MIT Stem Pals
March-April 2016

Teaching Molecular Biology with Kinesthetic Models!

From Kathleen M. Vandiver
Vandiver The year 2016 has been a breakthrough year. DNA and RNA nucleotides patented by MIT are now being mass produced and worldwide distribution has begun. MIT is offering the sets at cost, thanks to foundation gifts and to volunteers who assemble sets. The first ten classroom sets of DNA/ RNA were shipped to diverse places including universities in California and Singapore; US high schools in Texas, Florida and Massachusetts; and a science center in Italy.

Also in breaking news, amino acids and tRNA models will become available in summer 2016. Taken together with the DNA, these models give students the opportunity to produce proteins from the DNA instructions, simulating the multi-step process of protein synthesis. Furthermore, the protein chains can be folded into helices and beta pleated sheets; all four levels of protein folding can be illustrated.

DNAThe best feature of all however is that the DNA and protein models are well suited for ALL grade levels—middle school, high school, university and professional training. This is because considerable chemical detail was incorporated into the models. Upper level instructors working with the advanced booklets emphasize and utilize this chemical detail and vocabulary. The younger students pick up the basic concepts while using the pieces as if they were construction kits. At all levels, students work together in teams of two with a kit, following the illustrated instructions in the booklets, led by an instructor.

Creating these models of DNA and protein subunits (nucleotides and amino acids) and the lesson plans has been my focus for many years. The early versions of these models were created from LEGO components while I was a science teacher in Lexington, Massachusetts, USA. I would like to acknowledge the support of the MIT Edgerton Center and the MIT Center for Environmental Health Sciences (NIH-NIEHS Core Center Grant P30-ES002109), as well as the contributions of Prof. J. Kim Vandiver in the models’ injection mold design and of Dr. Amanda Mayer in the booklets’ graphic design.

Website and information:

Ordering information about the DNA/ RNA and Protein Sets:

Kathleen M. Vandiver, Ph.D., M.Ed. is currently the Director of the Community Outreach Education and Engagement Core at the Center for Environmental Health Sciences at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

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