A Model Performance

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Hey! Watch this video from my AP Biology class last week. See if you can figure out what is going on…

Did you figure it out?  Do you know the significance of the AYE’s? And what is with that stack of backpacks? 🙂

Protein synthesis is a difficult concept for students to grasp in depth. I like to teach it (along with DNA Synthesis and Transcription) as a pattern of Initiation-Elongation-Termination. And while this is enough for my General Biology classes, the College Board recommends that the AP kids get a little bit more detail than that.  So I tried to find a way to model the activity inside a ribosome that would be easy to remember and more engaging than a traditional lecture. And sometimes you just need to do something random, or funny, or unique to get students to remember the difficult information.

My model is based on a session I saw at an NSTA meeting in Kansas City a few years back. I have modified it a little to my purposes, but the basic premise is the same. I regretfully cannot remember the name of the woman that presented that session, but she teaches in Missouri, she was a great presenter, and I’ll gladly give her credit if anyone can point me toward her name.  But here’s how I do it…

  • I grab the first 5-6 kids to walk in the door and ask them to “follow my lead”.
  • Carrying a bag/backpack (representing an amino acid), the students will walk up to the first of two (or three) chairs in the middle of the room (ribosome) and as they sit in the first chair (aminoacyl “A” site) loudly exclaim in their best Fonzi voice,  “Aaaaaaaaayyyye!”
  • When a second student walks up and says “Aaaaaayye!”, the first person slides into the second chair (peptidyl “P” site).  The first student says to their comrade something along the lines of, “Hey can you watch my bag, I have to pee.”
  • The student in the “P” chair leaves their bag and then exits as another student approaches the “A” chair with a resounding, “Aaaaaaaaayye!”.
  • This repeats (Aaaayye!-I have to pee-drop off bag) 5-6 times, until I come in, and instead of a bag, I add a water bottle to the pile building up next to the “P” chair. I end the fun by saying, “Okay, let’s stop,” and move directly into a short lecture on translation.

The students aren’t given any warning, context, or told the significance of each part of the performance they just observed. They are pretty universally confused as to what they just saw, but I resist the urge to explain the act right away. As I am talking my way through what happens in a ribosome during translation, and we are talking about the building polypeptide at the “P”-site of the ribosome, a few students start to catch on, and I will occasionally get someone who just starts laughing (not a normal reaction to a slideshow). The “lecture” ends with a picture of the Fonz, with a subtitle asking them to explain how the model represents translation in the ribosome.

Start to finish, this process takes me about 20 minutes. I find that my students have better retention of the concept, and I am able to save a fair chunk of class time that used to be devoted to practice problems and assignments where they had to draw models of protein synthesis. What do you think? What can I add to my model to make it an even more representation of translation at ribosomes? Share something in the comments or drop me a line via email or Twitter.

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