Miro Puhek
Sinergise, laboratory for geographical information systems, Ltd., Teslova ulica 30, Ljubljana, Slovenia
Andrej Šorgo
Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics, University of Maribor, Koroška cesta 160, Maribor, Slovenia
Keywords: Mendelian Genetics, Virtual laboratory, Simulations, Competences, ICT.
Abstract: Over years of growing peas Gregor Mendel set the basis of modern genetics. When he was comparing
different peas he used problem based activities and practical work. All these methods can be described as
key activities for developing competences. With these activities students tend to gain more knowledge and
the teachers do not have to worry that students would be under challenged. While it is hard to expect that
teachers will turn classes into gardens to grow peas, the virtual experiments are far more reachable. The
cooperation between Sinergise and Faculty of Natural Sciences and Mathematics results in developing
interactive virtual environment that will stimulate students to actively learn about science. With the exercise
Mendelian Genetics students have to solve problems that they are introduced to and consequently at the
same time learn new terms connected with Mendelian genetics. The virtual exercise was created to stimulate
the development of various competences, important in natural sciences. In the paper we presented the virtual
exercise, which was initially tested on 31 students in second grade of lower secondary school. Results show
that students did not come across extraordinary difficulties while working on it. When working on the
explanation of the problem, the exercise helped the students with less knowledge.
The salvation of different challenges and active
student’s participation in the educational process
represent the foundation of encouragement of
critical thinking and problem based learning (Prince,
2004; Savery, 2006). With active work learning
changes from collecting facts and memorization to
increase of inquiry and development of
competences. Competences cannot be learned, but
students have to develop them through active
engagement (Špernjak and Šorgo, 2009). Practical
work, such as usually found in laboratory and field
work, is recognized as the method where students
can achieve subject through active participation.
The Slovenian curriculum for genetics in the
primary school defines genetics as the link of theory
and practice, based on the student’s experiential
learning and their personal activity (Verčkovnik,
2000). Under the key methods are defined:
laboratory and experimental work, individual and
guided observation, work on projects and cultivation
of organisms.
An example of that kind of work is Mendel’s
crossing thousands of peas in order to observe the
transmission of characteristics on the offspring
(Blumberg, 1997). With inquiry on growing peas,
Mendel set the basis of modern genetics. Because of
limited budget the school is unable to guarantee the
sources and time that are needed for development of
numerous generations of plants and animals. The
teachers can now substitute this lack by introducing
the information communication technology (ICT) in
the classrooms. In the concept of classical
experimental work as well as in the virtual work
there can be differentiated between completely
guided type of work (like cookbook) and work that
encourages students to inquire the world around
them (hands-on activities). Good examples of
Puhek M. and Šorgo A..
DOI: 10.5220/0003336103900393
In Proceedings of the 3rd International Conference on Computer Supported Education (CSEDU-2011), pages 390-393
ISBN: 978-989-8425-49-2
2011 SCITEPRESS (Science and Technology Publications, Lda.)
didactical tools are attractive and encourage the
curiosity of students (Fancovicová, 2010). They do
not only demand dull clicking (Špernjak et al.,
2010), but are supposed to illustrate theoretical
concepts in practice (Huang, 2004).
The purpose of the paper is to present the virtual
exercise Mendelian Genetics and initial results of
testing in the classroom. The exercise could be used,
not only in the classrooms, but also as addition to the
field work. The main aim during the development
was the need to increase the students to get to the
knowledge with active work and solving little
problems to overcome an obstacle – to learn
Mendels’ laws. The exercise would be used in the
virtual environment that we are developing at
When developing the virtual exercises the main aim
represented the active inclusion of students and
achievement of higher cognitive skills. According to
Boerwinkel et al. (2008) we choose Labrador
retrievers as the object of experiment, because they
show importance for the students, society and
science. Through the case of Labradors the students
can become aware that science is not only learned in
school, but is present all the time in everyday life.
Exercise could be later expended with other objects,
especially when it will be used with outdoor
Pilot testing of the virtual exercise was made on
a small sample of students (N=31) in the second
grade of the lower secondary school. The teacher
used the exercise in the end of the class hour as a
tool to renew the gained knowledge. To increase the
debate between the students, the exercise was
purposely tested in the “classical” biology classroom
with one computer that was projecting material on
the wall. Additionally, the students were asked to fill
out the work sheets and the evaluation form to
validate the exercise.
The basic view of the virtual exercise Mendelian
Genetics is presented in the Figure 1. The exercise
can be divided into five different parts (A, B, C, D
and E), where students learn about the basic
Mendelian principles of the first and second
Mendel’s law – Law of Segregation and Law of
Independent Assortment. When students finish one
chapter, they can continue with the next one. This
principle forces them to be active if they want to
gain feedback, which is presented through picture of
the parent or the offspring.
Figure 1: The basic view of the virtual exercise Mendelian
Genetics with the markings of different tasks: A) menu
with the explanations; B) selecting the genotypes and the
matching colour of parents; C) crossing; D) defining the
missing genotypes in the Punnett square; and E) matching
randomly selected genotype with appropriate phenotype.
Part A serves as an introduction to the problem
and as the basic menu to choose the type of crossing.
