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Devil's in the DNA for pre-teen crime scene experts

USQ lecturer Jenny Donovan will present her findings on children's understanding of DNA from crime shows.
USQ lecturer Jenny Donovan will present her findings on children's understanding of DNA from crime shows.

HOW much science does your child really take in when watching crime shows on television?

That's the question posed by University of Southern Queensland education lecturer Jenny Donovan, who will present her findings at a Faculty of Education research evening in Toowoomba tomorrow.

Dr Donovan's presentation, Children's understanding of science gained from the mass media, will be one of three research projects at the event designed to keep staff and the wider community up-to-date with the work of dedicated USQ staff.

"Children don't officially learn about genes and DNA until Year 10 but they appear to already have some understanding much earlier," Dr Donovan said.

"It's assumed young people learn this information from the mass media but it hasn't been backed up with research."

During the exploratory study, a sample of 141 children aged 10-12 years from rural towns in Queensland, New South Wales and South Australia completed a mass media questionnaire.

"Seventy-nine per cent of the children watch crime shows rated for ages 15 plus. There were clear favourites but children seem to watch whatever is available to them," Dr Donovan said.

Sixty-two of the 141 were interviewed about their understanding - 89% knew of DNA, 60% knew about genes and 97%knew humans had DNA.

Eighty per cent of those interviewed said they got information about genetics from television.

"These kids are learning quite a bit - some have knowledge I'd be happy to see in Year 11 and 12 students," Dr Donovan said.

"The problem is the information isn't complete as there are many misconceptions such as thinking DNA is only in the blood or saliva.

"Quite a few also thought DNA was only used for catching criminals and determining family relationships."

Dr Donovan said it may be time for parents to be more mindful of their children's TV viewing habits or at least discuss these topics openly and provide explanations. 

"We're soon to have a generation of children who have grown up with this information," she said.

"Whether it's at home or school, they appear to be ready to start learning about it." 

The Faculty of Education Community Research Evening will be held at USQ Toowoomba Tuesday, May 7 2013 at 5:30pm.

Topics:  crime scene education research usq


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