Jelly Belly Classification

Any time you can combine candy and science, you know it’ll be a hit with students.

One of the great things about being an NSTA Fellow is having access to LOTS of good ideas.  I received this activity through that.

In this activity, students classify Jelly Belly jelly beans using a dichotomous key.  You can get a 4 pound container or 80 small bags of Jelly Bellies on Amazon for about $20.

Students obtain Jelly Bellies and attempt to identify them by color using this: JellyBelly Dichotomous Key

They record their findings here: JellyBelly Lab

They then test their findings by cutting each Jelly Belly in half and eating one half.  If the flavor matches the one they determined via the key, they eat the other half.  If it does not, they go back and determine if they made an mistakes or it they have discovered a new species!

A great activity to practice logical thinking and using dichotomous keys!

Banana DNA Extraction

I love labs that use household items.  This article on extracting DNA from a banana from Scientific American is a perfect example.  All items are easily obtainable and the directions were much simpler than some others I saw.  Although we couldn’t let the alcohol and liquified banana sit as long as I would have liked due to shortened periods, we had pretty good results.

I also referenced a similar lab from PBS Nova.  It had some good questions to be asking students:

Extracting DNA from Bananas

Genetic Engineering #5: Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)

I thought genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would be engaging for my students since it has been in the news lately and I teach in a very rural area. Harvest of Fear from PBS and Nova has some great articles explaining what genetically modified foods are and explaining several viewpoints on the subject.

The video of “Harvest of Fear” is available on YouTube currently in 12 approximately 9 min segments if you wish to show parts.  The actual video on DVD isn’t available unfortunately.

Genetic Engineering #3: Gel Electrophoresis Virtual Lab

Thank goodness for Learn.Genetics!  It would be great to demonstrate gel electrophoresis for my students, but there are just so many variables that can go wrong, as well as time and money for materials and set up.  I use their Virtual Gel Electrophoresis instead.

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 1.32.44 PMAfter reading an overview, students go through the steps to create a DNA blue print.  After going through the virtual lab, students might find the article Can DNA Demand a Verdict? interesting to see how gel electrophoresis is used in forensics.

Genetic Engineering #2: GloFish

When I finally get an aquarium for my classroom, I hope to fill it with these nifty genetically engineered fish:

glofishThey’re called GloFish.  From the GloFish website:

GloFish® fluorescent fish were originally bred to help detect environmental pollutants. By adding a natural fluorescence gene to the fish, scientists hope to one day quickly and easily determine when a waterway is contaminated. The first step in developing a pollution-detecting fish was to create fish that would be fluorescent all the time. Scientists soon realized the public’s interest in sharing the benefits of this research, a process which lead to GloFish® fluorescent fish.

It would be pretty neat to have genetically modified organisms in the classroom during a unit on genetic engineering.  The GloFish website has lots of a great information on the science and ethics behind the fish, as well as where to buy them.

The website also has tons of lesson plans for every grade level that explore many different science concepts, which would make having these fish useful for several units.

Genetic Engineering #1: Mouse Cloning Activity

The University of Utah’s Learn.Genetics provides a great activity on the process of cloning that can be done online or hard copy.  I have done it both ways.  The hard copy version worked well with higher level students while lower level students struggled and took a lot of time.

The online “Click and Clone” version saves paper and walks students through the steps:

Screen Shot 2013-03-28 at 1.07.58 PMScreen Shot 2013-03-28 at 1.12.01 PMHere’s the PDF file of the hard copy.  The question sheet (page 16) could be adapted to accompany the online version: Lets Clone a Mouse