Tool:I made a DNA/gene/bioinformatics-y workshop for 11-16 year olds which people may find useful
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6.4 years ago
Daniel ★ 3.8k

Full info and resources: https://passdan.github.io/genesequencepractical/

We held a day for Secondary Schools (aka High Schools) to visit the University and were invited to do ~15 min workshops for small groups of 11 & 12 year olds (around 6-10 per group). I put together a workshop loosely described as "Real Life Guess Who", where the students would pull out different 'versions' of genes for Eye colour, Hair colour, Sex, earlobe type etc. and then determine what the person looks like via building the code with coloured ball-pit balls (Update: Now with 3D printed parts!), decoding the colours into bases and searching the database to find out what the sequence codes for.

The full write-up isĀ here, but I think it can be nicely summed up by the series of photos below. Can't include pictures of the students obviously, but they seemed to actually really enjoy it, arguing over who got to be the computer, working out who the subject looked most like out of their class and a couple asked about how you make programs like this.

The 'DNA-searcher' is a simple perl script which loads 12-base sequences corresponding to the face traits on the gene cards by default, but will take any tab separated file for other workshops such as 'what food has this animal been eating'. It contains a lot of `sleep(1)` to make it look like it's doing stuff. I ran it all from a raspberry pi which is now bundled with our kit, but a macbook would work too.

Gene Sequence Practical (Full size image here)

school-outreach Tool • 4.1k views
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That looks terrific. Nice job. I would love to see someone develop some plant breeding examples.

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I really like the keyboard! Do you think this model could be "scaled up" in a sense to teach older students?

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I think so, yes. 15 mins was pretty rushed and basic, but seemed good for the age group. Some ideas for older groups include introducing start/stop codons, base pairing, upstream promoter sequences. Perhaps having a small set of corresponding tRNAs and start building a amino sequence on top of the ball sequence, perhaps show some 3d structures. I think there's options available!
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Also, for next time we're running it I'll make everything look a bit more professional and make an overlay for the keyboard! Also, top tip: don't take the backspace button off with the other letters. Makes it difficult!
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This is so cool. Well done Daniel. We need more people like you.

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Thanks. I just had an idea and ran with it!
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This is amazing! I think I will use this as an input for the workshop I am organising. Just a question: where can I find the models for the 3d prints? Thanks a lot!

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Cool idea! Did you use eye colour as an example of mendelian inheritance? If you did, please consider using a different example next time. Eye colour inheritance is not that straightforward afaik. If you did not, ignore me.

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The examples were no more complicated than "different sequences of DNA cause different traits". I used the tug-of-war allegory to point out how multiple genes determine some phenotypes whereas others are just single genes.

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Great. I was just making sure the myth was not being propagated.

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5.3 years ago

Hi !

This workshop is very inspiring and I'm thinking of adapting it for a similar event in my university. I have two questions :

  • How would you handle big groups of participants ? I would have groups of 10-12 children so it might be difficult to give them all a task at the same time...

  • How do you want to be cited ? something like "inspired by Daniel from biostar" ?

Thanks !

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Thanks for the feedback! I find it works best with ~6 people and by 10 it starts getting a little out of hand. When I have to do it, I have them get in pairs to work together, and they're normally pretty happy to focus on the gene together, then do two keys each on the computer etc. Surprisingly they still enjoy it.

I'm actually working on an alternate version at the moment where the group (of 16) will be split into two teams "Bio-prospecting", so I'm duplicating the resources and they'll competing who can find target bacteria species first (from a battleships like grid). But this could be done in a "Who can describe the person first" or similar.

If using it I'd love you to cite the github page where all the info and resources are: https://passdan.github.io/genesequencepractical/. I guess I should make that link more obvious!

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Ok thanks for the advice. To have them work in pairs seems like a good idea. I also thought of the two-teams competition thing but I would rather have them to take their time than racing for the win and perhaps miss the point of the activity.

The event will take place in two months, I'll let you know how it goes.

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