Uni Seniors Take an Initial Look at the LEGO® DNA Learning Center Set

Science teacher David Stone discusses procedures for using the Lego kits with students during the evaluation session
Science teacher David Stone discusses procedures for using the Lego kits with students during the evaluation session.

June 22, 2012

"LEGOs? Cool!!" This was the reaction of one student at the University of Illinois Laboratory High School (Uni High). The LEGO DNA Learning Center Set had arrived. The class’s curiosity was definitely piqued, wondering what the double helix might look like in LEGO pieces.

The materials in question were not the usual LEGO toys, but molecular designs developed and field-tested by Dr. Kathleen Vandiver, an award winning Massachusetts science teacher and outreach director at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Center for Environmental Health Sciences. These LEGO sets included DNA for building genes, amino acids for creating proteins, and mRNA and tRNA molecules for stepping through the processes of protein synthesis.

Student reads instructions included with Lego kit while the other follows the directions.
In order to evaluate the written instructions as well as the activities, partners took turns reading and doing the activities.

Through collaboration with the I-STEM Education Initiative at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, Uni High received one of the 21 prototype sets being placed across the country for evaluation. Other schools include the Green Dot Charter Schools in Los Angeles, the Boston Public Schools, and several rural high schools in Maine.

Since there wasn't time left in the school year for working with the ninth grade class, which is the intended age group, Mr. Stone asked the seniors in his Human Genetics and Society class to break out the sets and to share their first impressions. For two class periods, students worked in pairs following the steps in the basic instruction booklets for DNA and protein activities. Advanced-level materials—which would be more appropriate for this class—are still under development and will arrive next year.

Two Uni High students work with Lego kit on DNA/RNA in order to determine its usefulness as a hands-on learning tool.
Two students lay out the pieces on the enclosed illustrated sheets prior to beginning construction of their DNA strand.

Dr. Vandiver says that one of the reasons she chose to work with LEGO was because they were made to be manipulated. "LEGO components are well suited for demonstrating the actions that molecules perform as well as what they look like, in major contrast to most models which portray molecules as static entities."

Stone conducted an informal assessment survey of the class after they had used the LEGO kits, and the results were generally positive, but with a few suggestions for improvements. Among the strengths noted was the ability to easily visualize the molecules, which is not always easy to do with more traditional learning materials. It was also a fun way to learn. Many students agreed that they would be a useful learning aid, especially for introductory biology students.

Two Uni High students working on DNA/RNA Lego kit.
Two students discuss the next step as they try out the kit.

"The primary weakness was that the LEGOs weren't versatile enough to show the importance and beauty of the action of enzymes involved in DNA replication," Stone commented, "so readily seen in various animations on websites and YouTube videos."

However, recognizing that multiple instructional strategies are of great benefit, he plans to use the LEGOs in his biology classes next year: "I think the LEGOs can be quite helpful in instruction and look forward to using them in December with my Introductory Biology class. The strengths are the clarity of the instructions and the opportunity to construct and manipulate the student-produced molecule models."

Additionally, University of Illinois Professor and I-STEM Director, Dr. Lizanne De Stefano, will be involved in design of the formal evaluation instruments and protocol for this project.

Acknowledgements:  This LEGO DNA Learning Center Set was provided by MIT through a grant from the Arthur Vining Davis Foundations (http://www.avdf.org ). The University of Illinois, MIT and Georgia Tech are partners in the Emergent Behaviors of Integrated Cellular Systems (EBICS) Center (www.ebics.net), which is an NSF funded Science and Technology Center.

Student in Sone's Human Genetics class uses Lego kit to determine it's usefulness for instruction.
Student prepares the DNA to demon-strate semi-conservative replication.

Of interest: Dr. Vandiver is also developing a curriculum for nursing students. This LEGO Genetics Toolkit for Nurses is designed for teaching pharmacogenetics and gene-environment interactions. With personalized medicine on the horizon, many health professionals could benefit from a LEGO experience with DNA as corroborated by Uni students' statements.

This link is to the site that has the materials posted for the LEGO DNA Learning Center Set, including (teacher guide, student booklets, PPT, movies, etc.): http://mindandhand.mit.edu/educators/curriculum-packages/lego-dna.shtml
More: 8-12 Outreach, I-STEM Initiatives, Uni High





Program prepares STEM educators to teach all students

November 30, 2021
This summer, a group of educators gathered to learn about engaging STEM activities they can do with their students.
Full Story

Research Experiences for Undergraduates (REU) program

November 11, 2021
Undergrads get a taste of research through I-MRSEC’s REU program.
Full Story

Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp

November 1, 2021
Goldstein’s Renaissance Engineering Summer Camp Incorporates Art, Design, Mechatronics, and Mentoring
Full Story

TechTogether Chicago to Redefine the Hacker Stereotype

July 10, 2021
New workshops that can help inspire students to pursue careers in technology..
Full Story

Aerospace Engineering Launches Virtual Summer Camps to Pique Students’ Interest in Aero.

