How Your Genes Work

In  How Your Genes Work, kids will discover how genes– those small inherited sections of DNA–provide instructions to make the proteins that build and run their bodies.


Is your child curious about how his or her body works? Behind all of the cool things it does such as move, breathe, and grow, are genes. In  How Your Genes Work, kids will discover how genes-- those small inherited sections of DNA--provide instructions to make the proteins that build and run their bodies. This is a great introduction to molecular biology for elementary-aged kids who have completed  Discovering DNA.    Unlike many books that try to introduce complicated topics to kids,  How Your Genes Work  includes hands-on activities that help kids really get a grip on the process being described.

How Your Genes Work  provides a clear conceptual grounding for understanding basic topics in molecular genetics, such as transcription, translation, and mutations. Although these topics are some of the most central in science and medicine today, they are not usually taught until high school.  By giving your younger kids insight into how their bodies work at a molecular level, you will open a whole new microscopic world of curiosity to them!

Mini-course is provided as a 34-page PDF including a Science Tool Kit page to collect your badges.

Course Contents for How Your Genes Work

  • Story:  Using your genes”Teamwork needed!  Why are genes so important? Because they are the instructions for making your body's proteins! Learn how DNA, RNA, and ribosomes all come together to use the information in your genes to make important proteins.
  • Activity 1:  DNA Detective.  Use your new skills in transcription to rewrite DNA code into RNA. Use the included key to spell out a secret message!
  • Activity 2:  Translation Bingo.  Use the genetic code table to translate information from the language of RNA to the language of amino acids.
  • Activity 3:  Transcribe and Translate a Gene.  This interactive, online activity (Flash Player required) helps put it all together. Follow along with the activity as you use DNA information to make RNA and RNA to create a protein!
  • Activity 4:  Oops! When DNA Has a Mistake.  Ever heard of mutations? Now you will know what that means and why they sometimes have important consequences. In this activity, you will follow the mutation causing Sickle Cell Anemia from DNA to protein to understand its effect on the body.
  • Curiosity Connector.  Explore further with some great online videos about transcription, translation, and mutations.
  • Tools for Your Tool Kit.  Add these molecular genetic concepts to your tool kit!
  • Glossary.  Learn important definitions for understanding how genes work.

Materials Needed

Scissors, tape or glue, bingo card markers (beans, coins, small rocks, etc.), pencil or pen, computer with Internet access (Flash Player necessary)  

Concepts and Ideas

How Your Genes Work  includes the following Disciplinary Core Ideas as described in the  Next Generation Science Standards:  

Heredity: Inheritance and Variation of Traits (LS3-1)

Scientific Expert    Jennifer Burbank.

Illustrations  by  Charlie Alolkoy.

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