Tour the Basics

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Students will be able to explain basic concepts related to genetics (DNA, genes, chromosomes)

Big Idea

How do genes influence how organisms look and function?

NGSS Alignment

This lesson is rooted in the following standards:

NGSS MS-LS3 Heredity: Inheritance and Variations of Traits

Disciplinary Core Idea MS-LS3-1: Genes are located in the chromosomes of cells, with each chromosome pair containing two variants of each of many distinct genes. Each distinct gene chiefly controls the production of specific proteins, which in turn affects the traits of the individual. Changes (mutations) to genes can result in changes to proteins, which can affect the structures and functions of the organism and thereby change traits.

Science and Engineering Practice 2: Develop and/or use a model to generate data to test ideas about phenomena in natural or designed systems, including those representing inputs and outputs, and those at unobservable scales.

Crosscutting concept - Structure and Function: Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the shapes, composition, and relationships among its parts, therefore complex natural structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function. 


10 minutes

To introduce the unit I navigate to my Genetics Project website, and present the embedded video I created as the "entry event" for our unit, and is intended to capture the attention of the students.

I continue by playing Frank Gregorio's Introduction to Genetics video, which is embedded asking the students to write down any words they think are related to genetics.

This is a very powerful, engaging video designed to spark student's curiosity in the topic of study. I have students write down the genetics-related words to hold them accountable for actively watching. The words will be used to frame the next section of the lesson.

Mini-Concept Map

10 minutes

In this section I model how to create a cooperative concept map. The one we create is a mini-version of one the students will create based on the knowledge gained after they "Tour the Basics" in the next section. This modeling of the expectation, without telling students they will do it themselves serves to give directions without the dreaded "This is what you will do", and I find it useful to engage students in the discussion without the immediate threat of performance.

On the whiteboard, I write the word Genetics, and ask students to share the words they wrote down, along with any others they might already know about. As they share, I simply write them around the original. I then use a think-aloud technique:

"Mhm, let me think. How are Genetics and DNA related? Well, I know that DNA gives instructions to the cell and that genetics is pretty much the study of genes. Genes are made of DNA, so I can write:

Genetics  <--- study of ---- genes <----- made of ----- DNA." 

I continue the think aloud with at least two more words, encouraging students to help me verbalize and write down the connection between the words. Once we are done, I tell the students that this is a cooperative concept map, and ask for a volunteer to walk me through the "steps" I just took. This final step is crucial in finalizing the idea of how to create a cooperative concept map in the students.

Tour the Basics Quest

30 minutes

To continue the lesson, I tell the students that they will now receive a the Tour the Basics guiding questions sheet. We navigate together to the Tour the Basic Genetics website to gather the information requested. As we progress through each of the sections, I pause to allow students to write down their answers and clarify points (student work).

Note to Teachers: The "Tour the Basics quest" can be done individually by students with internet access and headphones, and I have presented it like that a couple of times. However, I have found it more useful to teach this lesson as a whole class presentation since it gives me and the students an opportunity to clarify concepts and ideas as they are presented. Regardless of your decision, please notice that the order of the sheet does not coincide with the order in which the topics are being presented. Also note that this is an introduction. The concepts will be explained in more detail in subsequent lessons. At this point, I just want to introduce the students to the vocabulary and give them an opportunity to begin to understand the relationships between the concepts.


5 minutes

We usually finish "What is a protein?". Regardless of how much we cover, the use of the Tour the Basics site will continue the next day.

About five minutes before the class is dismissed, I ask the students to go over what we covered today in their sheets and underline/circle the words they consider as key concepts in genetics. These can be words in the questions or in their answers. Although they don't know it yet, the students will use the underlined words (student work 2student work 3) to create a collaborative concept map the next day. What I find particularly powerful about this simple task is that, without any prompt, the students already start to make the required connections as they explain to each other why they are choosing specific words (SP8: Engage in discussions with scientific peers). Watch this in action.


Students turn in today's work. Although I do give a credit/no credit grade for having stayed on task, I collect it really to avoid students "leaving theirs at home".