Jeanine Nakakura
1993 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute


"Where do I begin?" is often the first thing that comes to mind when teachers delve into unexplored territory. It is also easy for teachers to fall into a rut and not try new things due to a lack of time, energy, money, or courage. We have all been beginning teachers at one time or another. Trying to incorporate biotechnology into "traditional" biology classes is also like beginning again. Remember that first year of teaching? To make it easier for neophyte teachers to incorporate biotechnology into their curricula, two groups of teachers were surveyed. The first group, beginning biotech teachers, were asked what they would like to know to make biotech teaching less stressful and more accessible to them. The second group, experienced biotech teachers, were asked for hints/tips/suggestions that they felt would make teaching biotech easier for someone starting from scratch. Listed below are some hints, tips, suggestions, resources, suppliers, and words of wisdom to make beginning biotechnology in your classroom more user-friendly.


Varies with each individual activity you choose. Check teacher guide for more info.


Varies with the activities you choose to do. See teacher guides for each individual activity. Listed below is the bare minimum equipment needed to start teaching biotechnology-related activities in your classroom (according to experienced biotech teachers).


(prices are approximate, subject to change, and do not include shipping and handling)

  • One electrophoresis kit with power supply ($400) OR see Desktop Electrophoresis by Addie Jackson in this module to make your own inexpensive electrophoresis apparatus ($15).

  • Glass test tubes with plastic caps (also known as culture tubes, bacteriological, screw cap) cheap, reusable, and sterilizable. (16mm x 125mm, 144 or $150)

  • Biotechnology kit for DNA Extraction ($60)

  • Luria broth agar (ready to pour for 20 plates, $20/dehydrated 500g, $32)

  • Pasteur pipettes, 9 inch ($10 for 250)

  • Serological pipettes, 1 and 5 ml ($46 for 200 1-ml, $33 for 100 5-ml)

  • Inoculation loops (12 for $12)

  • Kit for Transformation ($70)

  • Restriction enzyme kit ($70)

  • Petri dishes, disposable (100 x 10mm, 120 for $29)

  • Miscellaneous--refer to aseptic/sterile technique module for basic equipment. Also, review safety section before beginning any experiments.


  • DNA isolation/spooling (calf thymus and lima beans)

  • Genetic Code

  • How restriction enzymes work; recombinant DNA (will give students a concrete example of what they'll be learning in labs)

  • Gel Electrophoresis (directions should come with kit, see Desktop Electrophoresis in this module, or check DNA Science for description) AP students can do it on their own; do it as a demo for other levels of classes; have students make a video describing the process.)

  • How Electrophoresis Works (Food Coloring)

  • Karyotyping

  • Transformation of DNA

  • DNA Models--The Use of Models in Teaching Biotechnology

  • Serial dilutions made clear and easy

  • Creative Genetic Engineering

  • A Big Forensics Activity

  • Analogies used to teach biochemical concepts

  • Creative ways to connect DNA and Evolution

  • Plant Protoplast Lab

  • Ethnobotany, drug development, ethical issues

  • Transgenic plants, Social/Ethical Issues

  • Epidemiology Model with candy and bacterial culture


    Grants are the way to go if your departmental, district, and/or state school budgets are tight. Suggestions in grant-getting from a discussion with Dr. Donald Cronkite and teachers from this institute are listed below.

    Look through the grant-givers' glasses to see the world with their eyes. Money-givers have interests and goals for their programs. Think: What does the agency want to accomplish?

    Learn about the foundation. Look at literature about the foundations, read, see what's possible, talk to people in the foundation.

    Remember: grants are provided because the foundation wants something accomplished.

    Follow directions (# of pages, info required, etc. . .). Spell correctly, write clearly, and have a specific budget. Justify your budget--are you really going to use everything? Look at questions carefully.

    Find a grant that fits you--don't try to fit yourself to the grant. Write an "I wish . . ." list with what you want to do and why (ex. more field trips, electrophoresis equipment, workshops for other teachers, etc. . .). Start with an idea first, then find the grant. Don't let the grant set your agenda.

    Explore what grant opportunities there are. Go to a college library and look at the Foundation Index and Grant Index. Look in the NSTA journal.

    Start early and find people to critique your grant proposals.

    You can use the same info for some sections of grants (like the intro).

    Find successful people and talk to them. They can give you hints.

    When you get turned down, write your grant again (revise).

    Don't put salaries on budget--put money into supplies and equipment.


  • If you teach physics or have access to power supplies, you may not need to order them for gel electrophoresis.

  • Buy kits the first year just to get started--you'll have everything you need there, have less stress prepping for the first time, and "you know it's gonna work."

  • Other teachers said that "I'm not proud of it" but "when you have nothing, kits give kids a good experience."

  • Buy one set-up (ex. gel electrophoresis) the first year and use it as a demo. You can acquire more set-ups as money permits you to.

  • Universities and hospitals are possible sources of equipment and materials . . . see if you can talk to them and start a relationship.

  • Some words of courage, "It's not unusual to fail" and "You need attitude-I don't care if it fails or not".

  • Ask for brochures and info from biotech companies in your area, then show them to your students to let them know what's going on in the real world.

  • Get used to using bacteria and viruses--it's cost-effective (just agar), results can be seen the next day, results can be kept in refrigerator for extended periods, students learn good, sound techniques.

  • Many teachers said they share and rotate sets of electrophoresis equipment within a district--not always easy or practical to do but sometimes there is no other choice.

  • To save money, re-sterilize test tubes, pipettes, etc. . .


    Companies that experienced teachers order equipment from: (see appendix for addresses)

  • Carolina Biological Supply Company
  • Sigma
  • Science Kit and Boreal Laboratories
  • Modern Biology
  • BioRad
  • Gibco BRL


    DNA Science (gives a good, basic understanding of the principles behind biotechnology labs in easy-to-comprehend style)

    Biotechnology Sourcebook (NSTA) (highly recommended by experienced biotech teachers)

    AP Biology Lab Book (so-so labs, most teachers supplement it with their own activities)

    Biotechnology Activities--Massachusetts Biotechnology Resource Institute

    Biotechnology Unit--St Louis Math and Science Education Center

    Woodrow Wilson Index

    Activities Exchange Index

    Custom Search on the AE Site