Tag Archives: simulation

Genetics for Kids

test tubes

Over the past ten or twenty years, the news media has become saturated with stories about genetics.  But do you really understand how genes interact?  A new genetics simulation being developed at Ohio State can help.

The simulation begins with a series of cartoon faces from which the user can choose to populate the gene pool for the next generation.  (The term “parents” is used, but more than two can be selected.)  This process can be repeated several times to create successive generations of cartoon faces.

Over 50 “genes” are incorporated into the faces (affecting everything from the dimensions of the head and other features to how asymmetrical the face is and whether the eyes follow your mouse or not) and the genes of the “parents” interact to produce the subsequent generation.  You can also adjust the amount of mutation, which leads to a wider (or narrower) variety of offspring.

Another interesting feature is the ability to view genotypes.  This allows you to view a graph under each offspring representing which genes come from which parent.  You can also choose two faces and drag them to the Gene Exam Room to view to what degree each gene is represented in each face.  This also allows you to see the effect of each individual gene.  You can even increase or decrease the representation of each gene to see how it changes each face.

What can you (or your students) do with this simulation?  Imagine the faces are puppies and you want to develop a new breed that is cute (or whatever other trait you’re interested in.)  This simulation clearly demonstrates how breeders (of animals, plants, etc.) select for certain traits and refine them over generations.

Or imagine the choices you  make in the simulation are not choices, but represent the effects of the environment.  For example, say the Sun grows dim giving people with big eyes that can see in low light an advantage over people with small eyes.  This advantage results in a higher percentage of offspring surviving and a wider representation in the gene pool.  What effect would this have after several generations?

Think of how much richer students’ discussions of designer pets and natural disasters will be after they have “experienced” the process instead of just reading about it.  In addition to genetics, this simulation can also stimulate interest in probability (how likely are offspring to have certain characteristics), design (ideas behind evolutionary design were the impetus for the interface), as well as all of the social issues behind decisions we are now able to make regarding genetics.

In terms of ESL teaching, I think giving students something interesting to do and then having them talk or write about it is a great way to get them to practice English.  This genetics simulation is simple but interesting enough that it could generate lots of interesting ideas for students to talk about.

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Are you ready for some football?

Ohio State Football Game

I’m not quite ready for football yet either.  But this past weekend some students and I braved the wet weather to do some tailgating and join 65,000 of our closest friends at the annual Spring Game.  Though not a “real” game — the Buckeyes split into a Scarlet Team and a Gray Team, which play against each other — it is a very good simulation for only $5.

In order to help ESL students understand American football, I’ve developed a football simulation that requires only one six-sided die (plural = dice).  A coin helps, too, if you want to begin with a coin toss.

I’ve squeezed all of the rules for the simulation onto the first page, which may be a bit too brief (leave a comment below if something is unclear), but almost everything in the game of football is included: offense, defense, and special teams.

The offense has five different plays (Inside Run, Outside Run, Short Pass, Medium Pass, and Long Pass) and the defense has three (Run Defense, Pass Defense, and Blitz).  Each play begins with one team’s offense and the other team’s defense selecting a play by and placing that card face-down on the table.  Teams count to three and reveal the cards simultaneously.  The quarterback (a player on the offensive team) rolls the die to determine the outcome of the play with higher rolls being more successful.

As in real football, if the defense has predicted the offensive play, the offense is less likely to gain yardage (or may even lose yardage).  But, if the offense has selected a play that the defense is not prepared for, bigger gains are likely.  The Run Defense will limit the running plays, the Pass Defense will limit passing plays, and the Blitz will disrupt the longer plays (Outside Run and Long Pass).  These longer plays have a lower chance of success, but when successful produce bigger gains.  Every combination has six possible outcomes, which depend on the roll of the die.  These combinations are listed in a table right below the rules.

I’ve played this game with my class on two different occasions and the students really enjoy it.  Playing the game is the best way to understand what downs are and that 2nd and 5 is much better that 3rd and 13.  (There is room to keep track of each play on the back page of the simulation and twelve plays equal one quarter.)  Students also enjoy the strategic element of predicting whether their classmates are more likely to choose a conservative play or to throw up a Hail Mary.

In my experience with students who were interested but had little knowledge of the game, a 30-40 minute explanation of the basics of football prior to the simulation was helpful.  I also spent 10-20 minutes explaining the basics of the simulation and let the students see the table of possible outcomes before we played.  This allowed them time to understand the simulation in their own way and to begin to develop their own strategies.  I let the students take lots of time for the first couple of plays, because there is usually lots to discuss and negotiate, but play gets quicker as students get more comfortable with the process.  I also make sure to record the outcome of every play on the board at the front of the class (i.e. 3rd and 2 on the 30) which is another big challenge at first, but understanding this vernacular really allows a student to understand and enjoy watching a real game.  Students usually wanted to continue playing even after 30-40 minutes.

There are a few other details included in the simulation that I haven’t explained here (fumbles, for example).  Download the .pdf file and give it a try.  It’s a good way to introduce people to the game and a fun diversion for football fans.  Feel free to share my simulation, but please give me credit when you do.  If you have comments or suggestions for additions or changes, please leave them below.


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