Building blocks of learning.Playing with blocks has long been a favorite pastime of children and one that parents often encourage as a means of developing reasoning, spatial acuity, and other skills. A program developed by the Community Outreach and Education Program (COEP COEP Government College of Engineering, Pune, India
COEP Centralized Order Entry Pharmacy ) of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Massachusetts Institute of Technology, at Cambridge; coeducational; chartered 1861, opened 1865 in Boston, moved 1916. It has long been recognized as an outstanding technological institute and its Sloan School of Management has notable programs in business, (MIT MIT - Massachusetts Institute of Technology ) Center for Environmental Health Studies turns this childhood pastime into an effective method for teaching students about DNA DNA: see nucleic acid.
or deoxyribonucleic acid
One of two types of nucleic acid (the other is RNA); a complex organic compound found in all living cells and many viruses. It is the chemical substance of genes. and cellular processes by building models out of LEGO blocks.
Now a commercial product, the LEGO Life Science kits contain different-colored blocks representing the basic structural elements of DNA. So far, the kit series includes models of DNA, chromosomes, and photosynthesis. The kits were developed by Cambridge public school teacher Kathleen Vandiver to bring the form and function of the double helix alive for middle-school students. Vandiver later joined the staff of the MIT COEP and has worked with the program to design a learning activity for students based on the kits called "The Shape of Life: From Helix to Chromosome."
The activity begins with students identifying LEGOs that represent molecules of sugar, phosphates, and nucleotide bases. Using these pieces, they construct their own twisting model of the DNA ladder, with careful attention to base pairing. A brief overview of DNA replication follows, using the LEGO DNA structure as a simulation aid. Students then have individual exploration time to answer questions and investigate variations of their DNA model. Teachers may also add a mutation lesson.
Next, the students learn how DNA's complex sequence is replicated prior to mitosis, and the lesson scales up to the LEGO Chromosomes kit to model the process of mitosis. The activity concludes with the study of structural components of chromosomes, including a discussion of genes and traits. With the Chromosomes kit, students can build a LEGO fish as a model to demonstrate how genes can be expressed in a living creature. The fish has only 3 chromosome pairs, rather than a human's 23 pairs, so it's easier to understand the relationship between genes and traits. Chromosomes, cell membranes, and spindle fibers are modeled in LEGOs as the students move through the stages of interphase, prophase prophase /pro·phase/ (-faz) the first stage in cell reduplication in either meiosis or mitosis.
1. , metaphase metaphase /meta·phase/ (met´ah-faz) the second stage of cell division (mitosis or meiosis), in which the chromosomes, each consisting of two chromatids, are arranged in the equatorial plane of the spindle prior to separation. , anaphase anaphase /ana·phase/ (an´ah-faz) the third stage of division of the nucleus in either meiosis or mitosis.
n. , and telophase telophase /telo·phase/ (-faz) the last of the four stages of mitosis and of the two divisions of meiosis, in which the chromosomes arrive at the poles of the cell and the cytoplasm divides; in plants, the cell wall also forms. .
The kits can be used to teach many levels of students. Although originally designed for middle schoolers, they can be reassembled into a more advanced version for use at the college level. Several introductory biology classes at MIT have used the sets. Says Vandiver, "it is important to realize that many people need to be taught the basics in order to understand the issues in environmental health." And what could be more basic--or fun--than playing with blocks?
The LEGO Life Science kits are available for purchase at http://www.legoeducationstore.com/.