Blogging About Breeding Evidence

Vocabulary. Diagrams to label. More vocabulary. More diagrams. For students and adults alike, this is the traditional vision of biology class. But biology is much more than static words and drawings: it’s a living product of the work of many individuals conducting investigations and discussing the results.

Geniverse Home Screen

In the rapidly changing world of genetics and bioinformatics, the dynamic, evolving nature of scientific discovery is clear. DNA sequencing data has continued to double every 14 months for the past 20 years. Massive databases are filled with partially analyzed data generated in high-volume experiments. These data provide new opportunities for active science to take place. Bioinformatics researchers can conduct experiments simply by examining mountains of publicly available data for clues to unanswered questions.

The Concord Consortium’s Geniverse project, funded by the National Science Foundation, is a collaboration with the Jackson Laboratory, the Maine Mathematics and Science Alliance, TERC, and BSCS. Geniverse extends the Concord Consortium’s long history of genetics software to build on these two ideas — the importance of understanding biology as an active, experiment-driven science and the new dynamics created by large amounts of bioinformatics data. Students conduct breeding experiments within a fanciful game-based environment and interact within an online community of fellow student scientists.

Enter the narrative world of dragons

Students work both individually and in lab groups to solve cases in a world of dragons and their model organisms called drakes, a relationship patterned after the use of mice as model organisms for studying human genetics. For example, students may encounter a disease among the dragon population and be given the task of determining where a gene for the disease is located. Students breed drakes, examine breeding statistics, and draw conclusions. While students are guided toward the right process, the game doesn’t simply tell them the right answer. Instead, students must discuss and convince each other that their conclusions are correct.

Members of a lab group gather evidence by doing a set of breeding experiments necessary to support their idea, then they post an experimental claim to the group blog. Students submit these claims through a scaffolded form that requires them to provide three important elements for their argument: 1) their claim, 2) supporting experimental evidence, and 3) their associated reasoning.

A scientific community

Blogging helps students develop scientific argumentation skills as they share ideas and comment on fellow student scientists’ claims. They can link to breeding records or upload annotated screenshots as direct evidence to support their claims. Students engage in the joint development and adoption of ideas found within a thriving scientific community.

Students enter the game as trainees in the Global Guild of Geneticists, working their way through the ranks to become apprentices, journeymen, or masters as they solve increasingly complex challenges that require them to understand and apply the concepts of modern genetics. As students complete more challenges, the data from their experiments mounts, just as in current bioinformatics studies. Students who gain proficiency and enter into more open-ended challenges also gain wider access to this store of past data, so that they can eventually conduct experiments simply by filtering, examining, and processing these data themselves.

Currently students can examine the processes of inheritance and the cellularlevel interaction of chromosomes during meiosis. Future strands of the game will allow students to extend their breeding experiments to involve DNA sequencing and expand the experimental database to permit analysis of DNA sequence and protein data. By providing a scientifically faithful, full-featured environment for examining genetics, Geniverse places students in the center of the action, helping them to experience biology as a much richer enterprise than yet another vocabulary quiz.

Chad Dorsey ( is President of the Concord Consortium.
Frieda Reichsman ( directs the Geniverse project.

This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under grant DRL-0918522. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.