View Learn.Genetics Materials

Step 1: Introduce Genetic Traits

GUIDING QUESTION:

What shapes the characteristics of living things?

ENGAGING PHENOMENON:

We vary in our traits.

(Optional) Introduce the unit's topic as you wish. Some ideas:

  • A KWL chart about genetics or traits
  • A quick discussion about "what makes our traits?" or "what is a trait?"
  • Discuss or chart variations of an observable trait such as eye or hair color in the class

What are Traits?

This short video introduces the characteristics that make us unique.

Project video to the whole class.

  • Traits are the characteristics that make us unique.
  • Most traits are influenced by both genes and the environment.

5-10 minutes

What are DNA and Genes?

This and the next few activities explore the genetic basis of traits: DNA and genes, and how they are decoded to build proteins. This brief video introduces the structure of DNA.

Project video to the whole class.
  • DNA is made of a 4-letter code: A, C, G, T.
  • DNA is organized into genes.
  • Genes code for proteins.

5-10 minutes

Build a DNA Molecule

This online interactive provides students with more practice with the structure of DNA. Students explore the complementary base-paring rules by building a DNA molecule.

Have students explore individually or in pairs.

Note: There is no end-point to this activity; one could build the DNA molecule indefinitely.

  • DNA is made of a 4-letter code: A, C, G, T.
  • A, C, G, T pair together in a specific and predictable way forming a DNA molecule.

10 minutes

Computers with internet access

Will NOT work on tablets

Transcribe and Translate a Gene

This interactive provides a more-detailed look at transcription and translation. Students click and drag their way through transcribing a gene to make mRNA and translating the mRNA to build an amino acid sequence. The next activity in the sequence will offer more practice with a paper model.

Have students explore individually or in pairs.

  • The arrangement of DNA building blocks in a gene specifies the order of amino acids in the protein it codes for.
  • Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
  • The sequence of amino acids in a protein determines its structure and function.
  • Living things make proteins the same way.
Systems & System Models

This is an animated model of the molecular system responsible for protein synthesis.

15 minutes

Computers with internet access, headphones

Paper Transcription and Translation

This hands-on activity reinforces the processes of transcription and translation. Using paper cut-outs, students follow the rules of complementary base pairing to build an mRNA molecule, then translate the mRNA codons to assemble amino acids, building a protein. At the end, they learn which of 5 actual proteins they’ve built. (DNA and amino acid sequences have been abbreviated.)

Have students work individually or in pairs.

  • The arrangement of DNA building blocks in a gene specifies the order of amino acids in the protein it codes for.
  • Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
  • The sequence of amino acids in a protein determines its structure and function.
60-90 minutes
Copies, scissors, tape, paper clips
Student Instructions (pdf)

Make one copy per student or pair, or have students view online. (Copies may be re-used)

Cut-outs (pdf)

Protein Pages (pdf)

(includes information for 5 proteins. Copies may be re-used.)

What is an Environmental Factor?

Students explore specific examples of human and non-human traits, learning about how they are shaped by genetic and environmental factors.

Have students explore individually or in pairs.
  • Environmental factors include everything outside your DNA that affects your traits.
  • The "environment" is both external and internal.
  • Environmental factors can be macroscopic or microscopic.
15 minutes
Computers with internet access, headphones

What Causes a Trait?

This interactive slideshow describes the types of clues scientists follow to learn whether a trait is influenced by genes, the environment, or both.

  • Scientists have methods for estimating the influence of genes and the environment on particular traits.
15 minutes
Computers with internet access, headphones.
Note: The audio for this piece may not work in all browsers. If you encounter problems, try another browser.

Trait Continuum

Students read cards containing evidence about a trait and place them along a continuum according to whether they are influenced more by genes or the environment. Most of the traits are influenced by both and should thus fall somewhere in between.

Have students explore individually.
  • Most traits are influenced by both genes and the environment.
15 minutes
Copies
Student Instructions and Trait Cards (pdf)

Make one copy per student or pair (copies may be re-used).

Conclusion

    Conclude by revisiting the first exercise, if applicable.