DNA is Elementary: Promoting Genetics Literacy

Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.
  • Project Description

    With funds provided by the Science Education Partnership Award, scientists at Georgia State University (GSU) have created DNA is Elementary, a set of learning modules developed to teach children in grades K–5 about classical and molecular genetics. In our modules we use young learners’ facility with language acquisition to our advantage by representing DNA as an instructional manual with specific directions for making each unique organism. We have subsequently built on our success with students in the K–5 arena by offering these learning modules to families in an informal science setting.

    Under the auspices of the Bio-Bus, Georgia State University’s mobile laboratory program, we have partnered with public libraries and community centers to bring entertaining and informative genetics activities to children and their families. During the summer and on selected weekends and academic holidays we present our current series of eight 60-minute modules at our partner institutions.

    Many of our partner organizations are located in regions containing high immigrant populations. We have tapped into the rich cultural heritage that immigrants bring with them, with the ultimate goal of identifying the science behind the tradition. Modules inspired by our participants’ customs and interests include:

    1. the science of soccer, which includes not only Newton’s Laws of Motion, but genes coding for fast-twitch and slow-twitch muscles that reportedly help soccer players to excel at offense or defense, respectively;
    2. the search for antimicrobial activity in plants, like yerba buena, that have long been credited with medicinal properties; and
    3. the celebration of corn, where inactivation of a single enzyme delays the conversion of sugar to starch, (thereby producing the sweet corn we all enjoy), and where colleagues have constructed a “gene library” to search for archaebacterial sequences in a Canadian cornfield.
  • Abstract

    With funds provided by the Science Education Partnership Award scientists at Georgia State University (GSU) have created DNA is Elementary, a set of learning modules developed to teach children in grades K–5 about classical and molecular genetics. In our modules we use young learners’ facility with language acquisition to our advantage by representing DNA as an instructional manual with specific directions for making each unique organism. We now propose to build on our success with students in the K–5 arena by offering these learning modules to families in an informal science setting.

    Under the auspices of the Bio-Bus GSU’s mobile laboratory program we shall partner with public libraries to bring activities to children and their families that both educate and entertain. During the summer and on selected weekends and academic holidays we will present the current series of eight 60-minute modules at our partner institutions.

    Families who complete the first four modules will qualify to continue with any of the remaining four modules as well as with new problem-based modules currently under development. Finally, families who wish to become deeply immersed in scientific experimentation can take part in a metagenomics project involving the identification of novel bacterial sequences from a soil-derived gene library containing over 80,000 clones.

    The likelihood is high that some of these clones will contain sequences representing species that have never before been reported thus bringing the excitement of authentic scientific discovery within reach of the families we serve.


Project Photos


  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

  • Photo courtesy of Georgia State University | Bio-Bus.

Project Audience

Young students and their families, informal science settings, Bio-Bus

Subjects Addressed

K-5, lessons, DNA, life science, genetics, microbiology, molecular genetics, Newton's Laws of Motion

Associated SEPA Project(s)