We’re always working on ways to improve our Geneskool program.
This one-of-a-kind program provides a variety of resources that make learning about genomics fun for students in grades 9 through 12.
In anticipation of the roll-out of the new BC curriculum, we’ve been busy planning new and exciting teacher resources. We used the opportunity to test out a couple of new activities at the recent PSA Superconference. We received fantastic feedback from teachers around the province that will help us make these activities even better for students.
Evolutionarium: The Evolution Aquarium
Evolutionarium is a card game designed by Genome BC intern, Sam Fitchett. This cheeky Australian used part of his time with us to develop a game for grade 10 and 11 students that reveals the importance of both genetic and environmental drivers of evolution.
His premise was to ask students to create an organism with certain genetic traits and to have them decide whether the organism could survive an environmental change. The cards are an excellent way of illustrating how chance and randomness open up a plethora of possibilities, many of which get promptly quashed by natural selection.
While testing the game at the conference, we had some great discussion with teachers that will help us tweak the game in a way that will help guide students away from some of the common misconceptions surrounding evolution and natural selection.
Individual organisms do not evolve during a single lifespan. In its current format, Evolutionarium could give the impression that an organism adapts when it dies. This is not the case! By replacing a single creature with the species gene pool, we can avoid this outcome and highlight how evolution occurs at the population level.
There are no ‘good’ or ‘bad’ mutations because what works well in one environment could mean instant death in another. By empowering students to judge whether a particular genetic trait increases or decreases chances of survival, we can emphasize this point during gameplay.
My impression from the feedback is that teachers really liked the idea of using cards to teach natural selection and evolution. And while Evolutionarium needs some tweaks, it is on the right track. I can’t wait to game-test the next iteration with these (and other) new ideas included!
Alien Babies has been a Geneskool favourite since the program began in 2006. Available both as a classroom workshop and as a downloadable activity, Alien Babies works as a great introduction to patterns of inheritance and Punnett Squares. Where Evolutionarium looks at how genes move across 1000’s of generations, Alien Babies looks at how they move across one. In fact, we like it so much we decided to give it a facelift.
Working with Vancouver’s Explore Making, we designed and 3D printed pieces that represent physical characteristics. These features are typically passed down from parents to offspring and include: ear wax type, hair and eye colour, ability to roll your tongue and the ratio between the sizes of index and ring fingers.
As you can see from the picture included here, mapping these human features to a potato creates a whimsical and hilarious ‘alien baby’. You can imagine what fun a room full of teachers and myself had making them!
Having an object to hold and manipulate has a knack for generating questions that can lead into deeper discussions about dominance relationships between alleles or how genes code for proteins that express themselves as physical characteristics.
Teachers at the PSA conferences provided some excellent feedback on how we might use dice to generate an offspring alien from cross-breeding two parents that I can’t wait to try out. We’re also looking to use this activity as a gateway to provoking student interest in the rapidly expanding field of consumer genomics testing. Stay tuned for more information.