July 2, 2021
Design an aircraft then watch it soar after launching it with a huge rubber band. Build a Mars lander to safely transport a real egg, then test the contraption by dropping it from a second story window.
Full Story

Undergrads Experience Materials Science Research Courtesy of the I-MRSEC REU

June 16, 2021
Ten undergraduate students are spending the summer of 2021 discovering what research is like.
Full Story

MatSE Afterschool Academy

MatSE Afterschool Academy

June 14, 2021
MatSE Afterschool Academy to Introduce Students to Materials Science and Beyond.
Full Story

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest

June 14, 2021
Taylor Tucker Embraces Multidisciplinary Interest While Researching Task Collaboration.
Full Story

Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS

What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like?

May 25, 2021
NSBE’s Michaela Horn Exposes Franklin Middle Schoolers to Science, CS, and What Studying Engineering at Illinois is Like.
Full Story

Jenny Saves a Convertible.

Children’s-Book-Writing Duo/

May 19, 2021
Convertibles and Thunderstorms—Children’s-Book-Writing Duo on Their Way Thanks to Illinois Training and Encouragement from Mentors.
Full Story

Improve Learning in Engineering

Improve Learning in Engineering

May 17, 2021
Liebenberg Espouses Mini-Projects to Engage Students Emotionally, Improve Learning in Engineering.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

BIOE435 Capstone Projects

May 12, 2021
BIOE435 Capstone Projects - BIOE Seniors Use Knowledge/Skills to Problem Solve.
Full Story

Elani and Gonzalo shine a UV light on a rose that has absorbed a solution that has made it fluorescent.

Illinois Scientists Shine a (UV) Light on Fluorescence

May 7, 2021
What is fluorescence? What causes it?
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

HackIllinois 2021 “Rekindled Connections” With The Tech Community

May 5, 2021
Annual student hackathon HackIllinois with the aim of developing projects on current problems facing society.
Full Story

A Shane Mayer-Gawlik image of the Bridger Aurora, part of his Night Skies photography collection exhibited at the Art-Science Festival.

The Art-Science Festival

April 26, 2021
Illinois Art-Science Festival: Illuminating the Universe...from the Quantum World to the Cosmos.
Full Story

Joshua Whitely makes an adjustment to the 3D Bioprinter during the demo.

Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World

April 22, 2021
Ready. Set. Go! Illinois Engineering Seniors Prepared to Change the World.
Full Story

HML 2021 Virtual Health

HML 2021 Virtual Health

April 19, 2021
Make-a-Thon Gives Citizen Scientists a Shot at Making Their Health-Related Innovations a Reality.
Full Story

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

April 7, 2021
I-MRSEC’s Music Video for EOH ’21 Plugs Graphene, 2D Materials
Full Story

Health Make-a-Thon Orientation

HML 2021 Health Orientation

March 30, 2021
HML 2021 Health Make-a-Thon Orientation Prepares Finalists for Competition.
Full Story

Andrea Perry shows Franklin students how to take apart the magnetic drawing board they received in their kit

Musical Magnetism

March 25, 2021
Musical Magnetism: Encouraging Franklin Middle Schoolers to Express Science Via the Arts.
Full Story

Carmen Paquette street performing.

Love of Science

March 9, 2021
Paquette Conveys Her Love of Science, Dance to Franklin STEAM Students Via Musical Magnetism.
Full Stroy

An Engineering Exploration participant exhibits the tower they built as part of the engineering challenge related to Civil Engineering

Engineering Exploration

March 2, 2021
SWE’s Engineering Exploration Outreach Lives Up to Its Name.

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

ChiS&E’s Family STEM Day

February 23, 2021
Helps Chicago Youngsters Progress Along the STEM Pipeline Toward Engineering.

Kathny Walsh

Kathy Walsh

February 17, 2021
On Her First Foray into STEAM, Kathy Walsh Acquaints Franklin Students with Microscopy, Haiku.

ChiS&E student

ChiS&E CPS Students

January 19, 2021
Illinois Undergrads Encourage ChiS&E CPS Students Toward Possible Careers in Engineering.

I-MRSEC’s Music Video

CISTEME365 Provides Year-Round PD/Community

January 4, 2021
to Illinois Teachers in Support of Informal STEM Education Efforts to Underserved Students.