In My Classroom #10: Protein Folding

Welcome to the KABT blog segment, “In My Classroom”. This is a segment that will post about every two weeks from a different member. In 250 words or less, share one thing that you are currently doing in your classroom. That’s it.

The idea is that we all do cool stuff in our rooms and to some people there have been cool things so long that it feels like they are old news. However, there are new teachers that may be hearing things for the first time and veterans that benefit from reminders. So let’s share things, new and old alike. When you’re tagged you have two weeks to post the next entry. Your established staple of a lab or idea might be just what someone needs. So be brief, be timely and share it out! Here we go:


Last week I used a very simple, very low-tech but highly effective way to teach protein folding.  After teaching my students how to read the genetic code, I gave them a strand of DNA for which they would transcribe and translate to find the amino acid sequence.  Students then used those little marshmallows and strung them on a strand of thread, much the way many of us strung popcorn garland for the holidays.


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They wrote on each marshmallow (with sharpies) the name of the amino acid.  I provided each student a chart which gave them a basic chemical description of each amino acid (polar, non-polar, etc..)  We then walked through how the primary structure of their protein would fold.  With each fold they would use toothpicks to hold their marshmallows in place – representing whichever type of bond formed.  When we were done – volla!  A 3D protein!  (My students have not had chemistry yet, so we needed to cover basic chemical bonding….but they generally got the idea.)




I just finished grading their assessments late last week, and the majority of students have a decent understanding of tertiary structure of proteins.  I like taking an abstract concept and turning it into something concrete!  Now….its Drew Ising’s turn……..tag!

New AP Bio – It works!

Who Knew?

The change in the AP Biology curriculum brought fear and trepidation into the hearts of many an AP teacher.  Okay, maybe that’s a bit melodramatic, but the truth is, many of us that have been in the trenches a year or two – and probably some newbies as well – have had at least one or two sleepless nights about changes in pacing and shifts in lab methodology.

I would like to share with you the beginning of what I feel sure is going to be a success story. – one that affirms the positiveness of the change to the AP program.

I teach on a true block schedule so I just got my AP kiddos in January.  Being the rule follower that I am, I dutifully started our semester with the Wisconsin Fast Plant lab, asking my students to identify one quantifiable trait that we could manipulate to cause a directional shift in the population. (I start with evolution)

That went all fine and well, but what’s cool is what came out of that lab.  As my students discussed various traits, they began to develop some independent questions that were – gasp! – testable.  Admittedly, I was a little slow on the uptake.  I was so focused on the first part of the lab that I ALMOST let those questions drift into cyber-land somewhere.  As I was thinking about it one night, it dawned on me – there are our semester research projects!

So, I announced to the class that that’s exactly what we would be doing, and lets go!  Do the research, write the procedure, set up the lab……they better get busy.  They were excited…..well, until they hit their first road block, which was immediately.  Small stall – maybe Mrs. R would forget about this project ….  Rats! Procedure due by the end of the week.  Okay.  Work through problem, do some research, hit the next problem.  And it continues……

Honestly, it is a beautiful thing to watch.  These kids have taken ownership and are running their own investigations.  They’re learning that research is tougher and more time consuming than they thought.  They’re worried they might not get good data (which they probably won’t) and then what?  They’re losing plants because of poor watering system design, they’re confused on how to mix chemical solutions, they don’t know how long to expose seeds to UV light, they don’t know how to hold temperature constant………well, you get the idea.

And yet, they’re doing it!  They’re making their own mistakes, and then figuring out how to fix them.  They’re working in teams and participating in a collaborative effort.  I essentially sit in the lab with them and watch them work.  I don’t know if their data will be good enough to draw valid conclusions, but I DO know the experience is worthwhile and valuable – better than any perfect results from a cookbook lab.  I love it!!

Stay tuned……I will report as the semester continues!