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Middle School Students Use Genetics Knowledge to Thwart “Evil Plot”

Feb 24, 2017

Trent Middle School Students Test Their Knowledge of GeneticsTeam of Boys Look for Clue Hidden Among Library BooksStudents Unlock Combination After Solving a ClueStudent Team is the First in Their Class Period to Solve Mystery

What supervillain has stolen secrets that could destroy the Earth? Can he or she be stopped in time?

Never fear, seventh grade science students at Trent Middle School were on the case Wednesday, February 23. Using all of their skills, including what they have recently learned about genetics, they were able to solve all the clues and stop the evil doer in his tracks!

Trent Science Teacher Ryan Lamberson, Digital Learning Coach Andy Kindred and Librarian Heather Lassley teamed up with Forensics Science Teacher Charlene Willingham from Career and Technical Education Center to develop and assist with a creative learning event to kick-off the seventh grade review of what they had learned about modern genetics – from the early work of Gregor Mendel’s garden experiments to today’s forensic science.

The students were brought into the Trent library where they were told a terrible heist of secret information had occurred that threatened Earth. The suspects were a group of supervillains and the students were divided into teams, presented with clues via their Chromebooks, and set to work using their knowledge of genetics to solve the crime and uncover the evil villain’s plot. Each step of the way as they solved the clues, they were able to unlock one of four complicated combination locks to a wooden box that held the identity of the villain.

The clues were digitally and physically hidden in the library. The timed game required careful reading of the clues, a clear understanding of topics such as dominant and recessive traits, chromosomes, math skills, stealth and secrecy.

Once the box was unlocked, the teams discovered the villain and also a tasty candy prize.

Lamberson and Kindred worked together to develop the game using the science curriculum, popularity of superheroes and villains, technology and the importance of teamwork.

“This is not easy,” Lamberson and Kindred stressed to the students as they explained the rules of the game. “There will be a lot of clues and the clues go in order. But not every answer is a clue – some are there to be a distraction.”

The exercise was intended to help prepare students for a Curriculum Based Assessment measuring how well students have mastered the genetics part of their science studies. Another day of traditional review with worksheets in the classroom was also scheduled.

A worksheet doesn’t get the blood flowing and the brain engaged in quite the same way, and Lamberson and Kindred were looking to engage students on multiple levels. The interest and participation was very high as students crowded around their tables, each trying to contribute.

As one team member tried to find a mathematical answer as part of searching for a clue, she admitted that the hovering of her fellow team members was an issue.

“They are making me nervous,” she said as she erased her work and started over.

As another student began to see how the game worked, she got excited and began waving her hands, “Oh my gosh! We are so close!”

An all-boy team discovered they had to look in the library book stacks for a clue. Carefully, they each whispered to each other to meet in a certain section and then began to walk separately to the section – to keep from giving away information to teams sitting at nearby tables.

Willingham, who teaches forensic science to high school students, visited Trent to observe how the lesson worked in real life. She had shared several ideas with Lamberson and Kindred, including “mystery” simulation games used to teach about DNA and other forensic methods that deal with genetics as they developed the lesson. 

As Willingham walked around the room observing teams and gently helping answer questions, she admitted she was getting as excited as the students as they worked to beat the clock and solve the puzzle of the villain.

“I’m all sweaty,” she said. “I’m just trying to help them, but not give away answers.”

Lamberson and Kindred said they were both very pleased to see how engaged the students were in learning and reviewing content in this activity.

On a wall overlooking the teams was a small photo of the man known as the father of all genetics, a man who worked as a substitute high school teacher before attending the University of Vienna. Mendel probably never imagined students having so much fun reviewing the history of his famous experiment on hereditary characteristics of plants, particularly peas. 

Several teams throughout the day managed to beat the clock and “unlock” the mystery box, uncover the villain’s identity and get the prize candy.  Their mission accomplished, the seventh graders went on to their next class confident that Earth’s most precious secrets were safe.

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