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This article provides several examples of projects related to the study of DNA as well as tips for how to implement them with your high school students.

Explore these engaging instructional activities below, including the use of skits and DNA modeling.

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Why Teach Using Projects?

When Mr. Charles teaches about the structure and function of DNA he lectures, assigns textbook readings, and gives quizzes. Most of the time, his students are confused and get bad grades.

Mr. Crick, on the other hand, explores how DNA works by assigning projects that make students interact with each other and with the content that they are required to learn. The students are excited and engaged with their projects as they show their understanding by earning high grades in the class. Whose class would you rather be in?Science class can be very intimidating, especially if you are studying things that are too small to see like DNA. Using projects and activities to make science more tangible is one way to help high school students think critically about abstract and difficult concepts.

Teaching with projects can be intimidating though. Some tips for success include creating a rubric to grade projects, making a sample to show students before they begin, and having a fellow teacher in a similar content area read over your directions to ensure they are clear.

Structure of DNA Projects

DNA is a tiny molecule made of even tinier parts. High school students need to know that each nucleotide of DNA has a sugar, a phosphate molecule, and a nitrogen base that could be adenine, guanine, cytosine, or thymine.

Modeling projects can also be used to help students understand how the molecules fit together. Here are two ideas:The first idea is a paper class model. Assign each student one gene that has about six base pairs. Some students could be assigned more or less depending on their ability. Give each student paper templates for the parts of DNA. Have the students color, cut out, and assemble a paper model of their gene.

When all students are done, attach all of their genes end to end to create one long DNA molecule for the class. Finally, twist it into the famous double helix shape.The second idea is individual models. This is similar to the class model, but students find and use their own materials to represent each of the parts of their DNA molecule. When students create their own models, it is essential that they include a key explaining what each piece of their model represents. This model of DNA was made with legos.

This is a model of DNA made with legos
Students should make a chart like this to sort the DNA fragments
Chart for DNA fragments

This represents the DNA fingerprint gel. Finally, have the students tape or glue each suspect’s fragments to the paper according to its size.

The one that matches the crime scene DNA is guilty!The next one is karyotyping activity. Make a different set of chromosome pictures representing individuals with different genetic disorders. Give one complete set to each student and have them cut out the chromosomes. When students arrange the chromosomes from largest to smallest, they will notice either an extra or a missing chromosome, which represents the disorder. Have students pair up with classmates who have found the same disorder. These groups can research the disorder and present it to the class by making a poster or writing a report.

Lesson Summary

The structure and function of DNA can be difficult to teach to high school students, but projects can help make the science more tangible. Creative and analytical projects about DNA structure, replication, transcription, translation, and DNA technology can help students interact with DNA molecules instead of just reading about them. Instead of using lecture and text, consider teaching about DNA through projects and hands-on activities. To ensure optimal learning takes place through the use of projects, be certain that the directions are clear, make sure that students understand the guidelines for grading by using a rubric, and provide a sample when possible.

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