Teaching Genetics


After participating in a 2-week intensive teaching workshop at Indiana University, called Freshman Learning Project (FLP), I redesigned my undergraduate Genetics course, with an emphasis on developing class-participation exercises to help students learn important concepts in the course.  The attached Genetics Exercises PDF presents some of the exercises and goals.

Chromosomes:  Chromosome behavior is at the heart of Genetics, yet students often have difficulty understanding which chromosomes in a nucleus are similar (homologs), which are identical (sister chromatids), which are completely different (non-homologous chromosomes), how many of each would be in a nucleus at different stages of the cell cycle, and how mitosis and meiosis achieve different segregation patterns.  As shown in the PDF, I use pipe cleaners and beads to represent chromosomes and model different concepts:  homologs, sister chromatids, non-homologous chromosomes, mitosis, meiosis, ploidy, and complementation.  These models can be used in several ways:  1) a demonstration by the instructor, 2) an in-class exercise by all students, or 3) a hands-on strategy for students to work through their confusions in learning groups and during office hours.  Testing students on chromosome concepts before and after our pipe cleaner and beads work demonstrated significant improvement in comprehension.

Crossing over and recombinant chromosomes:  This lesson uses pool noodles to represent chromosomes (Locke & McDermid, 2005).  The "arms" of the noodle chromosomes can be swapped to illustrate how recombinant chromosomes are generated.

Epistasis: A class member and I re-enact a biosynthetic pathway and a signaling pathway and the effects of mutations on the pathway outcomes.

Activation of gene expression:  This is a skit-based lesson (developed in FLP by Roger Innes) on how gene expression is activated and how to model dynamic processes. 

RFLPs: A staged crime and subsequent PCR analysis of the DNA from several “suspect” class members demonstrates how comparison of their RFLP patterns to that from DNA from the scene of the crime can help determine "who done it".

My goal is to develop a "tool kit" of exercises and demonstrations to reinforce the major concepts taught in most Genetics courses, exercises and demonstrations that involve the students, enhance their learning, and increase their interest and enthusiasm.  I welcome ideas from visitors to this site.

Thanks to urging from Bill Wood, I’ve adopted clickers in my Genetics class.  Clicker Qs promote active participation during class and help the students and me gauge their comprehension of concepts.  I am happy to share my bank of clicker questions with other Genetics instructors.

                                                          Genetics Exercises PDF