Lesson 1

DNA Discoveries: How Did We Get From Then to Now? (Day 1 of 4)

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SWBAT trace the evolution of scientific thought and research into the structure of DNA.

Big Idea

Use an engaging jigsaw activity and drama strategy to give students the chance to trace the history of DNA!

Notes for the Teacher

This four day lesson series gives students the opportunity to follow the flow of scientific discoveries that led to an understanding of the structure and function of DNA.  I have used a jigsaw method to introduce this material for many years and this year I added an additional day using an effective and engaging drama technique to give students the chance to hear each other's versions of the science discovery stories, check for understanding, and be active listeners and participants in their own metacognitive processes.

During Day 1, students take on the role of an expert for one of four DNA discoveries and research their topic. Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-LS3-1XC-SF-HS-2

On Day 2, students meet in their expert groups to compare notes and prepare to present their findings to their lab group. Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aRST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4HS-LS3-1XC-SF-HS-2

On Day 3, students jigsaw back with their lab groups and take turns sharing out their DNA discovery. Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aRST.9-10.4HS-LS3-1XC-SF-HS-2

And finally, on Day 4, students participate in a drama technique activity to share out individual interpretations of the DNA discoveries while in the roles of the actual scientists and reporters tasked with interviewing them. Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.1bSL.9-10.4HS-LS3-1XC-SF-HS-2

This last day is what makes this lesson series really shine!  Students enjoy the role playing activity and are able to clearly assess and communicate the learning benefits they saw in both of their researcher and reporter roles.  I can't wait to hear about your experience using this teaching strategy with your students!

The Classroom Flow: Introducing the Activity

10 minutes

1.  Tell students that this week they will be learning more about how we figured out the structure and function of DNA.

2.  Ask each lab group member to choose a letter: A, B, C, or D.  Once they have done so, tell them that each letter corresponds to a specific experiment they will be investigating.

  • Note:  I do this in this way to avoid students arguing over who is going research the Watson and Crick experiment, which they consider to be the 'easiest' of the four because it will most likely be the only experiment on the list students will have some prior knowledge about.  

3.  Pass out the Jigsaw activity directions sheet and indicate which letter corresponds to which researcher/DNA discovery topic.

4.  Pass out the DNA discovery chart document.  Tell students they may take notes on this document or on their own paper and that the focus of their research is listed on the document and can be summarized as:

  • Who, when and where?
  • What was the scientific research procedure?
  • What were the results/data?
  • What conclusions did the scientists draw from their data?
  • Why do we care/why is this important to us now?

5.  Summarize/review their overall task for this lesson series:

  • Each student in each lab group will pick one of the four DNA discoveries to research and present to their lab group.
  • Students will work with their topic expert group to learn more about their DNA experiments and take notes on the note sheet provided.
  • Students will share out their information within their lab group.
  • Each student will turn in their own illustrated explanations of each DNA discovery.  This final work will be typed, detailed, in students' own words, with labeled color diagrams.
  • The overall learning goal is that by the end of this lesson series, students will be able to trace the history of our understanding of the structure and function of DNA over time.

The Classroom Flow: Reading and Researching

35 minutes

1.  Point out the expert group area locations around the room, one for each DNA discoveries letter group A-D.

2.  Remind students that they tomorrow they can access their notes, our DNA discoveries slide presentation, and any of the web resources listed on their activity document using their personal devices, but that for today, I'd like them to focus on the information contained in their textbook.

  • Note:  I typically introduce the text as their primary source, and during the next segment of the lesson below and the following day, I encourage more use of other sources.  My goal is to give them teacher and peer supported time to decipher the academic language of the textbook before going on to visual and summarized information in more casual language.

3. Review the expectations for today's work:

  • Students will be on task throughout the class period.
  • Students will collaborate with and assist each other as they research, learn, and take notes.
  • Students will use classroom resources and consult with their teacher as needed in order to learn and complete their project goals.

4.  As students move to their expert groups, they should settle in to some quiet reading time.  Some students may ask to do this in a separate area or in pairs out loud for additional reading support. 

5.  Allow students quiet time for reading and researching.  This tends to be a very quiet and focused time frame that requires little teacher interaction…that part is coming up! 

6.  After about 15 minutes, you'll hear students shift from reading on their own to working with other students in their expert group.  You will hear groups begin to discuss their findings and add to their initial note pages.   See this typical final student work product for an idea of what students will eventually produce by the end of the lesson series.  As they work, observe closely.  As much as possible, allow students to determine, state, and research their own clarifying questions.  

  • Note: Typically, I take notes on any comments I hear regarding enduring questions/misconceptions and I address those the following day.  I do this to allow students the opportunity to continue their exploration at home on their own as many of them choose to do.  Especially as this late season in the school year, I want to make sure I am not depriving them of the type of self directing inquiry learning that we have been modeling and preparing for all year.  

The Classroom Flow: Looking Ahead to Tomorrow's Work

5 minutes

1.  As the class session comes to an end, ask students to check in together briefly with their lab groups to determine homework expectations for that evening.  The goal is for each student to be ready with their individual research in order to dig in deeper with their expert group tomorrow before moving back to their lab groups and presenting their findings.

2.   Tell students that it is time to return to their desks and leave their lab table areas tidy.  

3.  Once students are seated, tell them that tomorrow they will have more time with their expert group before going back to their lab group and sharing out their research/discovery information.  Suggest that students come to class tomorrow with as much of their research/discovery information filled out on their document as possible so that they can work exclusively on their issue areas with their expert group and you tomorrow before their presentations. 

Now on to Day 2!