Student biologists research genetic engineering and issues related to risks and benefits of altering agricultural products. Students use their knowledge to create proposals for the town council of Ixtapa and create slideshows, newsletters, or Web sites to share their opinions and help the council decide whether they want local farmers to plant genetically engineered corn.
View how a variety of student-centered assessments are used in the Designer Genes: One Size Fits All? Unit Plan. These assessments help students and teachers set goals; monitor student progress; provide feedback; assess thinking, processes, performances, and products; and reflect on learning throughout the learning cycle.
Prior to Instruction
Previous to the start of this unit, complete basic lessons on genetics. The lessons should cover information about genetic science, such as understanding how the traits of an organism are passed from generation to generation, how genetic mutation occurs in nature, and how DNA is structured and functions.
Introduce the Project
Create a poster to put up in your room that asks the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? Hold a conversation about the question in regards to the students’ recent studies on genetics. Have students write their thoughts about this question in personal journals.
Introduce the following scenario to the students (you may want to have a number of different scenarios for students to choose from):
You and your fellow biologists have been asked to serve as expert advisors to the district council of Ixtapa, Mexico. Corn weevils have infested the corn of Ixtapa, severely reducing the major food source in this agrarian district. Malnutrition is a real concern. Additionally, employment and the related economy are also suffering. A promising strain of weevil-resistant corn, called Wvbgone Corn, is in development in the United States. Should this research be pursued? Should Wvbgone Corn be planted in Ixtapa?
Explain that in their role as student biologists and genetic experts, students will research and present proposals to the district council of Ixtapa on their findings to help the council decide whether the farmers should plant genetically engineered corn. Be clear that as scientists, they are to consult with other scientists, but they are responsible for their own research reports. They will then work with two or three other scientists to put together presentations. Go into an in-depth explanation of the project using the slideshow presentation (ppt).
Collect Information and Create Proposals
Hand out the student assessment and review expectations and requirements for the project. Students should use the scoring guide to guide them in the process and to ensure that they are completing all required components of the project.
Remind students to consider the following questions that were introduced in the slideshow presentation while doing their research:
Several times during the research period, bring the class together. Pose questions such as, Do you think you currently eat any genetically engineered foods? and Should regulations on genetically engineered foods be consistent worldwide? Ask students to discuss and reflect individually in their journals.
Remind students to locate enough information to answer the preceding questions in an in-depth manner, because these questions will assist in coming up with a conclusion for their proposal to the district council. Remind students that they are required to hand in their proof of research (notes) prior to writing their papers to make sure they have all the information they need. Meet with students one-on-one to review notes, provide feedback, and answer any questions.
After research notes are finalized, have students complete the first drafts of their papers. Encourage students to have their papers peer edited and reviewed before they write their final reports.
Prepare to Share
Allow student scientists to choose groups and decide which presentation format will most effectively help convince their audience of their advice for dealing with the issue. They can create a slideshow, newsletter, or Web site.
Provide students with copies of the argumentation rubric. The rubric should help them to create strong proposals and arguments for their points of view. Review the rubric and consider providing mini-lessons throughout the process to help clarify and explain the elements of developing a strong argument.
Have each group hand in a proposal that identifies the presentation’s format, storyboard, and ideas for an interesting introduction and conclusion. After the proposals are reviewed, meet with students to review feedback before students start their presentations.
Give students time to practice their presentations. Ask each student to offer thoughtful feedback to at least one group using the peer feedback form. Groups should revise their presentations based on feedback.
Student “expert” groups present their findings to the district council (the class). Remind students who are using a newsletter to make sure they have enough copies for each of the audience members. Have the district council (the class) give feedback on the presentation and product using the argumentation rubric. If time permits, hold a debate among student groups with opposing views on whether genetically engineered products should be allowed in our society.
At the end of the presentations, lead a whole-class discussion to revisit the Essential Question, Just because we can, should we? Have students refer to their initial answer to this question and discuss any differences they may have. Have students record their final thoughts in their journals. Collect journals at the end of the unit to assess students’ individual thinking processes and learning.
English Language Learner
Nancy Floerke participated in the Intel® Teach Program, which resulted in this idea for a classroom project. A team of teachers expanded the plan into the example you see here.
Grade Level: 8-10
Topics: Genetics, Economics, Social Issues
Higher-Order Thinking Skills: Investigation, Argumentation, Problem Solving
Key Learnings: Research and Analysis, Persuasion, Genetic Engineering
Time Needed: 2-3 weeks, 50-minute lessons, daily
Background: From the Classroom in Oregon, United States