Jim Bauer: A Union of the Genes 2008.04.28

Written by David Green. Posted in Feature Stories

By DAVID GREEN

You can read about genetics in a textbook, you can listen to your teacher try to make sense of it for you, or you can try it out yourself.

Get married, reproduce and watch the genes go to work.

That’s the approach eighth grade students in Jim Bauer’s science class are taking at Morenci Middle School. Well, sort of.

Students find their mate by luck of the draw, then compare their genes to see what traits might be produced in their fictional offspring.genetics.wedding.jpg

There’s nothing too serious about the match-up, but in the end, Mr. Bauer’s class knows how genes interact.

Long before the wedding day, each student flips a pair of pennies to look at the probability of passing on traits to offspring.  Two heads indicate the dominant gene of brown hair. Two tails give the recessive gene for red hair. One head and one tail produce a gene carrying both traits.

The next step is to develop a list of options for the class’s children. Hair color: Afro hair or Marge hair (from the Simpsons). Head shape: cone or round. Nose: regular or elephant snout. One of each of the dozen traits is listed as dominant and the other recessive.

Next, students take the coin-flip data from before and create their personal Genetic Profile Chart. Their genotype—the inherited instructions—is recorded for each trait to determine the phenotype—the observable characteristics, such as Oriental eyes, rabbit ears, etc.

Using their 12 traits, they come up with portraits of themselves to show off their bodies.

Then comes the marriage. Mr. Bauer draws names to match up the pairs. Generally, there’s just a simple piece of cheesecloth placed over the head of the bride. With an interested reporter coming for a photo, Mr. Bauer went a little further this year. The cheesecloth, of course, but also a bouquet, a justice of the peace, a wedding party and music from Mr. Bauer’s mouth.

On Monday, the new couples got down to work. They filled out Punnett Squares—diagrams used to map out genetic outcomes from breeding—to determine the characteristics of their two children.

Once more, the couples turn to their artistic abilities and draw pictures of their future children.

Finally, the couples take turns at the head of the class to talk about their families.

Mr. Bauer doesn’t always leave in-service sessions and conferences with good, ready-to-use ideas to take back to the classroom. That wasn’t the case when he picked up the idea for what he calls the Genetic Family Project.

“It’s the best project I’ve ever gotten from a conference,” he said. “This is one of those projects where you have very few discipline problems because the kids really get into it.”

Aside from the scientific principles demonstrated, the project also has its practical side.

“It shows how brothers and sisters can have some traits they share and others they don’t share,” Mr. Bauer said.

A blonde brother, a brunette sister. One with green eyes, another with brown. It all begins to make sense.

And about that classroom wedding.…

“They can all get an annulment if they wish,” Mr. Bauer said.

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