Building DNA an artsy way

Teacher gives her seventh-graders a head start on their class with an after-school project that creates DNA models out of wire and beads.

January 13, 2011|By Britney Barnes,
  • Courtney Buckels, 13, puts beads on a wire.
Courtney Buckels, 13, puts beads on a wire. (SCOTT SMELTZER,…)

Students grabbed wire and filled clear-plastic Petri dishes with tiny blue, white, red, yellow, green and pink beads.

Settling in at one of six brown lunch tables, science teacher Gloria Treece began explaining to the almost entirely female audience how to string, twist and assemble the materials into DNA earrings or a keychain.

The after-school, extra-credit activity was a jump start to the Spring View Middle School seventh-graders' next three chapters on DNA where they will learn about genetic traits, family inheritance and genetically changed plants and read about current events like the genetic engineering of plants.

"This is just a good intro so they'll know what I'm talking about," she said. "I'm front-loading them the structure of DNA."

The art project had the middle-schoolers recreating the structure of DNA with beads that represent the different components— ribose, phosphates, thymine, adenine, cytosine and guanine— stringing them along the wire and twisting it all into the right form.


The students alternated the 15 ribose, or white beads, and 15 phosphates, or blue, on one wire and then twisted the red, yellow, green and pink in between—a feat that was easier said than done.

"It's fun, but it's kind of complicated if you don't get the directions straight," Sandy Ibrahim said.

The activity took time and patience, along with other skills the students needed a boost in.

Treece said the seventh-graders haven't had enough practice using their fine motor skills, patience or following a technical diagram. The activity was meant to give them a chance to practice those skills while learning about science, she said.

"I really try to load my lessons up with really nice materials," Treece said.

Using art to learn science was a foreign concept to Sandy before the activity. The 14-year-old, who said she "kind of" likes science, said she enjoys arts and crafts. Using art helped her learn the structure, she said. Sandy also believed she will have a step up on her classmates who didn't participate, she said.

"This is hard, but at the same time, you're having fun and you're getting extra credit," she said.

The activity also appealed to Tatiana Harris, 12, even though science isn't her favorite subject. Using her hands instead of a textbook helped her learn, she said.

"I'm more of an artsy person, more of a hands-on learner," she said.

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