Using simple manipulatives to improve student comprehension of a complex biological process: Protein synthesis

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Abstract

Biological systems and living processes involve a complex interplay of biochemicals and macromolecular structures that can be challenging for undergraduate students to comprehend and, thus, misconceptions abound. Protein synthesis, or translation, is an example of a biological process for which students often hold many misconceptions. This article describes an exercise that was developed to illustrate the process of translation using simple objects to represent complex molecules. Animations, 3D physical models, computer simulations, laboratory experiments and classroom lectures are also used to reinforce the students' understanding of translation, but by focusing on the simple manipulatives in this exercise, students are better able to visualize concepts that can elude them when using the other methods. The translation exercise is described along with suggestions for background material, questions used to evaluate student comprehension and tips for using the manipulatives to identify common misconceptions.

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