Stories from the Field

California Casualty Awardees Jon Hazell: Monster Cell

California Casualty Awardees Jon Hazell: Monster Cell

Great educators have great stories. This series gives a glimpse of the ideas, practices, and experiences of the recipients of the NEA Foundation’s California Casualty Awards for Teaching Excellence. Today, we’re sharing the words of Jon Hazell, a science educator at Durant High School in Durant, Oklahoma.

As my biology class studied cells and prepared to build the infamous cell cookie almost all biology teachers use, I kept hearing, “Mr. Hazell, this is boooring. We did the same thing in 8th grade. It was cool, but we don’t need it again.”

And then one student asked, “Why can’t we build a real cell or something?”

Voila! After class that day, I headed down to see the art teacher. I presented the idea, and I think her excitement exceeded mine as she described all the possibilities such a project presented.

And thus was born the “Monster Cell.”

In this cross-curricular project, biology students work with art students to build a classroom-sized cell. My students must teach cellular mechanics to the art students, who in turn teach varied art techniques to my students. The kinesthetic learning approach necessitates that students actually build every part of the cell to match its function, which cannot be accomplished until they first know the full purpose of each functioning part.

We hang the entire work from the ceiling and turn my room into a life-sized, walk-in cell. People can travel through it, touching parts and following the chain of events that occurs in our cells every day.

This type of activity has proven to enhance comprehension across the board for every student and teacher in the school, because the students become the teachers and the facilitators of learning. They love it.


Meet more of the 2018 NEA Foundation awardees hereLearn more about the NEA Foundation’s Awards for Teaching Excellence criteria and nominations process.