Postulating the Rules of Simple Inheritance: A Flipped Inquiry Learning Cycle |

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Postulating the Rules of Simple Inheritance: A Flipped Inquiry Learning Cycle

Hassan Wilson
Biology Teacher, Friends Seminary
New York City, NY

November 2015

Flipped learning and inquiry are quite compatible. When I transitioned to flipped learning, I modified the simple Mendelian inheritance unit into an inquiry learning cycle. Inspired by the 5E Learning Cycle and similar models used by other flipped educators like Ramsey Musallam (@ramusallam), I developed a flipped inquiry model known as Mastery Learning Cycles. It includes these phases: Engage, Explore, Flip (video lesson), Apply, and Mastery. You can find more details here.


Students begin by taking a poll and participating in a discussion about whether they would want to know if they inherited an incurable fatal or painful genetic disorder that will manifest in the future. Students also generate questions about things they’ve noticed or always wondered regarding how genetic traits are passed down. Some questions I’ve heard include:

  • How can two brown-eyed parents produce blue-eyed children?
  • Can two blue-eyed parents produce brown-eyed children?

At this point, I tell my students that I won’t answer their questions, but hopefully, after completing the learning cycle, they will have discovered the answers themselves.


After I’ve hopefully generated a buzz and sparked some curiosity around this topic, students participate in the Baby Making Exploration. This activity consists of students completing a traits inventory, where they note characteristics such as hair texture, eye color, and even PTC tasting ability. Pairs of students use this guided inquiry activity to “create” two babies parented by them. They infer their genetic profile and flip coins to simulate the random features of the reproductive process.

By the end of the exploration, students have some experience with the laws of inheritance. Their next task is to infer the probability of future offspring having particular traits. Some students are able to cobble together a strategy to make these predictions, while others are only able to give vague predictions. At this point, it doesn’t matter because students will revise these predictions later in the learning cycle.


In this step, students watch a video I’ve created about the rules of inheritance and Punnett squares. This is the first time I provide direct instruction. In the video, I provide a framework for understanding what happened in the exploration, clarify vocabulary, and demonstrate how to set up a Punnett square. Students take guided notes and post clarifying questions to an online discussion thread. In addition, they complete an online formative assessment about the video.


Students practice the skills and content learned from the earlier steps in the learning cycle. First, they complete a problem set where they distinguish between terminologies and solve Punnett square problems.

The second activity is the Corn Lab. Students score the phenotype of corn kernels and use the data to infer the genetic profile of the parents that produced the offspring. In previous steps, students have exclusively solved problems in which the parents were known and predicted information about the offspring. In this lab, students must show mental flexibility to complete the opposite task.

In the last step of this phase, students return to the Baby Making Exploration and revise their initial predictions about their offspring. At this point, students should be able to construct Punnett squares and provide reasoning for their predictions.


Students show understanding of the learning cycle by having a one-on-one discussion with me and taking an online quiz. There are optional projects that students can complete in order to earn more credit and demonstrate higher understanding of the concepts. At the end of the learning cycle, we revisit the initial questions generated at the beginning of the learning cycle and tackle the questions we have the requisite background to answer.

As you may have noticed, direct instruction through the video is only one step in a larger inquiry cycle. Students ask and answer questions by exploring, investigating, and applying what they’ve learned.