picturing DNA, a photo reflection by Cameron Setzer


The picture I have is of a group of students at Uhuru School linking together to form a strand of DNA. Working with the biology and chemistry teachers in a workshop earlier that day, we brainstormed some of the harder concepts of those subjects and decided that an understanding of DNA was something many of their students lacked. So the teachers began sketching the layout and organization of DNA, including base pairs, hydrogen bonds, sugars, and phosphate groups. But as soon as one teacher began sketching, another snatched the pencil out of her hand and tried to diagram it in a different configuration. Debate continued, as ten teachers trained in biology and chemistry struggled to correctly sketch all the components of DNA. Eventually, one of the teachers slid the paper over to me, and asked if they had done it correctly. I was taken aback, as if suddenly they had changed into a group of students seeking reinforcement from their teacher. I did my best to reorganize the diagram, moving some molecules here and there until it looked more or less like what I remember from textbooks, though as I drew they became insistent that my drawing was the correct one, and suddenly the confusion over DNA had ceased. It almost frightened me how willing they were to accept whatever solution I provided them, regardless of my qualification. It really rang home how important well-trained teachers are. Whether or not I had the correct answer for DNA didn’t seem to matter to my “students”, for my expertise was assumed. On the one hand this reverence to those with knowledge is conducive to learning, while on the other hand, if not careful, this reverence can lead students down a path of misinformation. Despite the confusion over DNA, our group moved on and successfully capture the concept in photographs. The teachers collected a group of students, probably twenty in total, and began lining them up in groups: bases, hydrogens, sugars, and phosphates. From there they began joining student’s hands to form bonds, and eventually had what looked like from above a great example of the organizational structure of DNA.

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