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5 Interesting Ways to Teach Genetics

Ginelle Testa
Teaching with Labster
January 23, 2023

Genetics can be complicated, and students often know very little about what goes on inside their DNA. I’m sure you’ve tried many ways to engage students in your time teaching, and hopefully, some of these ideas we’ve identified will spark some new methods.

With each way to teach genetics, we’ve included a Labster virtual lab that can help you get the concepts across in a gamified storyline.  

1. Put students in a genetic counselor’s shoes

One activity that could be interesting is encouraging students to pretend they’re genetic counselors to run through scenarios. Two parents want to know if their child is inheriting a particular disease. As an instructor, you can teach inheritance patterns. Students learn well through storylines as they help them apply their learnings to real-life situations!

In Labster’s simulation, Gene linkage and pedigree analyses, students will put themselves in the place of a genetic counselor and find out if the daughter of a breast cancer patient is at a higher risk of developing breast cancer herself. They’ll help her by constructing a pedigree and finding the defective gene by using linkage analysis.

2. Use Punnett Squares

Students often don’t realize our character traits exist because of DNA. According to Sciencing.com, “A Punnett square is a diagram used to determine the statistical likelihood of each possible genotype of the offspring of two parents for a given trait or traits.” They have the genotypes of the parents denoted along the top and the side of the grid. The possible offspring genotypes are obtained by combining the different alleles in the grid. Use Punnett Squares to teach inheritance!

In Labster’s simulation, Inheritance with Punnett Squares, students will learn about color blindness, the principles of inheritance, and how to draw a Punnett Square. They’ll use Punnett Squares to predict whether future generations in a family will be color blind. 

3. Have students research a particular genetic disorder

The one gene responsible for producing a specific characteristic is referred to as "monogenetic" in the field of genetics. A condition that is determined by the interplay of a single set of genes is referred to as a monogenic sickness or a monogenic disorder. Students can choose from disorders such as down syndrome, cystic fibrosis, or sickle cell anemia and do their own research. You can also offer that they do a presentation to the class. 

In Labster’s simulation, Monogenic Disorders, students learn about the monogenic disorder Cystic Fibrosis and its inheritance from one generation to the next.

4. Utilize pedigree trees

According to the National Human Genome Research Institute, “A pedigree is a chart that diagrams the inheritance of a trait or health condition through generations of a family. The pedigree particularly shows the relationships among family members and indicates which individuals have a trait(s) of interest.” Students can trace their family tree or trace the family tree of someone famous.

In Labster’s simulation, Inheritance with Pedigrees, students will learn about color blindness, the principles of inheritance, and how to draw a pedigree tree. They’ll draw pedigree trees for eye color and color blindness.

5. Use virtual labs to teach Cytogenetics

It’s unlikely that, as an instructor, you’ll have access to a pregnant woman that you can perform a cytogenetic analysis on. With virtual labs, students will be able to do just that! It’ll help students understand amniocentesis and array comparative genomic hybridization, both of which are often inaccessible in class. 

In Labster’s simulation, Cytogenetics: Perform a prenatal diagnosis, students will help a mother-to-be who is extremely worried about the fate of her baby. They’ll have to diagnose the condition of the fetus using a cytogenetics-based approach.

Questions For Consideration:

  • How are you making it interesting and engaging for students to learn genetics?
  • What are your students’ favorite genetics virtual labs? Why?
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