Genetic Reassortment Game (v1.0) #STEMchallenge
1 Observe variation
Choose a kind of animal, say dogs, or you can use humans. Ask children to draw a least four different versions of these animals. (All children should do the same animal, or you could break them into groups at this point and let each group of 2-4 children pick an animal which can be group specific.) Ask them to think about the ways that these animals can differ, for example in size, hair color, eye color, etc. Encourage them to think of around four ways in which animals differ. (Note that we're looking for intrinsic properties, not things like where they live, which aren't genetic.) See examples on the STEMHacks.org page.
In this step children will create the genetic material that goes with each of their animals. Materials required are just paper, multicolored pens or crayons, and scissors. Please see the STEMHacks.org page for details on how to do this. The idea is to take each animal picture and create a genetic basis for these. This will work best if you have pre-prepared the game squares for marking and cutting so that the "puzzle pieces" will fit together in the appropriate way when they are separated. After marking, cut up all the pieces to form the genetic puzzle parts. See examples on the STEMHacks.org post.
3 Playing the game
In this step (which is repeated as many times as desired) children form "hybridization pairs" within their group, preferably randomly (e.g., by drawing straws, etc.) Each child chooses one animal to begin their community with. The animals "mate" ("hybridize") by piling all the genetic material from their respective animals. Then (here is the critical step) randomly reassort them (i.e., randomly choose enough genetic puzzle pieces) to create new baby animals from the mating event. Draw what the baby animal will look like in accord with the mating/hybridization/reassortment event. (See examples at STEMHacks.org) This step should be repeated at least three times (including the new babies in the mix) so that students can observe the process. Note that you have to create additional genetic material playing pieces for each baby.
4 Optional Exploration: Environmental Pressures
What happens when there is some sort of environmental pressure that reduces the fitness of some animals? After each mating round, leader/teacher creates selection pressures that "kill" babies with certain characteristics. Play a few rounds with either constant or variable selection pressures. (Usually leaders/teacher has to make these up on the fly to match the animals/traits created by the students.)
5 Optional Exploration: Directed (Selective) Hybridization
Allow students to select which animals to hybridize in order to try to improve fitness for a (constant) environmental selective pressure.
6 Optional Exploration: Growth of Communities
With multiple rounds, observe how the community of organisms expands and what features tend to spread (best with with constant selective pressure).