. Distribute the Have students calculate cell numbers for each hour up to 12 hours, then graph the data in their science journals. One axis of the graph should represent the number of cells and the other axis should represent the hours up to the 12th hour. Allow students to compare their results with other students. Ask them if they notice any mathematical patterns. Cell Division Chart handout located within the Resource Carousel to students.
4. Have students look at cells under a microscope in small groups. If you do not have microscopes available in the classroom, students can look at images of cells at the Nanoworld gallery. As students continue to look at cells throughout the lesson, they should begin to notice patterns within, based on, or comprised of cells.
1. Discuss patterns in nature. Patterns can be random or repeated. The forest with all its trees is a random repeated pattern, as are waves in an ocean or cars lined up along the street. Have students find ten different patterns in their current surroundings. Compare results and list some examples of both random and repeated patterns.
2. Show students examples of patterns that artists have captured from nature. View artists’ images of patterns in nature on these websites:
Nikon’s Small World Competition
Zeiss Gallery National Geographic’s
Patterns in Nature (7 galleries) Bill
Graham’s Patterns in Nature
3. Discuss the patterns as works of art. The galleries above show works of photography or microscopy (photography using an electron microscope). These patterns existed in nature but were captured and presented in intentional ways by artists. Ask students to compare the range of images and approaches, noticing the style and creativity of the artists. Explain to students that the artists were creative in their presentation of the patterns, thus creating a vibrant and original piece of art from nature.
4. As a class, list some of the choices the artists made in their representation of the patterns of nature. Some characteristics that should be included on the list:
Using only a portion of the original design
Changing the angle of vision
Repeating the shapes from a variety of views
Connecting patterns together
5. Look more closely at the natural patterns in cells. As a class, focus on the cells viewed in the microscopes, or on images of cells (such as those in the . Point out how each cell contains a series of lines, which are joined together to create a pattern, and then repeated. The lines can be wavy, thick, thin, circular, zigzag, short or long, tiny or massive. Nanoworld Gallery)
1. Tell students to choose a cell that they would like to make into a design pattern and copy it on a sheet of drawing paper. Have them refer to their notes from lesson one in this unit, What is Inside a Cell?, regarding the use of color. Allow them to use a microscope or magnifying glass as they copy the cell, encouraging them to use the level of accuracy and detail that a scientific illustrator would use. Remind them to be as accurate as possible with line and color.
2. Have students create a patterned picture based on their completed cell drawing. Have students take a 12” x 18” sheet of heavy white paper and divide it into 24 equal boxes. They will now have to decide how to display their cell. Discuss some possible approaches:
Repeat the same cell in each box.
(You may wish to show how Andy Warhol used this technique in many of his designs.)
Repeat the cell in each box but vary it by turning it upside down
Repeat the same cell but flip it in each box
Repeat the cell but rotate it in a random or regular pattern
Show different parts of the cell in each box
Offset the cell images by showing both the top and bottom of the image in a box, but reversing the order in neighboring boxes
3. Encourage students to be creative in their patterning. Display the finished artworks.
Have students discuss the following questions about their calculations and their patterned picture:
How are the results of this activity different from what would happen in nature?
How would the data/numbers be different?
Some points to introduce:
Cells die as well as dividing.
New cells have to reach a certain size before they’ll divide.
Cells reach a point at which the rate of death is equal to the rate of division, so the population of cells doesn’t normally keep dividing indefinitely.
Cells are less tidy than the boxes on the paper.
Animal cells have membranes, but plant and some other cells also have cell walls. The patterns created by cells with and without walls differ.
Throughout the nation, standards of learning are being revised, published and adopted. During this time of transition, ARTSEDGE will continually add connections to the Common Core, Next Generation Science standards and other standards to our existing lessons, in addition to the previous versions of the National Standards across the subject areas.
The Arts Standards used in ARTSEDGE Lessons are the 1994 voluntary national arts standards. The Arts learning standards were revised in 2014; please visit the
National Core Arts Standards ( http://nationalartsstandards.org) for more. The Kennedy Center is working on developing new lessons to connect to these standards, while maintaining the existing lesson library aligned to the Common Core, other state standards, and the 1994 National Standards for Arts Education.
Lessons connect to the National Standards for Arts Education, the Common Core Standards, and a range of other subject area standards.
Common Core/State Standards
Select state and grade(s) below, then click "Find" to display Common Core and state standards.
National Standards in Other Subjects
Math Standard 6:
Understands and applies basic and advanced concepts of statistics and data analysis
Science Standard 5:
Understands the structure and function of cells and organisms