Genetics… with a Zing!

The following guest post is shared by Allyson Zanetti, a biology teacher for at-risk students in a high school outside Detroit… the way she has taken Zingo!, a game originally designed for preschoolers, and transformed it into a tool to teach the principles of genetics is incredible!

Genetics with a Zing!

Teaching at-risk high school students can be a challenge, but it is a job I adore. I begin this school year with much enthusiasm especially eager to use the Think Fun Zingo! Bingo with a Zing games that were generously donated to my classroom for a genetics assignment. Yes, genetics – I teach high school biology at Southgate Adult and Community education, an award winning school for at-risk youth in suburban Detroit.

Often teachers think that all of the fun and games occurs in the elementary grades or that pretending needs to be left in preschool. Well, that attitude is not prevalent in my school. Many of the teachers are incredibly creative bringing complicated physics topics to life with Hot Wheel cars or playing dice to explain algebraic equations.

I use my colleagues as an inspiration trying to think of ways to make high school biology fun. I can hear some you gasp and moan at the thought of looking through a microscope, dissecting a frog or learning about DNA. I understand that science is not for everyone, but for me it is the most interesting field there is and I want all of my students to see the wonder in the natural world, too.

Teaching genetics is a complicated topic. The introduction is usually one my students dive into with gusto. They like finding out why they have brown eye and their brother has blue eyes or why they can roll their tongue to look like a straw and their lab partner can’t. However, their gusto quickly wanes as words like dihybrid cross and heterozygous recessive come into play. In the past, I talked about Gregor Mendel and his pea plants with passion, but their eyes would glaze over. The concepts of genetic ratios went in one ear and out the other and their test scores showed that I was not teaching that topic in an effective way. What could I do to help them understand Mendelian genetics? We talked about roosters and their combs on top of their heads and white cats with long tails and brown cats with short tails, but they still looked at me as if I was speaking a languae they did not understand.

One evening while playing Zingo with my son, I realized that there is an aspect of probability to the game and that I could use it to teach genetics. I dove into modifying the game to be used as a manipulative in my classroom. I put labels on the backs of the plastic game pieces and then brought it to school.

My students huddled around the single game and watched as I showed them the possibilities that would occur if a short- tailed, white cat mated with a brown longed-tailed cat. Students created data sheets for keeping track of the tail lengths and color of the cats.

After 16 pulls, the students tallied their results. We talked about probability and they discussed what happened. We did the cross a second, third and forth time still collecting data. Students cheered when we got a long-tailed white cat and we laughed when occasionally a shoe or a panda tile would pop up because we had accidentally put the tile in upside down. We joked that cats could have a long-tailed panda baby or a brown shoe.

After the fun with the Zingo! game, my students dove into other Punnett squares with enthusiasm and asked to use the Zinger to make other games related to pea plants and roses. They used information from our text book and pretended to mate a Wyandotte rooster with a Brahamas hen, each time pulling the Zingo tile dispenser back and forth to expose the gamete possibilities. They even wanted to use the Zinger to make a vocabulary matching game. To my surprise, dihybrid cross and heterozygous were included in their list.

The game was passed around and the sound of the Zinger clicking back and forth became the sound of learning. I was thrilled. I had taught them a complicated topic in genetics and they actually enjoyed it. They were not moaning or staring at me like I was speaking Chinese. Happily, their test scored improved, too. I felt successful and I loved that a game made for 4 or 5 year olds could teach my high school students a complicated genetics topic.

Knowing I needed more games, I contacted ThinkFun, and they kindly donated six Zingo games to my classroom. I spent the summer modifying each game into our Mendelian genetics game – Genetics with a Zing! and I even changed some of the tiles into a vocabulary bingo games. There are 72 tiles in each game which is plenty to use for a variety of activities. I can’t wait to hear the click-click, click-click of the ZInger in my classroom. Zingo! is synonymous with learning in my biology classroom and it has really ignited the minds of my students. See, play is not just for preschool or first grade. My 17 year old students can play and learn at the same time.

Here are the directions of what I did to modify the game and a few fun photos of the game in action.

I used this information to do a cross in which a short tail (S) is dominant to a long tail (s) and brown hair (B) is dominant to white (w). The cross became SsBb x SsBb.

Next, I created 8-SB tiles, 8-Sb, 8-sB, and 8-sb by using my label maker and sticking the labels onto the backs of 32 to the tiles. I shuffled the tiles and placed them into the Zinger with the genetics sides facing up making sure half of the tiles are on one side and half are on the other. I pulled the Zinger back to reveal two tiles. I recorded what the offspring would look like remembering to convert the letter code into a type of cat. For example, ssBB is a long-tailed, brown cat. I did this 16 times total and recorded what the animal would look like each time. I then tallied the results which prompted more questions like: What is the most common looking cat? Can those cats have a long-tailed, white kitten? Did I get the 9:3:3:1 ratio that Mendel predicted? Why or why not? What is probability?

Have you ever modified a favorite game to use for a different purpose? To teach or explain something? Please share you story!


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>