5 Ways to Make Cell Division ‘Easier to Replicate’ for Students!

Akanksha Saxena

Introduction: Cell Division (Principles): Mitosis and Meiosis

The cell division process forms the basis of all life that exists on the Earth, whether it is a prokaryotic or eukaryotic life form. If the cycles of cell replication and division were to be omitted, no living organism can grow, propagate and reproduce. With this lesson in mind, let’s briefly discuss how cell division works at the cellular level. Cell division is a multi-step process that is governed by several regulators and checkpoints. Any anomaly in this basic life-sustaining process can wreak havoc on the organism.

What do you think cancer is? It's an unregulated cell division. Yes, the world’s scariest disease is caused when the cell division process goes awry and out of order. This signifies how important this process must be in our bodies.

Students are introduced to 2 main types of cell division in high school. They are mitosis and meiosis. These cell division processes appear simple at first by their definition. But as we go deeper in slating out the differences between the two, confusion begins to arise.

Being uninformed about what goes at the cellular and molecular level when a cell replicates, students find this topic potentially puzzling and off-putting. Educating your students in a way that their core concepts of cellular and molecular biology are sturdy can help them become better STEM scientists in the future. 

Thus, delivering lessons about this basic yet content-heavy topic comes as a challenge to educators and teachers. Read on to find some effective teaching practices that you can put to use when discussing this topic in your next class. This article intends to identify the major blocks encountered by students while learning about mitosis and meiosis. We also list some practical solutions to resolve them. By the end, we’ll convince you why a virtual lab simulation will prove useful not only for your students but also for you as an educator to deliver concepts more effectively.

Cell Division (Principles): Mitosis and Meiosis GIF

Figure: GIF from Labster's Cell Division simulation. It is available for High School classes.

3 reasons why Cell Division can be tricky to teach or learn

There are 3 reasons why students are dreadful and confused by this topic. Acknowledging these blockades is the first step toward making the topic more approachable. 

  1. Everything is invisible to naked eyes

We can see our hair growing and ladies bearing children. So, these seem easily comprehensible biological processes to us. But we can’t see how the DNA replicates and separates leading to the formation of 2 daughter cells without the aid of a microscope. This incompetence to visualize cell division makes it a very complex and convoluted subject. This discomfort is further augmented by occasional failures in the early years of microscope handling.

2. It is ‘content heavy’ with too many intricacies

Cell division and its principles aren’t a child’s play. The 2 division types namely mitosis and meiosis have their own idiosyncrasies. When they aren’t logically understood, they account for a lot to be remembered. This usually drives the students crazy when the conceptual clarity about cell structure (organelles), nucleus composition, chromosome structure and number, ploidy states, etc is deficient. Lacunae in this elementary subject knowledge can lead to the inability to distinguish between different stages of cell division and their characteristic features.

3. It requires precision

Lab handling taught in cell biology labs is usually not efficient at the high school level. Students struggle in learning proper staining practices, sectioning and tissue handling techniques, and microscope control. Though all of us know that maneuvers like these ameliorate with time, practice, and experience, the pressure on students to slice their best sections is crushing in the early years. This deprives them of the charm of cell biology and topics as fascinating as mitosis and meiosis.

5 ways to make Cell Division a more approachable topic to understand

In order to address the problems encountered while teaching the Cell Division Principles, educators can engage the under-listed solutions in their classes. These can clarify many of the peculiarities of both mitosis and meiosis. Not only can they make teaching easier for educators like you but will also make lessons clearer and easier to assimilate for your students.

  1. Connecting the dots of ‘discoveries’

Cell and Molecular Biology have been established as unique domains of study due to the concerted efforts of many scientists and biology enthusiasts. When your students are introduced to them, it can help in humanizing the breakthrough discoveries of the subjects. This instills a ‘sense of belonging to the science field’ in them which further drives their exploration and learning trajectory. 

The road of STEM and basic sciences is undeniably a grueling one, the concepts shouldn’t be.

Discussing how the relentless pursuit of Walther Flemming helped him discover the cell division process in the cells of salamander embryos can be encouraging for your students. The microscope was a very novel technology for cytologists in the 1870s. While investigating tissues from fire salamanders, a common Northern European forest species, Flemming noticed that certain regions of a cell stain more deeply than others. He recorded the presence of a distinct mass of material inside the cell’s nucleus that absorbs more dye than the other parts that later came to be known as ‘chromatin’. His published illustrations of the same were widely circulated. Flemming also observed a periodical pattern of the nucleus transitioning from a resting stage to an activity stage. His ingenuity and observant nature led him to discover how one nucleus beholds the ability to divide into two after replication. 

