5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Genetics

5 Helpful Hints for Teaching Genetics

Here is #2 for my “5 Helpful Tips” series. If you missed the first one, check out 5 Helpful Tips for Teaching Photosynthesis.

Genetics is one of my favorite things to teach *cue sparkly harp music*. I really look forward to teaching genetics! And one thing that makes it so fun for me is discussing human genetics. Human genetics can be a bit mystifying, so I usually do not bring it up until we’ve discussed polygenic inheritance among other complex patterns, such as incomplete dominance. That is because most human traits are not Mendelian! For example, I have three children. Each one of my children has different colored eyes (hazel, brown, and blue).  Students love discussing this stuff and bringing up their own families, too!

Here is a complete list of human genetic myths that you can read for your consideration. But, that doesn’t stop us from making babies in biology class.  Besides, I firmly believe we still do not know everything there is to know, and we are making new discoveries every day. I tell my students that we are going to pretend that traits are Mendelian for a day so that we can do our fun Making Babies Heredity Simulation. I really feel that you need to find a happy medium here- I don’t want to teach students that human traits such as eye color and earwax are Mendelian, but I also want them to connect and have fun. So we do a pretend day each year. Besides, it gives them Punnett square practice and I honestly could not imagine teaching genetics without it! The kids have too much fun!

Visual learning is a lot of fun – I’m a visual learner and I use a lot of visuals when I teach. This website from Wiley’s Global Resources provides visual animations to help support Mendel’s ideas and laws.

Screen Shot 2016-03-16 at 3.57.35 PM

I have found this web site invaluable for those who need extra practice or need an little extra oomph for grasping concepts in class.

Busting Student Misconceptions:

  • Students tend to struggle with some terminology- it can be really difficult for students to differentiate between terms such as DNA, gene, and allele.  Be sure to remind the students that there is in fact a difference, or maybe even ask them to compare them as a do-now, warm up, or bellringer. 
  • Are popular traits more dominant? No. You know this. Your colleagues know this. But sometimes we forget to mention this to our students. Check out my Exploring Human Traits Lab, in which students are asked to analyze this using your classroom as an example.
  • Epigenetics- students should know that environment can play a role in the characteristics of organisms. Epigenetics studies changes in heritable traits that are outside the human genome. Here is a quick video you can show your students about how epigenetic tags can be passed on:
  • Lastly, be sure to mention a few times along the way that mutations are not always harmful- and in fact some can be a good thing! The two examples I like to use are blue eyes (a neutral mutation) or even a turtle’s shell, which would be considered a positive mutation of its ancestor’s ribcage!

Veteran teachers, do you have any tips or advice when teaching genetics? I’d love for you to share them in the comments! 

Stay Science Classy,



Day 5 of 5 days of Holiday Cheer is here!

Ok fellow science nerds… you do not want to miss this!

Be sure to sign up for my newsletter by going to the page listed in the tabs that says “Subscribe to My Newsletter” because all future promotions and Holiday Cheers will be exclusively for newsletter subscribers. Click here to subscribe to the newsletter.

For the 5th and Final Day of “5 Days of Holiday Cheer”, over a dozen amazing science teacher-authors have teamed up to offer you a fabulous collaborative smorgasbord of 13 different resources, which you can access here: 5 Days of Holiday Cheer Science Bundle

The link is good for 24 hours only so get it while you can!

… and please remember to sign up for my newsletter if you’d like to participate in future promotions such as these!

Stay Science Classy,


Day Four of Holiday Cheer: Free Interactive Notebook Pages


Day Four of Holiday Cheer is good for Today Only (December 10th, 2015).
You can get a sample of my DNA Interactive Notebook by clicking on this link!

It expires tonight, so get it while you can!

Next year, I plan to do another 5 Days of Holiday Cheer, however it will no longer be advertised on my blog; instead it will be exclusively for newsletter subscribers.

Please subscribe to my newsletter to take place in future promotions and to get the dirt on Biology Roots!


Day Three: Entire Store is 20% off

My lesson planning is all set for the new year, so when we come back to school on January 4th I have the whole week set up. It might be my healthy dose of OCD kicking in, but I’ve always found it hard to enjoy my time off if I know I’ll be scrambling to find lessons the last night of vacation.

If you still have some lesson planning to do, bring in the new year with a Biology Roots product. For Day Three of “5 Days of Holiday Cheer”, I’m offering my ENTIRE store at 20% off for Today only, December 9th!


