Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Mutations unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on why changes genes can affect proteins, and this may result in different effects on the organism.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Six-Toed Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Compete in survival challenges to determine whether mutations are helpful, harmful, or neutral
Medium engineerEngineer: Use CRISPR, a new gene editing tool, to Engineer a Solution to a Genetic Problem

There are two options for The Solve! Choose to have your students solve either a live video mystery on how and why organisms are genetically modified or an animated mystery on why a cat has six toes. By the end of The Solve, students will discover that mutations can occur in an individual’s DNA, which can change his or her traits. (75 mins)

Students will choose and decipher a genetic code to determine which form of an alien gene they have “inherited” (one “normal” and three mutations). Students will compete in three survival challenges to test different alien genes and determine if the mutations are helpful, harmful, or neutral to the survival of the alien species. Based on the results of these challenges, students will create the “ultimate alien.” (150 mins)

Students explore the very exciting frontier of CRISPR, a new gene editing tool used to snip genes and stick new genes in cells to create new traits for the organism. (200 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on conceptual understanding that changes in genetic material may result in making different proteins.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include specific changes at the molecular level, mechanisms for protein synthesis, or specific types of mutations.]
Gather and synthesize information about technologies that have changed the way humans influence the inheritance of desired traits in organisms. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on synthesizing information from reliable sources about the influence of humans on genetic outcomes in artificial selection (such as genetic modification, animal husbandry, gene therapy); and, on the impacts these technologies have on society as well as the technologies leading to these scientific discoveries.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Developing and Using Models

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Inheritance of Traits
  • Variation of Traits

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Structure and Function

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Students often assume that all mutations are bad. Emphasize to students that mutations can often be beneficial or have no effect at all. A great example is the mutation for sickle cell anemia: if an individual is a carrier of the mutation, they are immune to malaria.
  • The terms DNA, gene and chromosome are often confused. A simple picture can show how coiled DNA creates a chromosome and a gene is a section of DNA that codes for a particular trait.
  • Students often think there is only one gene for every trait. In reality, most traits are due to multiple genes interacting.
  • Students initially think that all mutations that occur will be passed onto offspring. Emphasize that there are normal body cells and sex cells. The mutation can only be passed on if it happens in a sex cell because that is used to make the offspring.


    • Gene
    • Chromosome
    • Trait
    • Mutation
    • DNA
    • Protein

Content Expert Title

  • Mohamed Noor
    Professor of Biology Duke University


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • We're All Different

    Most of our traits are inherited, or passed down, from our parents. Some of them can be the result of mutations, which is an important of the genetic variation that makes different organisms unique and more likely to survive in a changing environment.

  • How do Living Things Change?

    How do living things change into all the different organisms around us? In this article, students read an introduction to the idea that genes are responsible for creating proteins. Mutations in genes can change the proteins that are made and this can change the traits of the organism.

  • Don't Hate on the Trait

    Traits are passed down through genes. Heredity is the study of how these directions are passed down from parents to children.

  • We're All Different

    Most of our traits are inherited, or passed down, from our parents. Some of them can be the result of mutations, which is an important of the genetic variation that makes different organisms unique and more likely to survive in a changing environment.