Fun for all the family ages 16-19
There is something special about understanding how life works on a molecular level. How atoms are rearranged by machines that are Angstroms across, or how the flow of single protons through a channel is needed for making the ATP we need to function. Unfortunately, for many students, they cannot enjoy the nanoscale journey because they get so focused on the formulae and reactions.
Over the past couple of years, I have been trying to develop confidence in the biochemical pathways of A-level Biology with my students through informal play over cake also known as #SliceofScience. Our #SliceofScience is a weekly half-hour informal opportunity for students and staff to discuss Biology over a cup of tea and ask any questions they have. But it has evolved to become a competitive gaming session. Some students are coming into post-16 Biology with little grounding in bonding and a strong dislike of covalent bonding, never mind the distrust of ions. Providing an immersive opportunity for play seems to be turning that around. Below are a few examples that I have used.
Simple card games
Recognition of bond types can be a weakness for some students, perhaps bond-blindness will get the same respect as colour-blindness in the future, but until then why not have a game of cheat. Remember that game where you blag your way through the deck, “4 aces,” “2 kings”… now picture some amino acids. Students try to make a primary structure of a word using the single letter codes of the amino acids but only show their competitors the structure face up. Get called out on a cheat move and you pick up the deck! Through playing, the students are gaining confidence in recognising R-groups and peptide bonds. Everyone’s a winner.
Know your acetylcholine from your glucagon? Then biochemical Guess Who? is for you! Forcing students to pay attention to the fine detail on a biological molecule, it rewards those who are able to identify the big similarities within the different types of molecules before honing in on the unique differences that makes galactose, galactose and not glucose.
Every time I walk the high street, I now visit the charity shops in hope of picking up something for the next game. I am pretty sure the lab is now 1 part Trivial Pursuit to 1 part brick. I am working my way through making a Trivial Pursuit into a respiration-based game, similar to my Photosystem Pursuit that brings in some esoteric history of science as well as the biochemical pathways within the different categories. It even has a picture round.
My favourite game is one of my oldest, Biochemnopoly. It was a huge build, but has given hours of enjoyment, and maybe has had a beneficial impact on learning. This game is like the classic property trading game, however, players collect monomers for the different types of macromolecule, condensing as they pass go to score. We have a drawing question when they want to cash in their molecule which adds that extra layer. This provides that opportunity to really probe their understanding.
In all of these games, I have attempted to allow students to undertake sustained activity without my input disrupting their engagement. The games are allowed to flow until that bell goes and it’s off to the next lesson for them! It is this improved confidence in Biochemistry over the last few years that have seen students applying to universities to study Biochemistry that simply wasn’t happening before.
About the author:
Jon Hale is the Head of Biology at a non-selective school in Jersey, Channel Islands. If you would like to see some of the games, or would like to make your own please contact Jon via Twitter @BeaulieuBio or email firstname.lastname@example.org