Last fall my son got an assignment to create a 3D cell model for his 5th grade class. Little did his teacher realize that he had a completely unfair advantage because we are such a creative and crafty family. I didn’t even have to buy any supplies for this – we had everything on hand – styrofoam balls, play dough and a scrap of foam core board.
Here’s one of those projects I’ve been putting off posting for a very long time. The evidence is clear: that’s last years‘ pumpkin patch in the background of the photo above!
Related Pages: Plant Life Printables, Solar System Printables, Solar System Projects for Kids
You can print out and use either of these cell diagrams as a reference or to even use as part of your project presentation.
What You Need to Make a 3D Cell Model
- 2 Styrofoam balls, one 6 inches in diameter, the other 1 1/2 inches in diameter:
- Play dough in at least 6 different colors (we used a set from the dollar store, but you can also make your own play dough).
- 10 inch square piece of foam core board
- Paper scraps
- Small piece of plastic or saran wrap (about 3 inches square)
- Pen or marker
- Clear tape
How to Make a 3D Cell Model
Grab a cell diagram to use as a guide for creating cell parts: My son made an animal cell model, but you can do a plant cell model of course, too.
Have an adult cut the styrofoam balls in half with a steak knife (older kids can probably handle this on their own).
BTW, the color choices we used were pretty arbitrary – go with whatever works for you. Start by putting a bit of play dough in the center of the flat side of the large ball and place the small ball on top of it. The play dough acts like a glue to keep the pieces together. Then start covering the small half ball (the cell nucleus) with one color and then the area around it with a different color.
Using the diagrams as a guide, start adding cell components out of different colors of play dough. This will make them easy to distinguish when you need to label them later.
When complete, cut a circle in the center of the foam core board about 2 inches in diameter as seen above. Then cut a small piece of plastic wrap to cover it before you place the cell model into the hole. This will protect any surface you place the model on when finished.
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Place the finished cell model onto the plastic and nest it into the hole to keep it in place. You can cut away the excess plastic and then cover up the ends with a little more play dough like this:
(BTW – that top edge looks pretty janky in this photo. We cleaned that up a lot before he turned it in!!)
Gently turn the cell model over and place toothpicks into the bottom like in this photo to keep the model snug in place on the mounting board.
Lastly, have your child write out the names of all the cell parts on small pieces of paper and make little flags out of them with toothpicks and tape. Then have your child place the flags in the appropriate spots to label the parts like this:
If you want to add the title like I did to the mounting board, I just typed that up in Word and printed it out. Otherwise it’s done!
My boy got an A on this assignment, and he had a blast making it. In fact, my other daughter wanted to make one, too, even though she is 2 years younger and had no such assignment from her teacher.