Day Two of Holiday Cheer: 25% off all Biology Roots Bundles


Day TWO of “5 Days of Holiday Cheer” means 25% all bundles!

That means popular bundles, like my Super Sub Plan Bundle, which is already discounted at $35.98 will be reduced to $26.98 for December 8th only!

Or one of my best selling units the Complete Cell Unit, will be 25% off to cost $21.74 (which includes the Cells Task Cards Exhibition Lab).


Please Check out all my participating bundles for a chance to grab them at 25% off on December 8th.

Stay tuned for tomorrow: Day 3 of Holiday Cheer Week!

Stay Science Classy,

Day One of Holiday Cheer: BOGO

A group of awesome secondary science teacher authors are teaming up to launch “5 Days of Holiday Cheer”.

Day 2

This new BOGO Sale for any one item purchased in my store today, December 7th, 2015. The BOGO applies to items of equal or lesser value (up to $15), and is only good for TODAY, December 7th, 2015.

The details in a nutshell:
– Item must be purchased on 12/7/15
– BOGO (buy one get one) good for ONE item up to a $15 value
– Simply forward your sales receipt to biologyroots@gmail.com along with the link of the item you would like for free (equal of lesser value).
– Deal ends at midnight 12/7/15

Please check out my store, Biology Roots, to check out what I have to offer. All you have to do is buy one and you get another for free!

Some hot items that apply to the BOGO deal:

Sub Plans Vol 1 CoverSlide1
Buy one set of sub plans, get another set FREE.

Buy one body system exhibition lab, get another set FREE!

Happy Holidays!!

Stay Science Classy,

Creating a Global Classroom

For November’s Secondary Smorgasbord blog hop, we’re focusing on creating a global classroom. I think it’s appropriate for this month, because my particular experience with creating a global classroom also ties into Thanksgiving: being thankful for your health, your family, your friends, and your education.

In an age of information, you would think that students would be more informed about the happenings around the globe; but I’ve found when working with teenagers, it’s also an age of isolation: many (_not_all) are focused on themselves, their circle of friends, their hobbies, and their… well, Facebook accounts. With so much at stake, and so much possibility at their fingertips, I decided to get my students engaged on Change.org. (ages 13+).

The students were not required to sign any petitions, but they could outside of school if they wanted to- and many did! Upperclassmen in my Environmental science class (who was given plenty of advanced notice), would state their case, trying to “sell” the rest of the class an issue found on Change.org. They could make a poster, a PowerPoint, brochures, anything! The rules were simple: they had to be related to the environment, health, or human rights, but could not include politics or religion, and could include a link to Change.org. If the students really wanted to present an issue that was not found on Change.org, they could start their own petition.

One year, had a young lady in 11th grade who took matters into her own hands and went above and beyond our classroom, working hard over the remaining two years of her high school career to save the whales from commercial whaling. I had one young man who started his own school wide petition that would eliminate styrofoam from the school cafeteria, which was widely successful, and lead to the entire district phasing out the use of styrofoam over the course of 2 years. I loved doing this because it gave some students a lot of insights about global problems- some did not know that clean water was ensured for all countries, or vaccinations, or even education! I really think doing this with my class meant that I was opening up their eyes to the world, and making them feel more humbled about their lifestyle.

I’d like to share the documentation that I provided my students for this class project!

For my biology classes, I unfortunately did not have the time to do these types of projects, but particular web quest we did in class was usually an eye opener; I’d get a lot of “that HAS to be wrong!” or “Is that I typo?” and “I don’t believe that.” The web quest was no other than the Human Population and Ecological Footprint Web Quest. This explores the growth of the human population and has a section where it compares the US to other countries as far as production and waste. The students also explore their own ecological footprint.


Stay Science Classy,

5 Things to Know About Teaching Photosynthesis

Many of you out there are teaching photosynthesis, and some of you are teaching it for the first time. As they say, a student is only as good as his (or her) teacher! There are a lot of fine details involved with photosynthesis, and if this is your first time, my BIGGEST piece of advice would be to focus on the “big picture”. Do not teach light reactions, followed by dark reactions. Teach them together, and then go back and fill in the details where you can.

