5 Creative Ways to Teach Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR)

Akanksha Saxena

PCR is an integral methodology in all molecular biology and biotechnology labs. From amplifying small amounts of environmental DNA for forensic detections to authentication of herbal drugs in QA/QCs of industries to detection of pathogenic viruses like SARS-CoV-2 in Covid testing, PCR finds wide applications across diverse fields. 

Teaching about PCR can come as a challenge to educators in traditional classrooms and lab setups. Even students find it difficult to follow theoretical concepts with no hands-on experience. 

To overcome these and other challenges related to PCR, we have enlisted 5 engaging ways to make the topic easily assimilable for students and make the learning journey an enjoyable one! 

1. Use Interactive Models and Simulations

Studies have shown that interactive multimedia platforms display high success in gathering students' attention and aiding learner-fit content delivery. Using Labster interactive simulation where students can learn about the different constituents of a PCR mixture can be engaging and highly productive.

Topics like DNA replication, the working and role of DNA polymerase, the structure of double-stranded DNA and dNTPs could be easily visualized using simulations and models.

In the Labster PCR simulation, students are virtually engaged in a crime scene where they can understand the role of PCR in criminal investigations. As they gain a firsthand experience in situation-based learning, the topic is bound to get clearer with less effort.

Crime scene showing a body and an investigator.

2. Learning with Games and Activities

There are scientific evidence-based studies (1,2) showing that the use of games and user-friendly activities yields effective learning outcomes. As students engage in immersive activities, they can learn about the important requirements of setting a PCR reaction like ‘dry ice’, ‘microcentrifuge tubes’, or ‘extracted DNA’ and simultaneously learn about the important constituents of a PCR mixture. 

The Labster platform offers a targeted simulation on PCR that serves as an interactive learning tool where students can click and learn about intricacies of this procedure in a step-by-step manner. There are several options and tabs to play around. 

3. Infusing Technology into Study Plans

By utilizing various tools such as animated videos and other technological tools, educators can make challenging concepts of PCR more comprehensible to students. Studies have reported that Virtual Reality is one of the best technologies that has provided a means for students to visualize and comprehend abstract ideas of PCR that may be otherwise difficult to grasp. The virtual lab visits and simulatory hands-on experience offered by Labster work on the same principles. 

Furthermore, there are always options to infuse technology in terms of creating online discussion rooms on platforms like Kahoot and Google Classroom where students can share their thoughts and ask questions about different PCR amplification profiles. This will help create a collaborative learning environment. 

Showing polymerase chain reaction virtual lab.
Discover Labster's Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) virtual lab today!

4. Inspiring Learners by Connecting to Careers

Since PCR is an important tool in all major Biology labs ranging from Marine Biology to Molecular Biology, quoting the real-world examples and applications of this tool in various fields such as Medicine, Criminology and Agriculture could be inspiring.  This will help students understand the practical relevance of PCR and inspire them to learn more about it.

You can also plan on inviting guest speakers from industries and R&D who can share their experiences and expertise in the field of PCR. This will allow students to learn from professionals and know how it can be beneficial for their careers. If physical seminars aren’t feasible, you can introduce your students to Virtual Expert Talks about PCR like the one from Promega.

5. Connecting the Topic to Real-World Applications

Case studies serve as an impeccable approach to convince the audience about the importance of a subject.  Using such a problem-based approach can help in illustrating to students how PCR can be applied in the real world. For example, you can use case studies of how PCR is used to diagnose diseases or to detect DNA evidence in forensic investigations. The Labster simulation on PCR provides a similar case study example

Another way to ensure student understanding is to assign research projects where they can investigate the use of PCR in a particular field of their interest. This will allow them to personalize the learning experience and make the most out of it.  

Final thoughts

These teaching methods, along with the Labster virtual lab on PCR can help students in gaining perspectives on the subject and encourage students to experiment more as they go forward.

Since learning abilities vary from individual to individual, our goal of listing multiple approaches is to ensure that the entire class follows the science behind PCR!

Try our free 30-day All Access Educator's Pass today and play the simulation Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) alongside 300+ other virtual labs!

References 

  1. Bañados, E. (2006). A blended-learning pedagogical model for teaching and learning EFL successfully through an online interactive multimedia environment. CALICO Journal, 533-550.
  2. Deta, U. A., Kurniawan, F. K., Lestari, N. A., Yantidewi, M., Jauhariyah, M. N. R., & Prahani, B. K. (2021, March). Literature review on the use of educational physics games in improving learning outcomes. In Journal of Physics: Conference Series (Vol. 1805, No. 1, p. 012038). IOP Publishing.
  3. Karns, G. L. (2005). An update of marketing student perceptions of learning activities: Structure, preferences, and effectiveness. Journal of Marketing Education, 27(2), 163-171.
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