The curious case of Flemming can incite a scientific itch in your students to go beyond their mentally drawn boundaries and understand concepts no matter how complex they are. Such story-telling can infuse enthusiasm to learn different steps of cell division with interest.

2. Listing out the real-world applications where the cell division process is exploited 

Cell division might sound like an irrelevant subject to your students sometimes. It can be reasoned to its invisible nature at the macroscopic level. But telling your students how everything we ingest affects the cell division process can bring them out of their oblivion. 

Listing examples of biocides like fungicides, antibiotics, antivirals, etc that function by obliterating some of the other steps of cell division (mitosis or meiosis) can make the topic profoundly interesting for your students. 

Explaining how the medicine and pharmaceutical industry shows the different steps of cell division can be intellectually empowering in your classroom discussions. Enumeration of different natural and artificial compounds that are used as “anti-cancer drugs'' like paclitaxel, vincristine, etoposide, etc in chemotherapy and their mode of action involving inhibition of cell division cycle at varied stages can make the topic worth concentrating on for your students. You can use the Cell Division simulation from Labster to demonstrate the different steps of the cell cycle where these drugs can act. 

Learning is more effective when students see real-world applications of their classroom lessons. 

Cell division 2

Figure: The Cell Division simulation from Labster to demonstrate different steps of the cell division cycle. It is available for High School classes.

3. Switching from 2D figures to 3D models or virtual simulations

The DNA structure and packaging, as complex as it is, shouldn’t be ignored. The different stages of cell division are nothing but involve restructuring and repackaging of the genetic material with an aim to make more cells of the same type.  Since students aren’t clear about the basic chromosomal packaging due to the lack of visualization tools and visual devices, educators are encouraged to shift from conventional 2D diagrams to 3D models and modern-day simulations. Such a strategy is more promising as it allows students to visualize in a better manner and get rid of rote learning.

Even different stages of mitosis and meiosis can be explained in a more efficacious manner using 3D tools. Commonly confused terminologies can also be visually resolved using 3D incentives. Some of the terminology confusions that educators can clarify for students are:

  1. Chromosomes-vs-Gene-vs-DNA

  2. Ploidy/Chromosome number-vs-DNA content/amount

  3. Homologous chromosomes-vs-Sister chromatids

  4. Replication-vs-Recombination

  5. Somatic cells-vs-Germinal cells

  6. Equational division-vs-Reductional division


Figure: An interactive snippet showing cellular packaging. This is a part of the Cell Division simulation provided by Labster. It is available for High School classes.

4. Make mnemonics and have tricky fun with cell division 

Since the steps of mitosis and meiosis can be a lot to remember, using associative learning techniques and mnemonics can be particularly useful.  We are listing some tips and tricks which educators can utilize for making their classes more vibrant.

  • In order to teach the major differences between mitosis and meiosis, you can use the following trick. Meiosis is RE: REductional, REcombination, REproduction. (So, intuitively Mitosis is Equational, No recombination, No role in reproduction)

  • Mnemonic for Mitosis and Meiosis II stages: Please Meet At The Circus (Prophase, Metaphase, Anaphase, Telophase, Cytokinesis)

  • Mnemonic for Meiosis I stages: Lazy Zebra Push Dorky Donkey (Leptotene, Zygotene, Pachytene, Diplotene, Diakinesis)

  • Chromosomal Packaging Learning Trick: String<Bead-on-String<Necklace<Pendant (Double helix DNA is like a string. When it is packaged with histones, it’s a bead on a string structure. When this structure comes together as a compact mass, it’s like a necklace called chromatin. And when it is finally condensed, the final jewel is a pendant called a chromosome.)

cell division 4

Figure: This snippet from the Cell Division simulation provided by Labster demonstrates the different stages of mitosis and meiosis that we tried to memorize using a mnemonic. It is available for High School classes.

5. Use virtual lab simulations

Since principles of cell divisions are already very complex for high school students, it is recommended to use our Labster simulations for overcoming the visualization constraints. With virtual laboratory simulations from Labster, educators can make more insightful points as students are rendered with better visual options. The 3D simulations help them understand how cellular and nuclear content multiply and divide in subsequent stages of mitosis and meiosis. 

Your students don’t have to struggle anymore imagining how the cell advances from one division stage to another as our Cell Division simulation along with its gamification elements comes to your rescue. By using this module of active and immersive teaching, our virtual learning platform takes an advent in the field of Science to make the next generation of scientists thorough with the “basics of their respective subjects”. 

You can learn more about Cell Division simulation here or get in touch to find out how you can start using virtual labs with your students.

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