Friday, February 6, 2009

23andMe Provides Authentic and Personalized Learning Opportunities in Genetics, DNA, Biology, Health, Geography.

I just responded to the Classroom 2.0 post Teaching DNA from a science teacher who shared, “I'm looking for a website available to students that can answer some of their questions about DNA. That will conceptualize DNA, and allow them to look through the material at their own pace. It can’t be too technical, and I would like it to help spur their interest in the subject.”

As a recent subscriber to 23andMe (whose tagline is, “Genetics Just Got Personal”), I had to chime in. I know that personally, I never retained much of anything I learned in science class because little of it was hands on, and wasn’t taught in a way that allowed me to see how it pertained to my life in a way I needed to care about.

As an adult, when I heard about 23andMe I became extremely excited at the potential to unlock the secrets of my own DNA. As an innovative educator I also reflected on what a powerful learning tool this could be for students interested in this field. Of course there are cost and legal factors that are obvious barriers, but innovative educators don’t let things let things like that stop them.

For those not in the know, 23andMe was selected as Time magazine's "Invention of the Year” and was recently featured on Oprah. It allows you to access and unlock the information contained within your DNA. This means that you will be able to learn about your medical proclivities as well as your true genetic ancestry.

So, how can this be used in the classroom? Even without sending in your DNA for sampling 23andMe puts a lot of the study of genetics and ancestry into context in a way that is more interesting and compelling then what I ever learned in school. The website provides a collection of educational materials to guide educators and learners on a personal journey of genetic discovery. Here are some of the great learning resources 23andMe offers to enable visitors to discover the world of genetics.

A great place to start with students would be with the Variations section which highlights stories of famous people and how their genes affected them. This can be tied to an activity where students reflect on how they think their genes may have shaped who they are or will become. Here is a peak into what that part of the site contains.


Our genes help shape us from the moment of conception, but they are far from the only determinant of who we are. 23andMe's Variations series explores the human experience through personal stories of the ways genetics touches our lives.

Are Warren and Jimmy Buffett related?

Speed Gene: Fact or fiction?

Drive: The story of Muggsy Bogues, 5'3" NBA star

The Royal Disease

Once you’ve peaked students interest, it’s time to get down to some details about genetics. The site has an area called Genetics 101 which features a variety of easy to understand animated videos. Here is what you will find there.

Genetics 101

Part 1: What Are Genes?

Find out about the basics of cells, chromosomes, and the genes contained in your DNA.

Part 2: What are SNPs?

Learn about the variations in human DNA called SNPs, and how they can be used to understand relationships between people.

Part 3: Where do your genes come from?

Find out how chromosomes and genes are passed down from parent to child.

Part 4: What is phenotype?

Discover how your observable traits, or phenotypes, are the result of interactions between your genes and environment.

The site also has a connection to history and geography. This is a great resource for teachers focusing on history, social studies, ancestry, or geography. Here is what you will find.

Human Prehistory 101

These videos follow the path of our human history from the birth of our species in Africa to the present day.

Human Prehistory: Prologue

Find out how our human story begins, nearly 200,000 years ago in Africa.

Part 1: Out of (eastern) Africa (coming soon)

Learn how humans traveled out of Africa for the first time.

There are also Genetics Guides on the site. These guides are a useful resource about some basic concepts that come up around ancestry and genetics. They serve as a valuable reference for people who are new to the study of genetics and ancestry. The guides include: Key Words About Genetics and Key Words About Ancestry.

I should be getting my 23andMe results soon and I am very excited about what I might learn. I think I’m most interested in the nature vs. nurture personality traits, but also, possible medical issues. I’ll be sure to post on what I find along the way.

1 comment:

  1. Great information. I will be using 23andMe as supplemental content for my college Humanities class. Helping students make connections between science and philosophy and art is essential to helping them develop as critical thinkers and lifelong learners.