DNA Projects for Middle School

Instructor: David Wood

David has taught Honors Physics, AP Physics, IB Physics and general science courses. He has a Masters in Education, and a Bachelors in Physics.

DNA is a distinctive and important molecule. Students can explore DNA through a series of fun, hands-on projects. Here are some ideas to get you started.

Middle School DNA Projects

DNA (otherwise known as deoxyribonucleic acid) is a pretty vital molecule. It's vital because it contains most of the genetic instructions necessary for the creation and growth of living organisms like humans. It's like an instruction book for how to build our bodies. However because it's an instruction book, it's also pretty complicated. As middle school students start to learn about DNA, there are many ways that we can keep things fun, simple, interesting, and engaging. Project-based learning gives us a particularly good opportunity to do this. What follows is a series of ideas for possible projects your students can complete about DNA.

DNA Models

One of the most fun projects for students to work on is a project involving the modeling of DNA. DNA has a double helix structure, which is especially distinctive and makes for some interesting models and art projects. Students can build a model of DNA from all kinds of different materials. They could build it from Popsicle sticks and foam balls, coloring each half of the Popsicle sticks to represent the different base pairs. They could build it out of Legos, or by twisting pipe cleaners.

They could even create a model of DNA out of candy - whether marshmallows and twizzlers, or jellybeans and gumdrops. With the candy version, they can look forward to eating their creations when they're done. You can end by having students vote on their favorite model among the whole class.

DNA Extraction

Another DNA project involves extracting DNA. There are many sets of online instructions detailing how to set up an experiment where students extract DNA using nothing more than saltwater, dish soap, pineapple juice, and alcohol. You will also need equipment like a freezer, containers and implements. Students end up with a wispy spool of thin white strings, inside which there are chains of DNA.

Students can also learn about what each step in the DNA extraction process did, and how it works. You can even have students create posters summarizing the experiment, or create presentations to give to their class or other classes.

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