Kathleen Gerth uses anything and everything to teach her seventh- and eighth-grade students at Dater High School in Cincinnati about chemistry, astronomy and physical science.
Hula hoops demonstrate atoms. Board games help with proficiency tests. And Gerth performs a mean rendition of the “Metric Macarena.” So when the 1988 graduate needed a hands-on approach to learning genetics, she turned to Cootie, a board game that lets players build plastic bugs using snap-on heads, lips, antennae and tongues.
“Activities were mostly paper and pencil,” she says. “I wanted to develop a hands-on one so the students could actually see why living things look the way they do, why siblings could appear not to have any similar features.”
For the assessment, Gerth randomly assigns traits to each Cootie part whereby a roller skate-clad foot may be recessive while a gym shoe-clad foot may be dominant. Each part is sketched on paper cut according to the donor: squares for dad, circles for mom. Students receive a packet of these shapes and determine which parent donated certain traits by assembling their Cootie according to their findings.
The idea was so popular that Gerth took the modified game to Dallas for the National Science Teacher Association convention in April.