Teaching Heredity in Elementary School

Minds in Bloom is pleased to present Bethany Lau with her post on teaching heredity. We think you’ll enjoy it!

Teaching heredity in elementary school might seem too early, but with fun and easy activities like this one, it's no problem at all! Our guest blogger shares a meaningful and fun activity - with materials that you can use again in the future! - for teaching heredity in elementary school. Click through to get the activity.

Science in elementary school should be all about fun.  In fact, science at all levels of school should be about curiosity, exploration, and lots of fun!  As more and more states adopt the Next Generation Science Standards (and as other states adopt their own similar science standards), teachers are looking for new and creative ways to teach science concepts at the elementary level.  In my opinion, the standard descriptions do not adequately suggest ways to teach difficult concepts to a group of 5-10 year olds. These standard descriptions simply say what concept needs to be taught.

One of the key difficult concepts in the standards is heredity.  There are four main concepts of heredity that are required in the NGSS for elementary school. (I am paraphrasing them here for clarity’s sake.)

 

3-LS1-1: Living things have life cycles (birth, growth, reproduction, and death) and the standard writers specifically mention having a model to describe a life cycle.

 

3-LS3-1: Plants and animals have traits they inherit from parents.  These traits vary within a group of similar living things.  The standard writers specifically mention analyzing and interpreting data.

 

3-LS3-2: Traits can be influenced by the environment.  The writers want students to observe evidence of this occurring.

 

3-LS4-2: Traits within a population of the same species can provide advantages in survival, finding mates, and reproducing.  The writers want students to use evidence to support an explanation for a particular trait.

 

So, this is the way I would teach these topics…with plastic Easter eggs and googly eyes!

 

To cover all of these topics, I created a 3 day fun activity!  I have done a variation of this with my high school students with a lot more vocabulary and calculations.  But the concepts themselves are the same!

 

The set up requires the following:
  • 5 plastic bins labeled “Generation 1,” “Generation 2,” “Generation 2,” “Generation 3,” and “Generation 3”
  • lots of plastic Easter eggs (Ideally you need about 25-30 of each color: blue, green, and yellow.  It can be done with just 10 each if you re-use the eggs through the generations.)
  • lots of small googly eyes and a few large googly eyes
  • hot glue gun and glue
  • confetti
  • blue and yellow pipe cleaners cut into small pieces
Gluing the googly eyes does take time, but you can re-use these every year.  Believe me, you will want to do this every year!

 

In this activity, you reveal to the students a population of a new species, made of plastic Easter eggs with googly eyes.  You ask the students to brainstorm a name for their new species.  Students love this!  They always come up with something new and funny.  As long as it’s G-rated and not a name inspired by another student’s name, I go with it!  Sometimes it is something totally ridiculous and I, the teacher, have to say the name over and over throughout the lesson, which makes it even more fun.  If desired, you could bring up how types of living things (species) are often named using Latin/Latin-sounding names.  Or you can just accept the name the students pick and move on.

 

Teaching heredity in elementary school might seem too early, but with fun and easy activities like this one, it's no problem at all! Our guest blogger shares a meaningful and fun activity - with materials that you can use again in the future! - for teaching heredity in elementary school. Click through to get the activity.
Students write down their observations of this new species.  The first thing they will notice is the differences in color between the different eggs.  I picked blue and green and yellow to show variation in the species (variation among members in the same species! 3-LS3-1).  You can introduce the word “trait” here, if desired.  In this activity, students count how many of each color are in the population, and they make bar graphs. (Data Collecting and Analysis!  3-LS3-1)  You then have the students open up the eggs and show their “seeds” (small blue and yellow pieces of pipe cleaners).  You can call them anything that you feel is appropriate for the age of your students and for your curriculum.  These could also be called reproductive cells.  You collect these “seeds” in a bin.  The next morning, the students will be excited to see that generation 2 has grown from them!  You can talk about the difference between generations, like grandparents, parents, children, etc.  (Life Cycles and Generations!  3-LS1-1)

 

On Day 2, students graph their generation 2 data and compare to the first day’s data.   They should look really similar, because children look a lot like their parents. (Inheritance! 3-LS3-1)

 

Teaching heredity in elementary school might seem too early, but with fun and easy activities like this one, it's no problem at all! Our guest blogger shares a meaningful and fun activity - with materials that you can use again in the future! - for teaching heredity in elementary school. Click through to get the activity.
There are also some of these big-eyed cuties thrown in on Day 3 to demonstrate how some traits are influenced by the environment and can be advantageous. (Environment Influences Traits and Some Traits are Advantageous! 3-LS3-2, 3-LS4-2)  Generation 3 is raised in the dark and some eggs’ eyes grow bigger!  You can ask students to brainstorm why larger eyes would be an advantage.  Usage of the word “adapt” would be up to you, depending on your school’s particular curriculum and student readiness.  When I did this activity (with math and vocabulary like “Hardy Weinberg Equilibrium”) in high school, a bunch of these big-eyed guys went missing, and I was pretty sure they were stolen because they were so darn cute.

 

 

In the download, you will see two student sheets (which come in black/white and color) and three pages of detailed teacher instructions.
I want to thank Rachel Lynette for this wonderful opportunity to write for her blog!  I hope you and your students love this lesson, and I hope you keep exploring the world of science together.

 

~ Bethany Lau

I’m a high school science teacher on a mommy sabbatical.  I have a 2.6-year-old son who gives me the best all-day-long workout when he is awake.  And when he is asleep, I blog about teaching science, and I write curriculum.  One of my goals is to have an amazing set of lessons for when I return to teaching in a few years.  I have a graduate degree in genetics from MIT, but my true passion is to create fun, engaging opportunities for my students to explore and question the world around them.  I love exploring my own world by traveling and taking pictures of butterflies.

 

Science with Mrs. Lau
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