Walk among the pea plants with genetics pioneer Gregor Mendel as he describes his experiments and reveals his discoveries. Tinker with the inherited traits by creating your own “family” of aliens. Conduct DNA analyses on blood samples you’ve collected from a crime scene.
These are just some of the activities that middle and high school students are invited to try in EDC’s new Enlivening Genetics Education Web site, an interactive Web site designed to complement traditional science curricula. The invisible processes of genetics, buried deep in human DNA, are revealed through exercises that allow students to observe and simulate the processes that control dominant and recessive traits, genetic probabilities, and genotypes and phenotypes.
“The Enlivening Genetics Education project was designed to develop software that would engage students in deeper exploration of important genetics concepts through activities that could be integrated with existing genetics education materials and pedagogies,” says Kristen Bjork, the EDC project director. The project ultimately abandoned software development for the more practical and “bug-free” web-based resource. “We wanted to undo the stereotype that technology-based instructional materials are unrelated ‘add-ons’ to the ‘real’ lessons,” added Bjork. The site was developed with the collaboration of the Concord Consortium and MathResources, Inc. and funding from the National Science Foundation.
In the 15 Web Labs, users can explore dominant and recessive traits, inherited versus non-inherited traits, sex-linked traits, and meiosis. Each is rated on a scale of difficulty and offers notes and instructions for both students and teachers. Featuring colorful graphics with engaging activities, the categories guide students through a series of virtual experiments.
In the “Mendel’s Peas” section, for example, an animated Mr. Mendel appears as a peasant farmer, introduces himself, and invites students to plant five pea plants with him and observe their physical characteristics. Mendel leads the student through an analysis of the plants’ characteristics and then he challenges them to experiment with crossing the plants. Using the five plants, students can experiment with combinations, and Mendel asks them to keep track of any patterns they see. The exercise then moves to predictions, asking students to try various combinations and compare their results to what they expected. When the phenomenon of “recessive” and “dominant” traits emerges, students work with the plant combinations to uncover patterns. They are asked to draw up a record of dominant traits (e.g., smoothness, purple flowers, inflated pod shapes) and recessive traits (wrinkliness, white flowers, constricted pods.)
The Web Labs are available via the EDC project web siteand are also available through sciLINKS, a site sponsored by the National Science Teachers Association and supported in part by the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The site links students and teachers—via codes in textbooks and NSTA magazines—to pre-approved science-oriented websites. A science textbook chapter on lakes and ponds, for example, would highlight the sciLINKS code “he100” in the margin. Students would then go to the SciLINKS site, sign in with a password, and enter the code. As with a regular Internet search, they receive a list of Web sites that offer enhanced information about the topic.
“The sciLINKS program ensures that linked Web sites are accurate, have developmentally appropriate content, and employ sound pedagogy,” says Bjork. Several textbook chapters on genetics use sciLINKS codes to guide students to deeper exploration of the material. (An example of Web Labs links can be seen by entering the site as “guest” and entering the code EE198A.)
“As technology becomes more available in the classroom, teachers are starting to recognize the potential of Web materials like this,” says Bjork. “This is not something you only send the more advanced students to do after they’re done with their ‘real’ work.”
Originally published on May 31, 2003