Genetic technology, genetic engineering, genetic manipulation; these terms are common in today's society and certainly make people uneasy but what do they really mean, and, more importantly, what do students think they mean?
My students have a very basic background with heredity and genetics having not delved very deeply into this material. I begin the lesson by showing Frank Gregorio's Introduction to Genetics. With its powerful music and images, it is designed to elicit a response and is a great way to introduce the topic of genetics, as well as begin to activate prior knowledge. I use the Your Thoughts on Genetic Technoloy PowerPoint to guide this portion of the lesson and the link to this video is included (it helps me to keep everything I need all in one place).
Following the video, I ask students to explain what genetics means from their perspective. Most students recognize that genes are the directions in the DNA that determine a person's traits.
I next ask students what they think the term "genetic technologies" or "genetic engineering" means. While I am not looking for any formal phrasing at this point, I am looking for the idea of using technology to understand, manipulate or alter genetic instructions.
Finally, I write CLONING, GENETICALLY MODIFIED ORGANISMS, GENE THERAPY, GROWING HUMAN ORGANS, USING VIRUSES TO FIGHT DISEASE, and DNA PROFILING on the board. I ask students to quickly tell me what they think each word/phrase means to ensure they are aware of the basic meaning of each.
I then ask the students to write down their gut reactions/emotional responses to these words. For example, when I think of cloning the words that come to mind or describe my emotions are interesting, science fiction, exact copy, twins, scary, creepy, misunderstanding, etc. This can be done by having each student complete this list for each word, having each student at the table focus on a different word, or having the table collaborate on all of the words at once (I let the personality of each class determine the method of implementation).
I have students use these words to create a Wordle (word cloud). I use Jonathan Feinberg's Wordle website to show students an example of what I am looking for. If you have access to technology, the wordle can be created on the site very quickly, but I prefer to have my students create theirs by hand as it forces them to think more deeply about their reactions and the words they use.
To do this, I begin by having students go through their list of words and highlight in yellow the words that are positive (like interesting or exciting) and highlight in blue the words that are negative (like fear or creepy). Words that are neutral in nature are not highlighted.
I provide students with the following color code to use as they create their word cloud:
This color code will allow students to look at their completed cloud and at a glance recognize if their response was more positive, negative or neutral prior to completing any research on the topic. The following are some student examples.
The primary learning goal of this lesson is for students to be able to apply what they learn to describe how genetic technologies can be used to speed up the evolutionary process of humans, differentiating between the initial technology needed to modify the human anatomy and the technology that can be used to sustain those traits until natural selection takes over the process (see Is It the End of Humanity? for more details on final project requirements.) Due to the PBL approach being applied in this unit (and throughout the year), and because of the controversial nature of this particular topic, I wanted to provide students with some guidance and reliable resources to use to find the necessary information on their own.
Using the following guiding questions, I want you to research to learn about genetic technology, specifically cloning and GMOs. Using the information you discover, I want you to create a PowerPoint that shows me what you have learned. Be sure that you include details and explanations that demonstrate your understanding of these concepts - I do not want to see a list of questions and answers. This is NOT a visual aid and you will not be presenting this so you are not bound to the "no words" goal. You should still limit the total amount of text per slide but complete sentences ARE acceptable and appropriate for this assignment. Be sure to include images to support your text and show your understanding.
I like to show this video by National Geographic when I first introduce the concept of cloning. I particularly like that it provides easy to understand explanations of both reproductive and therapeutic cloning and gives specific applications of each while offering both supporting and not supporting perspectives from a wide variety of people. I take two days to show this video and I stop it periodically to allow students to ask questions, point out important points and share their thoughts and opinions on the information presented. While this is a significant time investment, I find that it provides students with enough background information that they are better able to understand the text and information provided on some of the other resources they will access while conducting their research so it is well worth the time. Following the video, I sometimes have students complete the Clone Video Reflection. If the class discussions were robust then this becomes redundant as I am aware of the perspectives of the class, but in the quieter classes, this allows me to see how students are processing the information.
Learn.Genetics is by far my favorite website for all things that relate to genetics. It is easy to navigate and is very student friendly, including a wide variety of resources including narrated slide shows, interactive simulations and games, and text based information. Of particular importance for this lesson are the modules CLONING, GENETIC SCIENCE, and GENE THERAPY though many of the other modules also apply to a lesser degree.
As students begin to understand the basics and need to find more specific information I allow them to find credible resources on their own, though I always recommend articles from Scientific American, Popular Science, PBS, National Geographic or NOVA. I prefer they use videos from Bill Nye, Michio Kaku, or any other source that is likely to present a true and unbiased perspective. During this research phase is an excellent time to have these conversations with the students and help them to determine the credibility of the source (this is something that they work on throughout the year in both English and social studies classes as well).
To conclude this lesson, I ask students to create an illustration that sums up their feelings/viewpoint on the genetic technologies they just learned about. Students can hand draw this or create it on the computer but either way it must be neat, colorful and their position (for or against) must be obvious. Students can then compare their wordle created in the warm-up to their illustration to see if their perspective has changed.