For new and newish teachers, here are 5 Things to Know About Teaching Photosynthesis (Veteran teachers: I’d LOVE to hear what you would add to this in the comments below!):

To help with this, I’m offering a free Photosynthesis Graphic Organizer!
photosynthesis graphic organizer

And if you are looking for some resources to help you and your students, please leave the planning to me! I offer a wide range of activities for photosynthesis, which follow my own advice 😉


What is the mouse trap analogy referenced in #2? Just like in the game “Mouse Trap”, each step depends directly on the previous step. If one of the processes stopped, the next step would not be able to go on (energy flow). Ask your students what they think the marble and the foot that kicks the marble out of the bucket represent!
See the video:

Stay Science Classy,

Your Class DNA Frankenstein

For this month I’ve teamed up with Darlene from ELA Buffet and Pamela from Desktop Learning Adventures, along with a whole smorgasbord of secondary teachers to bring you October’s Blog Hop: Treats for Teachers.

teacher treats

For this treat I’ve chosen an appropriately timed activity called Your Class DNA Frankenstein. What is the DNA class frankenstein? It is a collaborative learning effort to help students tie DNA into phenotypes. This Halloween-themed activity can be done at any point during the year, and the students have so much fun!

DNA Frankenstein Facebook

I originally created it so that students could tie in the structure of DNA with the function of DNA. Every year, I have my students create a DNA Paper Model Puzzle, which really helps them understand the structure of DNA (especially the antiparallel configuration). But one year, I thought: What if I could make it so that the students created DNA that was unique? The idea took off, and the DNA Frankenstein was born.

You can certainly do this activity without the use of paper models, but you will need a large paper roll, at least 2 feet in width (I recommend Borden & Riley 90 lb Acid Free Drawing Paper Roll 30 inch x 10 yards).

The idea is that each student is assigned a gene or trait to contribute to the class Frankenstein. Examples include height, eyebrow thickness, skin color, etc. It is a hodge podge of class traits, which the student trace or draw onto the paper roll.

DNA Class Frankenstein

I have had so many compliments from other teachers and admin alike; it’s a forever freebie in my TpT Store.

Stay Science Class,

Cell-fie: The Interactive Model and Contest Details

After so many biology classes, I had begun to realize that it seemed as though I spent a lot of time and energy teaching my kids all about cells, only to have them forget at least half of what they learned by the time we approached cell division, photosynthesis, cellular respiration, etc.

It was one year during the last class of the day, my beloved “G” period. There were 10 students in that class (long, crazy story there– maybe I’ll write about it and get a link in there so you can read it!), and it was a glorious class. It ended up being my favorite class because it was so easy to differentiate. It was so easy for kids to help others out. It was so easy to teach. (Is that an oxymoron?) Relatively speaking, that is, it was easier to teach than classes of 30. And it was more rewarding, because the kids really understood and tended to do better on their tests than the other classes. And there we were, talking about cellular respiration when one student, a bright student, chimed in and asked
“Ms. J., what is a mitochondrion?”

No big deal, I thought. And I answered him. It’s a singular form of mitochondria. He nodded, his pencil at his lips, looking down at his graphic organizer we were doing at the time.

Me: “A-and it’s where cellular respiration occurs.”

Student: “OK, so it’s in the cell.”

Me: “Yes? Yes.”

Other student: “What’s a mitochondria?”

Everyone laughs. But this year, I wasn’t laughing. This was something that I could see happening in many of my classes, even if students didn’t speak up. These big words were coming back to them and they had already been learned- and lost. So, I popped my lap top into the in-focus and brought up my Cell PowerPoint. Remember this? They did… vaguely.
That’s when I had an idea… if only I could have a cell in the classroom always. And not just a poster, but an interactive cell that could grow and change.

Start with the basics:

Basic Cellfie

Add as you go:

Cell Phone


Cellular Respiration

Finished Animal Cell

Ion Channel

Plant Cell 1

Plant Cell 2

Protein SynthesisReceptor Protein
Cell Division Example





















You can download the template here:Interactive Cell Model by Biology Roots OR, you can make your own. Whichever you choose to do, there is a contest that is running for the next year. Share your Cell-fie for a chance to win.



The contest is easy. You have until October 15th, 2016 (yes, that’s 2016) to post your cell-fie to your social media wall and share it with me. Post the photo along with #biologyroots #cellfie for your chance to win a $50 Target Gift Card. The first five teachers to post their cell-fie automatically receive a $10 shopping spree in my store. Everyone who shares by October 14th 11:59 EST is entered into the drawing for the gift card from Target. Good luck.


Stay Science Classy,