Pasta Genetics

Megan Brown and Maureen Munn University of Washington Genome Sciences Education Outreach (The GENETICS Project)
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.


Average Rating

3 (2 reviews)

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Most Recent Review

5 Manipulating is more fun than filling out squares

This activity was some work to set up, but now that I have the pasta, it won't be. The repetition is helpful as some students need to see the results repeatedly. Color is always welcome.


In this hands-on activity, students are investigating the phenomenon of human inheritance. They are seeking to explain why each person, except for identical twins, is unique in their appearance. The activity uses four differently shaped pasta to represent four different human genes. Since we have two copies of all our genes, there are two of each pasta shape. Thus, in our model, each person has four pairs of genes, or eight genes total. Students track and record the passage of traits through three generations. This activity demonstrates that traits are passed down from parent to offspring, an equal number of traits are passed on from each parent, and children don’t look exactly like their brothers and sisters because they each receive different combination of genes.

This activity was originally written for upper elementary and middle school students, but the topic is only addressed in middle school NGSS standards.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS3-2 Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using models such as Punnett squares, diagrams, and simulations to describe the cause and effect relationship of gene transmission from parent(s) to offspring and resulting genetic variation.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource was not designed to build towards this performance expectation, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This simple lesson allows the learner to see why sexual reproduction results in variety due to the recombination of parental traits. It will serve well as either a beginning lesson before human traits are explored or after. Teachers may want to explore with their students what would improve the model after the students have tried using it. This would help to extend the activity to help develop aspects of the performance expectation. Students could originally use the model to show asexual reproduction and then have them adapt it to account for sexual reproduction.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Using the pasta models helps the students observe the cause and effect relationship of traits being passed from grandparents to parents to offspring and the resulting genetic variation. Sibling variations are also observed. To allow for student involvement and to extend the learning, you could allow students to ask questions about what could happen if…? and to manipulate the model after the initial activity.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In the “Student Question” section, the “Reflect and Explain” and the “Apply and Extend” questions such as: “ How many genes did each child inherit from Mother? From Father?”’ can be used as formative assessments to check for student understanding of the DCI.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource was not designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The activity models the random distribution of traits from parents to offspring. It shows how the random distribution of parental alleles results in siblings with a variety of possible combinations, except in identical twins. The section called “Basic Probability Questions” will allow the students to use Punnett Squares to make predictions and provide reasoning for their answers to these problems.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The phenomenon observed in the natural world - that (except for identical twins) no two people are alike in their inherited traits is modeled in this activity and drives the three-dimensional learning. An initial discussion on the unique combination of traits within the class would allow the teacher to expose students’ thinking before facilitating students in exploring the phenomenon. The resource may be strengthened by combining it with other learning experiences, such as those found on the Teach Genetics website within the Introduction to Heredity and Traits section. The questions provided allow the students to understand and make sense of the phenomena.

  • Instructional Supports: This resource provides a context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning to make sense of a phenomenon. Throughout the lesson, teacher supports provide guidance for instruction. This resource is written as an activity to explore variation in sexually reproducing individuals. However, the resource needs to be combined with additional portions to be considered a lesson. It provides limited instructional supports, such as opportunities for students to build on feedback, and scaffolds to support students in engaging in practices or applying crosscutting concepts. The teacher will need to incorporate these supports while building a full instructional sequence around this resource. More resources from Teach Genetics will help to extend this resource as well as provide valuable background information for both educator and learner. Introduction to Heredity and Traits provide a sample lesson progression that can be used to strengthen student understanding of genetic concepts.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides for monitoring of the three dimensions of student learning through models and questions. The tasks assess students proficiency in modeling, with questions demonstrating the understanding of cause and effect of random inheritance of alleles from parent to offspring. In order to increase the evaluative nature of the activity, the teacher can incorporate a “Gallery Walk” of the student’s models to increase the data on variety in siblings. Group discussion of the posters should be done before the questions are attempted to prompt a more thorough assessment of the student understanding. A rubric is not provided, so the teacher may want to consider embedding formative assessments and rubrics when planning a full instructional sequence as seen in the following link:

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.