Introducing the Cell Concept with both Animal and Plant Cells: A Historical and Didactic Approach

Abstract.

In France, as well as in several other countries, the cell concept is introduced at school by two juxtaposed drawings, a plant cell and an animal cell. After indicating the didactic obstacles associated with this presentation, this paper focuses on the reasons underlying the persistence of these two prototypes, through three complementary interpretations:

  • A pedagogical one: it was, and it is still today, easy to use onion skin and mouth epithelial cells at school, hence both of these kinds of cells became cell prototypes.

  • A historical one: Schleiden worked on plant cells, and Schwann on animal cells; together they established common features between plant and animal cells (1838).

  • A sociological one: since the emergence of the cell concept (19th century) and until recently, Zoology and Botany were clearly separated research fields.

Today, besides these traditional animal and plant cell prototypes, a general “egg-cell model” is used increasingly to introduce and develop the cell concept.

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Acknowledgements

Thanks to everyone who assisted me in finding the documents used for this work: colleagues of the LIRDHIST (Jérôme Fatet, Philippe Jaussaud, Sandie Bernard) and colleagues of different countries: Britta Oerke (Germany), Jurga Turcinaviciene (Lituania), Kai Pata (Estonia), Paul Pace (Malta), Osmo Hanninen (Finlande), Mondher Abrougui (Tunisia), Farida Khammar (Algeria). I also thank Crane Rogers, Sue Tunniclife, Ruth Scheps and Megan Daily for their help in editing the English. This work was supported by the LIRDHIST (Laboratoire Interdisciplinaire de Recherche en Didactique et en Histoire des Sciences et des Techniques, EA 1658, Université Claude Bernard Lyon 1) and the European project “Biology, Health and Environmental Education for better Citizenship” (Specific Targeted Research no. 506015, FP6, Priority 7).

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Correspondence to Pierre Clément.

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Clément, P. Introducing the Cell Concept with both Animal and Plant Cells: A Historical and Didactic Approach. Sci Educ 16, 423–440 (2007). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11191-006-9029-7

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Keywords

  • biology education
  • history of science
  • sociology of science
  • cell concept
  • animal cell
  • plant cell
  • typicality
  • school textbooks
  • didactic obstacles