DNA to Protein

Concord Consortium
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Tutorial , Simulation , Model
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.


This online interactive module of 10 pages or frames integrates textual information, 3D molecular models, interactive molecular simulations, and embedded assessment items to guide students in understanding the copying of DNA base sequences from translation to transcription into proteins within each cell. The module divides the exercises in to Day 1 and Day 2 time frames. Teachers can view student assessment responses by assigning the module within a class created within the Molecular Workbench application. This Java-based module must be downloaded to each computer. An important note is that user data is not saved unless students and teachers sign up through an available project portal called “Innovative Technology in Science Inquiry”: http://itsi.portal.concord.org/home

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 12
  • Grade 11
  • Grade 10
Access Restrictions

Free access with user action - The right to view and/or download material without financial barriers but users are required to register or experience some other low-barrier to use.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS1-1 Construct an explanation based on evidence for how the structure of DNA determines the structure of proteins which carry out the essential functions of life through systems of specialized cells.

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include identification of specific cell or tissue types, whole body systems, specific protein structures and functions, or the biochemistry of protein synthesis.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Tips for Including the Performance Expectation
The module explicitly addresses the Performance Expectation as students analyze models of the molecular structure of DNA and the processes involved with DNA serving as the template for transcription and translation of DNA to RNA to proteins. The module begins by having students explore DNA’s double helix structure in an interactive 3D model. Subsequent animations of 2D molecular models of transcription and translation and interactive simulations take students through the process to the formation of segments of proteins. Teachers may want to help students connect 3D models to 2D models by showing both types of model of the same molecule and asking students to identify the same parts of the molecule in both models. Simulations and models describing mutations in a similar format are provided. Students also work with frameshift and silent mutations and substitutions, deletions and insertions. While the concept of mutations and their effects is not directly addressed in the performance expectation, engaging students in this portion of the model may help students better understand the connections between DNA, transcription, translation, and proteins, and how these processes can be affected by mutations. Throughout the module students are asked to construct explanations of various processes using the information they have gathered from the models they have examined.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Tips for Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The module explicitly engages students in using 2D molecular representations, 3D interactive molecular models, and interactive simulations to answer questions to illustrate interactions among the components of the cell to make a protein. It should be noted that students do not generate the models but use the models that are provided. The functions of the nucleus and ribosomes are included and illustrated. The module asks students to snapshot/capture their answers to specific questions throughout. This is done for students to show their understanding of the different steps in this process and the relationship between the steps. Students are also asked to answer explicit questions about what they have captured as evidence of their understanding of protein synthesis from the DNA template. A thirteen page teacher guide is included and provides thoughts on possible student misconceptions, discussion questions emphasizing main concepts and extension ideas. An example of a question provided in the teacher guide that expands the information, “Where does transcription take place in an eukaryotic cell? Where does translation take place in a eukaryotic cell? What would be an advantage of this arrangement?" Teachers can combine/modify some of the final questions, so that the questions are asking students to construct explanations of the processes, based on what they learned from analyzing the models throughout the activity. Several of the extension ideas could also be utilized to make this module suitable for an honors or a more advanced high school biology class.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Tips for Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The module implicitly addresses the Disciplinary Core Idea by providing students the opportunity to work through the steps of protein synthesis. The teacher will have to support students in making the connection between a gene as a specific region of DNA for coding of a protein.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Tips for Including the Crosscutting Concept
A large part of this module focuses on what happens to the structure of proteins when different types of mutations occur, and students have the opportunity to practice working with each of the different types of mutations described. Changes in nucleotides, codons, and anticodons as a result of mutations are included and the effects of these changes on the resulting amino acid sequence are illustrated. By analyzing the effects of changes in the DNA sequence on the RNA and proteins coded by the DNA, students can develop an understanding of how the structure of DNA allows it to carry out its function in the cell.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This module facilitates three-dimensional learning and aligns directly with the relevant NGSS performance expectation. By utilizing the computer simulations students learn how DNA directs the formation of proteins as described in the disciplinary core idea. The cross cutting concept of function and properties of natural systems is described explicitly by the included mutations. The module does present a more detailed discussion of mutations than is called for in the Performance Expectation. However, the teacher could modify what is provided as the second day’s work and use only the first portion of the second day module, if so desired. The details provided relating to frameshift and silent mutations, insertions, deletions may be most appropriate for advanced or honors-level students.

  • Instructional Supports: Some background and conceptual information is provided. The guiding questions provided for each segment help to focus students’ attention on key concepts. Teachers should circulate while students are working and provide immediate support. Teachers could provide additional support by providing an opening discussion, providing guidance and feedback during the module, and facilitating a class discussion on the key concepts following the module. The module does not make the connection between a change in a protein and a genetic disorder such as sickle cell anemia caused by a substitution mutation. Including this or similar examples may help students understand the connection between changes in DNA and the resulting changes in protein function in an organism. To further enhance the connection between DNA and genetic disorders, teachers could begin the module by providing the students a scenario involving a genetic disorder and then using the module to answer the question, “How can such a small change in DNA cause such an important change in a person’s body?” This would provide an authentic phenomenon for students to explore. Examples of single gene disorders are provided at http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/content/disorders/singlegene/ . If teachers and students sign up through the “Innovative Technology in Science Inquiry” portal, then teachers may create specific assignments for their classes to use with the simulation which could then be used to differentiate instruction.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The module includes both self-check and teacher-rated assessment items. After each of the main ideas students are asked to snapshot/capture portions of molecules to answer specific questions, answer other questions in the provided spaces and also complete multiple choice questions. The teacher cannot view student responses in real time. Also, the assessment report feature does not provide an effective means for the teacher to return feedback to the student. Teachers could overcome these limitations to some degree by circulating, monitoring, and giving feedback face-to-face as students work on the module. However, teachers can see what the students submit and comment individually after the students has submitted their work. Teachers cannot write on the submitted work and would have to write their comments on a separate document. No support for these questions or snapshots is provided for the teacher or students. No rubric or guidance for the teacher in how to interpret student responses is provided.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The module is interactive and makes effective use of computer-based 3D molecular models and interactive simulations. The students snapshots of captured sections of DNA and RNA do not provide the students the opportunity to chose the different DNA or RNA bases. Students do not do the transcription or translation themselves and teachers may prefer that students would have the opportunity to do the actual matching of the DNA bases and RNA bases themselves rather than taking a snapshot