STEM Tuesday– Genetics– In the Classroom

This month’s theme ties in with a few of my interests/hobbies. An amateur genealogist, I was recently reading about the use of genetics in genealogy. As a nature lover and Environmental Science merit badge counselor, I’m constantly hearing about the effects of biodiversity (or lack thereof) on the environment. These interests impacted the books I chose to read this month.

Book Cover for Saving The Tasmanian Devil

Saving the Tasmanian Devil: How Science Is Helping the World’s Largest Marsupial Carnivore Survive by Dorothy Hinshaw Patent
Tasmanian devils are threatened by a disease that defies genetics. This book follows the author as she learns about the disease and how scientists are working to save the species.


CRISPR: A Powerful Way to Change DNA by Yolanda Ridge, illustrated by Alex Boersma
The book delves into CRISPR technology and how it can be used to modify DNA. It’s packed with interesting scenarios and questions about ethics.


BIODiversityBiodiversity: Explore the Diversity of Life on Earth with Environmental Science Activities for Kids by Laura Perdew, illustrated by Tom Casteel
Biodiversity is the variety of living things in an environment. This book explores biodiversity with a host of hands-on activities.


Bonus – This topic also ties in with a book I read for October’s STEM Tuesday theme.
Champion, The Comeback Tale of the American Chestnut Tree by Sally M Walker
To read about this book, check out this post:

Some of this month’s books have activities built into them. There’s a lot to explore there. Here are a few more ideas to extend or add to those.

Research and Speculate or Debate

There are lots of questions asked in CRISPR. For instance, in Chapter 4, while discussing the options available for modifying mosquito genes to get rid of malaria, there are the following questions:

“[S]hould humans really get to decide whether an entire species will live or die? Who decides which pests are pesty enough to get rid of, and who makes sure the technology is limited to bugs?”

Mosquitoes are carriers for some serious diseases, but what if editing their genes wiped them out? What would that do to the food web? Do a little research to see if you can find out what role mosquitoes play in the ecosystem.

How are other animals impacted by the diseases mosquitoes carry? What would happen if we wiped out those diseases? How would biodiversity be impacted?

Once you’ve done a little research, speculate or debate. Speculate on what you think might happen in the different scenarios where genetically modified mosquitoes are unleashed on the world. Debate whether or not you think we have the right to do so.

If you don’t want to explore this topic, pick one of the other topics raised in one of this month’s books. (Each chapter in CRISPR has at least one topic worthy of a deep-dive.)

Go Sci-Fi

“What If?” is a common question to ask when plotting fiction stories. Many “What if?” questions come to mind when reading up on the topic of genetics. Chapter 10 of CRISPR includes a few futuristic scenes that could be used as a Sci-Fi writing prompt. Pick a genetics-based What If? and write a science fiction story based on it.

Here’s a blog post that gives some good advice:

Explore Family Genetics

One fun way to explore genetics is to look into inherited traits. There are many published activities out there. Here are a few to start with.
This page – – has several genetics activities. Perhaps start with “An Inventory of My Traits.”

If you want, explore traits among family members. “A Tree of Genetic Traits” from the previous website does this. Another similar activity is:

Even if a child is adopted, they may share inherited traits with their adoptive parents. If not, maybe they can predict which traits they are likely to pass on to any children they might have.

Janet smiling while holding a butterflyJanet Slingerland is the author of over 20 books for young readers. Her latest project involves increasing the biodiversity in her yard by planting a wide variety of native plants. To find out more about Janet and her books, check out

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