The Central Dogma (#3 of 6): DNA Telephone Game

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Objective

Systems of specialized cells within organisms help them perform the essential functions of life. (HS-LS1-1) All cells contain genetic information in the form of DNA molecules. Genes are regions in the DNA that contain the instructions that code for the formation of proteins, which carry out most of the work of cells. (HS-LS1-1 & HS-LS3-1)

Big Idea

The structure of DNA is a double helix. Its shape explains how hereditary information is stored and passed along to offspring.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

With regard to this particular lesson, students will:

1. understand that cells store and use genetic information to guide their functions. Furthermore, the structure of DNA is a double-helix. Its shape explains how hereditary information is stored and passed along to offspring.

2.  know that all cells contain genetic information in the form of DNA molecules. Genes are regions in the DNA that contain the instructions that code for the formation of proteins, which carry out most of the work of cells. (HS-LS1-1 & HS-LS3-1)

From the perspective of instructional strategies, I want to emphasize the following challenges:

Teaching Challenge: How can I develop my students’ ability to apply unifying ideas to make connections across science content (among and between physics, chemistry, biology, earth and space science)?

Teaching Challenge: How do I support students to develop and use scientific models

I hope you get some value from my work! Please find the more intricate details of this lesson plan there.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

10 minutes

Click here for the previous lesson in the series.

Peer Instruction Protocol (PIP): Leveraging an individual and group-oriented review strategy.

The previous two days of instruction focused on the structure and function of genetic material (DNA and RNA) and the mechanism and purpose of DNA replication. At this point I want to reflect on whether students learned what I intended. I regularly make use of the PIP review strategy as a way to assess student learning. A more detailed explanation is provided here.

I will progress through this review activity in stages and following each major topic taught in the near past. In this case, I will address only questions #1-3 (Genetic material).

Instructional Input/Student Activities

40 minutes

Have you ever played the "telephone game" as a kid? What a classic example of the power of poor communication to mutate a message! This goofy game gave me the idea to adapt it to the concept of a message (DNA code) mutating at random that results in a new message (altered protein) different than what it started out as.

DNA Telephone Game

Teaching Challenge: How do I support students to develop and use scientific models?

Teaching Challenge: How can I develop my students’ ability to apply unifying ideas to make connections across science content

This activity rests on several key premises:

1. Protein synthesis occurs in two separate locations within the cell (nucleus, cytoplasm).

2. The form of the genetic message takes different forms (DNA --> RNA --> protein).

If successful, students will have shown the ability to relate the structure of a eukaryotic cell and explain how transcription and translation enable the genotype for a trait (in the nucleus) to be expressed in the form of the phenotype (in the cytoplasm).

Linking back to cell structure and function, students should recall the geography of the cell and the presence of ribosomes in the cytoplasm (both free and bound to the Rough ER). The other important (cross-cutting) concept here is that of pattern recognition. Students recently learned the similarities and differences between DNA and RNA polymers. They should now know the base-pairing rules between the nucleotides (ATCG) of the DNA template strand and the nucleotides (AUCG) of RNA. This transcription process is what gets the message out to the cytoplasm where the machinery of protein synthesis exists however it can be the source of undesired mutation!

In short this game flows like this: four students will play either DNA, mRNA, tRNA, or rRNA. By preparing envelopes for each round of this game featuring DNA Telephone Cards (i.e. instructions for each role), students will know how to share the message with the "downstream" member according to the flow of genetic information.

I use these two DNA Telephone Game Graphics to identify the locations in my classroom that serve as the backdrop for this drama. In my case, the main area of the classroom serves as the cytoplasm and the students portraying the tRNA and rRNA remain there. I have an adjacent prep room that serves as the nucleus. The (DNA) student remains there and the (mRNA) student can move between the two locations. For all other students, I share the DNA message for each successive round (while sequestering mRNA, tRNA, and rRNA) and then allow the scene to unfold.

You will notice that I have pre-determined points along the pathway to "muck up" the process; in other words, each role has been given instructions to mutate the message that they were given in certain ways. It's a lot of fun for the class to see this play out since they were previously let in on the original message so it is like a communal joke that everyone is in on except for the last person (rRNA)!

This game also serves as a conceptual reference point as we dive further into the nitty gritty details of protein synthesis later in the series.

 

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

Central Dogma Review

As we wrap up for today, I direct students to complete p. 1 ("Transcription" questions only) to apply what they learned. This review packet will be completed in several stages as we progress through this lesson series. 

The answer key is provided for your reference. Click here for a sample of student work.

Click here for the next lesson in the series.

Lesson Extension & Follow-Up Activities

Students will be directed to finish the assigned questions from the Central Dogma Review packet if they did not do so in class.