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Genetics in Elementary and Middle School

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Victoria Glynn Victoria Glynn 20 Points

I currently work in a genetics lab engineering yeast for biofuel, and though it is an intricate process I feel that the basic genetics concepts I rely upon can be made accessible to younger audiences.

The first time genetics was fully elaborated upon, going beyond the typical “you look like your parents because you are half mom, half dad”, was until college. However, if elementary concepts such as inheritance, reproduction, DNA, and mutations would be introduced early on, I am certain students and even adults would be less baffled and confused by these concepts.

I am aware than the NGSS has a standards under the greater category of “ Mendelian Genetics” ( https://www.nextgenscience.org/commonly-searched-terms/mendelian-genetics ) yet they appear limited in even their designation as “Mendelian”. Mendel did revolutionize the idea of traits and variation but modern genetics with phenomena such as CRISPR and hereditary diseases comes to encompass so much more.

How would a science teacher intertwine these concepts into already-made lessons?
For instance, could elementary school teachers introduce this field by having different colored beads on a string to represent DNA and build on from there? How should teachers handle students making inappropriate comments such as “making the perfect human”?

Looking forward to hear your thoughts/suggestions!

Zachary Johnson Zachary Johnson 1075 Points

I agree that genetics could be taken further in the elementary school setting, and I think that in the future we will definatley see that change as standards change and evolve. I was interested to see if you have ever thought about speaking to an elementary school class as a guest speaker. Students often respond to guest speakers on a subject positively, and it could be a great experience!

Gabe Kraljevic Gabe Kraljevic 4564 Points

I think at the heart of genetics is DNA and I don't see a problem with teaching what DNA is and how it works to younger grades.  It is the method that all living things (except for a few exceptions) transfer their traits to the next generation and it has its own language.  Just building simple, single-strand DNA  (Your bead idea is great.  I would use C, T, A, G alphabet beads) we can introduce codons and teach students how to “read” DNA and encode traits in the nucleic acid language.  The complementary, non-coding strand can be introduced as the method by which the body is able to make accurate copies in a simple matching method. I'm sure that you'll have kids catching on how to make anti-parallel strands, read codons and determine which traits are being coded on a strand. Introduce multiple, paired chromosomes and the concept of 'genome'.  Why we have pairs of analagous chromosomes is now obvious - one from mom and one from dad!  I would use different coloured strings to indicate the two parents.

In upper grades we can show how cells are able to divide in mitosis and still keep the genetic information intact within an individual - still using strands of beads.  It is now a small step to meiosis and watching traits being separated into sex cells.  Combining the sex cells from two individuals and you can introduce dominant and recessive traits as analogous chromosomes are reunited into pairs during fertilization.  You can even address mutations and how they occur.  


Issues in genetics, like eugenics or gender selection, can be powerful discussions in class - not taboo.

Hope this helps,

Gabe Kraljevic

Shelby Myers Shelby Myers 1391 Points

Using tools such as colored beads to represent DNA strands is a great way to introduce some genetics. I think it would be easy to remain unbias, and addressing that everyone has flaws, and there is no 'perfect human'

Nora Ramirez Nora Ramirez 268 Points

Hello Gabe! I find this very enlighten because I think we have to have an open mind about Science, especially at this time. To know the basics of DNA it is a general culture and it would be better if it is taught since elementary school for students to had knowledge on this topic for all the reasons and ideas that you suggest.

Thank you for your contribution to Science!

Brittany Joachim Brittany Joachim 315 Points

Many times I use dogs or something that is not a human for my examples.  

Lily Albertson Lily Albertson 530 Points

I think it would be helpful for students to get introduced to genetics in elementary school. I have been in middle school and high school classes and both groups act like it is a foreign topic to them. The students really struggled to grasp things such as Punnett squares because it is a more abstract concept. I agree that a lesson using beads to represent DNA would be a wonderful activity.

Zach Millan Zach Millan 639 Points

I feel that keeping genetics discussions in a mathematical sense would help students see that no organism can be seen as 'perfect', but rather just statistics at work. I've found with my students that having them create an imaginary monster with coin flips to show their traits then creating offspring using Punnett squares showed that genetics are relatively random. Older kids may benefit from a discussion on 'perfect humans' and the science fiction behind genetic engineering!

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