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MCMS students explore cells using school's inflatable planetarium


MCMS Media Specialist Cheryl May projects the inner workings of a cell inside of the school's inflatable planetarium.

Seventh graders at Marion County Middle School spent part of science class this week learning the ins and outs of cell organelles in a unique way.

MCMS Media Specialist Cheryl May --herself a former classroom science teacher -- collaborated with the school’s science department by leading students inside the school’s Starlab inflatable planetarium. Once inside the large vinyl dome, images of the inner workings of cells were projected onto the ceiling, as May led students through a review of the content they have been studying in class.

“I’ve always wanted to be Ms. Frizzle,” May told students referencing the fictional teacher from the television show The Magic School Bus. “So now I’m going to shrink you down and put you inside of a cell,” she said as she turned the projector lamp on.

inflatable planetarium

After a brief moment of near total darkness, images appeared on the ceiling, which were projected through a cylinder in the middle of the room.

Using a laser pointer, May would identify the various parts of the cell and discuss their functions. The projector, at times, would rotate to create the illusion of movement inside the cell, as students sat around the perimeter.

“It’s very hard to teach students about something they can’t see,” May said, noting that studying cells is a concept students many time struggle with. “I feel like this gives them a better chance of visualizing it -- it becomes more real.”

May discussed and quizzed students over the part of a cell, and after about twenty minutes inside, the students would exit through a small tunnel and return to class, before another group of students came in.

“They’ve already studied cells using their Chromebooks and other methods -- this is just another way for students to learn,” May said. “It’s a difficult concept to teach […] even other online interactive lessons are still flat compared to this.”

The students seemed to agree.

“It was cool,” 7th grader Aleigha Mays said as she exited the inflatable. “It lit up and got your attention.”

Starlab inflatable planetarium

In the past, the inflatable planetarium has also been used to teach students about constellations and Greek mythology. However, given the space requirements and the amount of time involved in setup, it’s not something that can be used on a regular basis.

But for a day, students were able to experience an interactive lesson unlike many others.

“I love that they think they floated around inside of a cell for a day,” she said “It’s something they’ll go home and talk about.”

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