Exposure to genetic and biochemical experiments typically occurs late in one's academic career. By the time a student has the opportunity to select specialized courses in these areas, many have already developed negative attitudes towards the sciences. Given little or no direct experience with the fields of genetics and biochemistry, it is likely that many young people rule these out as potential areas of study or career path. To address this problem, we developed a seven-week (~1 hour per week) hands-on course to introduce fifth grade students to basic concepts in genetics and biochemistry. These young students performed a series of investigations (ranging from examining phenotypic variation, in vitro enzymatic assays and yeast genetic experiments) to explore scientific reasoning through direct experimentation. Despite the challenging material, the vast majority of students successfully completed each experiment, and most students reported that the experience increased their interest in science. Additionally, the experiments within the 7 week program are easily performed by instructors with basic skills in biological sciences. As such, this program can be implemented by others motivated to achieve a broader impact by increasing the accessibility of their university, and communicating to a young audience a positive impression of the sciences and the potential for science as a career.

  • Received September 30, 2011.
  • Accepted November 22, 2011.