DNA Part One – With Fear and Trembling

strawberrySome of you may know that as a Classical Conversations Challenge II Director, along with tutoring the students through subjects for which I have a personal affinity, I must also work with them on their Biology.  Now, Biology is a perfectly respectable, and may I say, necessary subject for high school students. However, it was the one subject I avoided at all costs during my own high school career, managing to take what amounted to a Biology For Dummies class in college in order to fulfill graduation requirements and hoping upon passing the class to never have to revisit it.

It’s not the dissection.  I have control of my gag reflex, so I can dissect.  I can even appreciate the marvels of anatomy that we are exploring as we dissect, and last year I actually had a lot of fun guiding the students through their microscope labs and dissections.

It’s just that it’s not my thing.  I soar through pages of Brit Lit, revel in the trips to art museums, sing my way through the history of music, and delight in Latin declensions and conjugations. I have fun with Algebra and rejoice in Logic, enjoying the whole rule-ishness of those subjects. I even look forward to hearing from Francis Schaeffer and his knee socks in the “How Should We Then Live” videos we watch in class.   All of that falls right where I live, so tutoring from that place is warm and comfortable and enjoyable.

Biology, however…. inside me there is a voice crying out, “Don’t make the English teacher teach Biology!  What are you THINKING???”   The day that a couple of students had to correct me when I referred to a frog as a mammal only served to reinforce my fear.

I am learning and growing from the experience of Biology, though, right along with my students, and I am appreciating the subject.  This being my second year, I figured it would be a walk in the park.

But then They went and changed things.  They added An Experiment to the curriculum. And not a simple baking soda/vinegar volcano type experiment.  A DNA Extraction Experiment.  “So Simple You Can Do It At Home,” They said.

Okay, but, you have to understand, you know those Pinterest recipes and then the photos people post of the disasters that occur when they try to copy them?  Yes. That’s me.  Every time.  Every FAIL photo you’ve ever seen, that could have been taken by me. This is what happens when I try to follow directions.  My experiments over the years, both culinary and scientific, have generally contributed only to the fine-tuning of my sense of humor.

And now They want me to extract DNA from some strawberries.

And since the lab is looming in a few days, I really, really have to try it at home soon.  After procrastinating most of the weekend, I sat down just now to at least read over the directions.  Okay, first paragraph is fine… just an overview of DNA.  Then they mention a YouTube video.  I can do that.  I can watch a YouTube video.  This is good – I can actually SEE someone go through this, instead of trying to interpret words that might mean something different to the person who wrote the directions.

There is a List of Materials, too… resealable plastic bag, strawberries, dish detergent (WAIT!! FREEZE!!! Is that hand dish detergent or automatic dishwasher detergent?  Will that matter?  Oh no…. Deep breath.  Okay, they would have said automatic dishwasher detergent if they meant that, right?  Surely they would have.)… the rest of the stuff isn’t so hard. Wait… except “Ice cold 90% rubbing alcohol.”  Dang.  I’m going to have to go find the rubbing alcohol now, AND I’m going to have to see if I can find a percentage on the label.  And then I’m going to have to make it ice cold. (WAIT!! Does that mean as cold as ice?  Like, frozen?  Or does that mean, throw some ice cubes in it?  As in ice-cold water? Surely I just have to chill it?)

Popsicle-SticksI find myself stymied, in the end, by the last thing on the list: 1 wooden popsicle stick or plastic coffee stirrer.

I don’t have any of those in the house.  We throw out our popsicle sticks when we are done eating our popsicles, thank you very much.  And we stir our coffee, like civilized people, with a teaspoon.  Now, I know some things about popsicle sticks and coffee stirrers from my days of trying to do crafts with the children when they were younger (and trust me, the only thing I’m less comfortable with than experiments is crafts.  I banned play-doh and glitter glue years ago.  My girls learned at an early age to get their crafting materials from the recycling bin. I like to think this built character.)  At any rate, the most important thing I have learned about these items is that you cannot buy them in units.  They only come in mega-giant-jumbo-5000-piece family-sized boxes. I am not going to invest in 5000 popsicle sticks for the sake of science.  It’s just not going to happen.

So at this point, I’m about ready to pitch the whole experiment.

Or maybe I can go “study” down at the local Starbucks and use the little green stick they give you to stop your coffee from splashing out the mouthhole on the lid. It occurs to me that there should be a more succinct term for these little green sticks than that. My heart leaps as I realize I have a reason to do a word study on the Internet.

However, my strawberries, if I don’t conquer this soon, will have molded before I can extract anything from them, which would be okay, but we did the mold lab a few weeks ago.  (Just for the record, I grew some BEAUTIFUL mold for that lab.  None of my “Mom’s Mold Experiment – Do Not Throw Away” items produced even a speck of mold, but the stuff I found at the back of the fridge produced some excellent specimens.  It’s a gift.)

I must conquer the DNA.  I must extract the chromosomes and become one with the octoploid genomes.

Or maybe the kids will learn much, much more if I do this for the first time in class on Thursday…

—- to be continued—

Categories: Education, Family, Homeschooling | Tags: | 4 Comments

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4 thoughts on “DNA Part One – With Fear and Trembling

  1. Pingback: DNA – The Saga Continues | Julia's Inner Monologue

  2. Reblogged this on In Search Of The Wonder and commented:

    Since I have four blogs, I’m not always clear in my head. That is, I’m not always clear in my head when typing them, as to which blog should be the platform. And once they are published, it’s too late to change. So here is the first of a four-part series inspired by a Classical Conversations Challenge II Biology experiment — you can find the rest of the series once you get there.

  3. Kudos to you for writing four different blogs! I’m lucky to keep even one afloat! Fascinating to read of extracting DNA…not an easy feat, as I can read from your post. Very creative on your part and an enjoyable read for me.

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