Wednesday, May 11, 2011

How Do Your Genes Fit?

One of the favorite pastimes of my parents and in-laws is to scrutinize my children and remark how each child resembles their respective sides of the family. My parents feel strongly that their grandchildren take after “our side” of the family in looks and temperament, while my in-laws feel equally firm that the children are much more like my husband and “their side”. I’m sure this same scenario is played out ad naseum in families worldwide; one wonders what happens in families with less-than attractive children.

Aside from providing families with endless hours of entertainment and debate, genetics and heredity are an important part of every student’s science education. Our genes are like little blueprints that provide instructions to our bodies and determine our physical traits. Humans, for example, have between 20,000-25,000 genes. Most organisms encode their genes on long strings of DNA called chromosomes, and there are hundreds (or sometimes thousands) of genes in each chromosome. In school, students learn about genes and patterns of inheritance by using Punnett Squares or other diagrams to help predict the likelihood of certain traits being passed down from parents to offspring. It’s a nice, visual way of keeping track of dominant and recessive traits, and of making sense of what can initially be intimidating material to learn.

The study of genetics has many applications for K-12 students. At the elementary level, kids study genetics to help understand where we come from, why we look the way we do, and why certain traits are inherent in some people and not others. For older students, learning about genetics helps them to explore concepts such as the selective breeding of animals and crops to promote healthier stock and medical research to help eradicate certain diseases and conditions. When I was in school, our genetics curriculum pretty much focused on Mendel’s work with cross-breeding selective strains of peas. While this material is still relevant, newer materials can offer additional ways to illustrate inherited traits in a fun way. This week I’ve selected three resources on genetics for various grade levels, each with a particularly fun or interesting twist that should appeal to kids. As always, I’ll be featuring several new resources each day on this topic throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so please be sure to check in frequently.

Traits Bingo
Subjects: Genetics
Grade: 3-12
In this activity, students learn about genetics as they play a Bingo game where they inventory their own inherited traits. One of the nice things about this resource is that it is available in both English and Spanish. This resource is a product of the Genetic Science Learning Center at the University of Utah, which offers online activities, labs, experiments, and workshops for students, teens, and all others curious about genetics.

Bikini Bottom Genetics
Subjects: Genetics
Grade: 8-12
What happens when SpongeBob SquarePants marries SpongeSusie RoundPants? Students apply their knowledge of genetics to complete this worksheet to reveal what kinds of traits the respective offspring of SpongeBob, Squidward, Mr. Krabbs, and Patrick might have. This resource was produced by The Science Spot, a Web site designed by 8th grade science teacher Tracy Trimpe. The site offers science lessons, news, puzzles, teaching tips, and other materials.

Genetic Phenotypes of the Superheroes
Subject: Genetics
Grade: 7-9
Genetic differences exist in us all. In this lesson, students learn about phenotypes and genotypes, and that both the environment and our genotypes interact to make us what we are. Students will each research a male and female superhero and develop a list of physical traits and characteristics that these superheroes have in common, and also those unique to that individual. Students will then simulate a genetic cross of their two superheroes. This lesson is offered by TeachersFirst, which provides K-12 lesson plans and professional development resources for teachers. All materials on the site are reviewed by teachers.

~Joann's Picks - 5/6/2011~

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