DNA is Elementary

DNA is Elementary Module

The DNA is Elementary module is designed to introduce younger elementary students to the concept of genetic traits and the diversity they generate. Students experience using DNA as an instruction manual containing directions which determine the way we are.

This teaching module presently consists of four visits* during which students are engaged in a number of hands-on activities involving DNA concepts. Ideally, the four days are to be taught in a period of two weeks. For instance, the Bio-Bus Fellows would see each class for a 50 minute session on Mon/Wed/Fri. and again the following Friday. However, the days may be spaced to suit the school’s convenience. If time is an issue, the first two days may be taught separately from the third and fourth.

Days One and Two, “Genetics is All About You”, was especially designed to introduce young learners to DNA and heredity in a way that is simple and fun. During the first visit, students consider the ways in which individuals are similar and the ways that they are different. They determine whether or not they and their classmates exhibit specific genetic traits, such as tongue rolling and eye color. At the end of the first day students make their own model of a DNA molecule.

During the second visit, students learn about dominant and recessive traits and use their newly acquired knowledge to make a DNA “Bag Baby”. They are able to place geometric shapes symbolizing genes for eye, hair, nose, mouth and face color (chosen at random from two “Bag Parents”) onto two strings of DNA. Then, based on the dominant and recessive character of each gene, they select the color for the facial feature that fits the genetic predictions. In this way, they create a “Bag Baby” that is uniquely theirs. At the end of the second day, students may take their DNA model and their Bag Babies home with them to share with their families. A letter of explanation for parents is provided in their bag.

During the third and fourth visit, students will engage in hands-on activities that will help them retain information learned in previous visits. Students will also be introduced to the special coding of DNA and will act as real scientists by setting up and running a “Zapped Squash” experiment. Using a provided data log, students will observe, measure, and collect data.

The Bio-Bus Program will supply all the needed material. However, on the day before the third visit, each teacher should clear a space (20”l x 12”w x 24”h) in their classroom for a plant light. This will be the area where the students’ planted seeds are left to grow into plants. Each teacher will be provided with a kit and instructions for plant care and observation and measurement in the week between Days 3 & 4.

During the fifth visit, students will be engaged in hands-on activities that will help them retain information learned in previous visits.  Students will have the opportunity to analyze DNA sequences in order to resolve the riddle of the Giant Panda.

During the sixth visit, students will be engaged in hands-on activities that will help them retain information learned in previous visits.  Students will have the opportunity to learn where DNA is found within an organism. Also, students will extract DNA from split peas.

During the seventh visit, students will explore the topic of heredity by learning in more detail about how genes are passed down through generations. With a “hands-on” activity, the students will be able to distinguish the difference between genotype and phenotype.

During the eight visit, the journey into the nucleus continues as the students explore various components of the cell which will lead into the introduction of the central dogma theory.


Grade Level: 1st through 3rd grades

Where Taught: Central classroom or media center (where we can set up and see all students)

# Students: Maximum of 30 students per presentation

Time needed for presentation:

50 minutes each session + 15 minutes set-up between presentations

Day 1: “DNA and You” – genetic traits and DNA

Day 2: “Genetics is All About You” – Bag Babies & reading the DNA code

Day 3: “Zapped Squash Experiment” – review & extension of concepts, planting seeds

Day 4: “Zapped Squash Experiment” – measuring plants (must be 5-7 days after Day 3

Day 5: "DNA Diversity" - analyzing DNA sequences of animals

Day 6: "Digging Deep with DNA" - extracting DNA from split peas

Day 7: "Genotype vs. Phenotype" - distinguish the difference between genotype and phenotype

Day 8: "Decoding the DNA" - learning about the central dogma