I did protein synthesis races with students. This is really fun, requires a high level of focus and energy from the teacher. Yet, I have found it to be very simple and effective.
I project a simple sequence of DNA up on the board. One student acts as the RNA Polymerase and transcribes this DNA code into mRNA. As soon as they are done they shove the white board over to their table partner who acts as a ribosome to translate the mRNA into an amino acid with the help of the amino acid codon chart. The team which writes down the correct code first AND has their dry erase marker capped and holds it up wins a Snickers Bar.
I have found that within about 20-30 minutes the majority of my class can turn DNA into mRNA into Amino Acid. It is amazing what the mind can do with social pressure and engagement!
Next, we actually turn these new skills to good use by ‘mapping’ the Beta Globin gene. I open this up by showing the students the NCBI file for the gene . It is still a wonder to me that there is so much DNA that is ‘unused’. This is an activity from 3D Molecular Designs that has the entire 1792 nucleotides of the functional gene printed into one long laminated strip. Students can learn about promoter sequences, reading frames, template strands, introns, exons, and mutations. I currently teach introductory biology classes so I can’t teach about some of the richness there. But, my kids got through the activity and it stretched them. I mainly had students go through and highlight the Amino Acid code of the Beta Globin Gene this helped them realize that there were introns and exons. By having them actually interact with the massiveness of a real gene I think it helps to show how complex genetics really is.