The students are introduced to the terms alleles,
monohybrid and dihybrid crossing. An explanation
of different alleles used in the exercise is described
in the legend. In the part B, students deal with the
terms genotype and phenotype. The problem that has
to be solved is to decode the genotype of each parent
and link it with the matched colour. Students can
observe the difference between the dominant alleles
that are usually seen on the outside and the recessive
alleles that are hidden behind them. If the answer
that the student selects is correct, the picture of
parent shows up. The progress to part C and the
possibility to cross the selected dogs is enabled,
when pictures of both parents are showed. During
the salvation of the problem students meet the terms
gametes and the Punnett square. Between the stage
C and D the teacher can ask the students to predict
the breeding results, where the right gametes in the
Punnett square have to be included. A similar
problem is presented in the part D, where some
genotypes in the Punnett square are hidden and
students have to guess them. At this point it has to
be said that the answer is case sensitive and the
order of different gametes is also important. In the
final stage of the virtual exercise (part E), the
marked genotype should be connected with the right
phenotype from the drop-down list. The marked area
is selected randomly. If teacher wants to choose
another one, the problem can be launched again and
again with clicking on the button. Again, if the
answer is correct, the picture of the chosen Labrador
offspring is shown. With the help of pictures that
present the carriers of different pigments, the dogs
can be defined as homozygous and heterozygous
organisms. With this knowledge they can later
calculate the frequencies of different phenotypes to
support the Mendel’s hypothesis.
In the virtual exercise Mendelian Genetics we put
the students into the shoes of modern Gregor Johann
Mendel, the Austrian priest and the “father” of
modern genetics. Instead of peas, students are
breeding virtual Labradors. The exercise is
developed interactively to support critical thinking
and active learning approach. Anderson and
Krathmohl’s taxonomy of the cognition (Anderson
et al., 2001) represented the core of the development
of the exercise. Through working on the exercise
the students are practicing different levels of
cognitive domains (Table 2). With the help of well
known breed of the dog, the science can be brought
into the classroom and the exploration of different
Mendelian principles can begin.
After the biology hour the students were asked to
support us with the answers when the work with
exercise was difficult and when attractive, to give us
the disadvantages and advantages of the exercise.
59 % students declared that working with exercise
was fun and enjoyable. 22% did not like working
with it and 19% were unable to decide. The students
were asked to give comments about the exercise and
it was interesting that they did not only
acknowledged the different learning approach but
also defined this kind of learning as easier to
understand a difficult learning material. Frequent
answer was also that they like “new” type of
learning, which has shown them the genetics from
different perspective. In next par they declared that
81 % did not face any difficulties with usage and 19
% were unable to decide.
Table 2: Anderson and Krathmohl’s taxonomy of the
cognition in context of the exercise Mendelian Genetics.
Anderson and
Task in exercise
Part of the
(A, B, C,
D and E)
1. remembering
to define an allele A
2. understanding
to differentiate
between mono- and
dihybrid crossing
3. applying
to connect the
genotype with true
B, E
4. analyzing
to analyze the
Punnet square and
fill the missing gaps
5. evaluating
to predict the result
in Punnett Square
6. creating
to use the exercise
and create desired
colour of the breed
work sheet
Majority of students as advantage agreed that
virtual tools helped them to understand the problem
and provide answers. Based on the gained results we
can conclude that students with less knowledge tend
to express more interest than students with better
knowledge. Additional important answers were that
virtual tools are fun and as that more attractive to
use when learning. As disadvantages students
described the exercise as not understandable, which
includes the technical part of the exercise. With the
knowledge that students generally like working and
learning with the computers (Špernjak et al., 2010),
we were surprised that an answer suggested a lack of
interest towards computer work. Students with better
understanding of Mendelian genetics showed less
interest in the exercise as students to whom the
problem was harder to understand. An additional
problem occurred that some students were unable to
distinguish between learning and playing with
computers, which indicates that some students found
the exercise not interesting.
The presented virtual exercise was primary
developed as a helping tool for understanding
Mendelian genetics. The field of genetics introduces
numerous new terms (alleles, phenotype,
monohybridous organisms, Punnett square etc.),
which are abstract to the students and therefore
CSEDU 2011 - 3rd International Conference on Computer Supported Education
present difficulties understanding this complex
The virtual exercise Mendelian Genetics can be
used as an independent laboratory exercise, which is
performed in virtual environment, or as addition to
classical laboratory or even field work. With the
exercise it is also possible to verify the hypothesis as
the preparation for a new class or to refresh
knowledge that was already gained. The exercise
Mendelian Genetics is designed like a self-running
program, which does not need internet access to
work. This makes it a good practicing tool for
students to refresh knowledge before the exam.
The initial testing, performed on students of
lower secondary school (subject Biology), showed
that majority of students did not have problems with
the work on the virtual exercise and like the new
way of learning. We also have to evaluate the pretest
and posttest results to measure the effect of
simulation on knowledge. The gained feedback will
enable improvements of the virtual environment that
we are developing at Sinergise.
We gratefully acknowledge the support for this
research through European social fund (grant # MR-
10/10). Exercise was tested with the help of the
project “Development of Science Competences”,
which was partly supported through the Ministry of
Education and Sport of Republic of Slovenia and the
European social fund.
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