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Spring SAVY 2022 – Dabbling with DNA for 5th/6th Grade (Gilpin)

Posted by on Monday, February 7, 2022 in SAVY.

Saturday February 5th, 2022 was an exciting day on Vanderbilt University’s campus. A fantastic group of 5th/6th students came to SAVY Saturday ready to learn about DNA and genetics! The class began with a Get To Know You Game that consisted of students sharing some facts about themselves including things they like to learn in school, favorite animals and the most exciting of all, something they could talk forever about! There were a lot of common themes seen in their answers from liking video games to reading and adoring cats! Luckily, there were many times that science and math were mentioned as favorite school subjects too, which brought my (Dr. G’s) excitement for the day to its highest level.

After discussing some classroom norms as a group we dug into the course material starting with the building blocks of all living things, cells! It was clear that this class of students paid attention to their science subject material because I was so impressed by the knowledge these students remembered and enthusiastically shared with their colleagues. After talking about what cells are and the organelles inside of them, we examined the nucleus more closely by looking at some prepared slides of skin cells through compound microscopes. We then began our journey talking about DNA including its function and structure. To visualize the 3-D nature of DNA we made DNA Model Keychains (https://learninghypothesis.com/dna-model/) to get a better grasp of how the double helix of DNA forms. From the structure of DNA we moved into discussing how DNA makes up our chromosomes and before lunch we were able to start out Strawberry DNA Extraction activity where we isolated DNA from strawberries using some common household products (https://imb.uq.edu.au/files/32865/Strawberry%20DNA%20Extraction.pdf). We paused our activity just before DNA isolation in order to enjoy a delicious lunch and give our brains a break!

After lunch students completed their DNA isolation and prepared microscope slides of their strawberry DNA in order to visualize its stringy nature using the compound microscopes! Next up was a discussion of genetics and heredity, which the students took the lead on explaining many of the traits that vary from one individual to the next. We learned about Punnett squares and how they can be used to predict the probabilities of certain outcomes with crosses of individuals. We ended the day putting our knowledge of genetics to the test by using Crazy Traits kits to build “Crazies” (creatures with various traits from elephant or mouse ears to paws or claws). In this exercise students started with identical heterozygous parents and learned it is virtually impossible to generate offspring that have the same genotype/phenotypes for 14 traits.

The amount of material ingested in this one-day class was enormous and I was wholly impressed by the amount of knowledge they came in with, but also the passion for learning more that exuded from everyone! There were definitely times when limits of their knowledge was met and the number of great questions that were asked was amazing! All the students were given their folder from the day, which includes some extra worksheets in addition to the materials we discussed in class. I highly recommend checking out some of the cool online resources from the American Museum of Natural History (https://www.amnh.org/explore/ology/genetics) and University of Utah (https://learn.genetics.utah.edu/) to continue expanding their knowledge on these topics!