Controversies in Genetics - Multiday Project

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SWBAT apply their knowledge of genetics and discuss the issues that arise from the application of modern biotechnology.

Big Idea

Difficult ethical issues can occur when using information obtained through modern biotechnology.

Project Alignment to Standards (NGSS & CC)

The Genetics project is run over the span of at least two weeks and is aimed at addressing the following standards:


  • MS-LS3-1. Develop and use a model to describe why structural changes to genes (mutations) located on chromosomes may affect proteins and may result in harmful, beneficial, or neutral effects to the structure and function of the organism.

  • MS-LS3-2. Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation.

CCSS ELA/Literacy

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.

  • RST.6-8.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 6-8 texts and topics.

  • RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually (e.g., in a flowchart, diagram, model, graph, or table).

  • RI.6-8.8 Delineate and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient; recognize when irrelevant evidence is introduced.

  • RI.6-8.9 Analyze a case in which two or more texts provide conflicting information on the same topic and identify where the texts disagree on matters of fact or interpretation.

  • SL.8.5 Include multimedia components and visual displays in presentations to clarify claims and findings and emphasize salient points.


Students participating in this project are involved in practicing the following Science and Engineering Practices:

SP4: Analyze and interpret data - as they research the different genetics topics being studied.

SP6: Construct explanations - as they evaluate the information provided and assess its validity in the face of different arguments.

SP7: Engage in argument from evidence - as they formulate evidence based on data and collaborate with each other in searching for the best explanation. 

SP8: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information - as they present their work, communicating their researched and agreed upon ideas and engage in discussions with peers defending their arguments.

Introducing the Project

15 minutes

To introduce the Genetics project, I navigate to the Genetics project website I created, and play this entry video.

At the end of the video, I ask the students to share with the class what they might already know or have heard about any of the four topics. In order to track what they say, I place a piece of chart paper (divided into sections) in each of the four corners of the room, and invite the student(s) that are closer to the papers to help us write the ideas. The students will be adding to these papers as the project progresses.

Getting into Teams

10 minutes

Note to teachers: For this project, I group the students in teams of four. As I am forming the groups, I take into consideration the personality and ability level of the students as well as the information I know about who the student can (or cannot) work with. 

I assign the students to their teams, and tell ask them to change seats so they can be closer to the people they are working with. I continue to navigate on the project website, and discuss with the students the expectations and rubric for the project.

In my experience running projects with students, one of the biggest hurdles comes when there is a disconnect between what I ask students to do and what they believe I am asking them to do. So, I have learned that in order to avoid this, students need a constant visual reminder of the expectation. I use a new piece of chart paper to detail the expectations as we discuss them:

  1. Divide ourselves into expert individuals. Each one of us is responsible for researching ONE topic and being able to explain what it is, how it works and the pros and cons of its use to ourselves and society at large. I am responsible for keeping notes and having URL's handy throughout the research. I know that I might be called upon to use them in the final presentation and will not have time to "go searching" again.
  2. Meet with the other three experts in our group, and share the research we have done. If my group has questions about my research, it is up to me to find the answers and share them with the group. (SP8)
  3. Listen to the research of other members of my team, ask clarifying questions and take notes. If there is something I don't understand, it is up to me to ask. (SP7, CCC Cause and Effect)
  4. Vote on the topic we believe should receive funding. Although majority rules, I am comfortable with my groups' decision and able to defend this position. "That was not my part" is never an appropriate answer. (SP4)
  5. Work together on one oral and visual presentation that is aimed at convincing a group of legislators that funding is needed in the area my group chose. (SP8)
  6. The main product of all this work is the presentation, which will be graded on content. This presentation must include specific supporting research, and shows we know what we are talking about.
  7. Work together to develop a highlight reel. This is a 2-3 minute video that presents our views and requires no clarification or added information from us. 
  8. If chosen as a panelist, be ready to discuss and answer questions related to your area of expertise. If chosen as an audience member for the panel presentations, develop questions to ask the panel and aid "your panelist" in answering any question posed to them.

Project Timetable

20 minutes

Once we are all clear on the expectations, I tell the students to have a quick conversation regarding which of the topics interests them personally, and to assign the topics within their group.  This is the time when, if a student is particularly unhappy with his/her topic assignment you could have him/her switch to another team with a similar issue. I make it clear, however, that there cannot be switches mid-project as this would create an imbalance in the information available to a team preventing them from making an informed decision. 

In this video, students explain why they chose a particular topic to become experts on. As you can see, some of them have a higher degree of previous knowledge than others, however getting to the point where they can have a knowledgeable conversation is what the project is all about.

At this point, the students and I work as a whole group to develop the project timetable (which remains posted throughout the project and is used to count down the days until presentation day). This usually looks something like:

  • Day 1: Individuals research the "what and how" of their topic. 
  • Day 2: Individuals research pros and cons of their topic. 

Watch this video, where you can see where students are on Day 2, and how they take ownership by committing to continue the work at home.

  • Day 3:Same topic groups of no more than 4 meet to share and clarify information. See what students had to say about their expert meeting.

  • Day 4: Two experts share with their team (20 min each). Ideas shared are mapped to aid in the decision making process.
  • Day 5: Other two experts share with their team (20 min each). Ideas shared are mapped to aid in the decision making process.
  • Day 6: Clarification questions are asked for all topics. Vote on the area which should receive funding. Once agreed, decide on the most compelling arguments in favor and against. Decide on presentation format.
  • Day 7-9: Using each other as a resource, develop the oral and visual presentation to be made to the legislature. Once the formal presentation is complete, work on the highlight reel that will be used to introduce your panelist during the panel discussions.

As students work on presentations, they discover new ideas, and learn from each other. Watch what the students had to say about this.

  • Day 10: Practice, practice, practice.
  • Day 11: Present your work. As you are listening to others present their work, write down your questions/ideas for the panelists.
  • Day 12: Panel discussion.

I find that when doing a heavy research project, students need guidelines for what they are supposed to be doing, especially when there are so may avenues to explore. The timeline becomes a lifeline that prevents the students from getting mired in, "I'm still doing research". It also helps instill a sense of urgency to the work. Students realize that the project will not go on forever. The key is defining with the students how long the project will last (I suggest no more than 13 class periods), and what the daily workload looks like.

Project Work Days

50 minutes

In order to hold students accountable for the daily work, a member of each team ("Press Secretary") has the responsibility of picking up a copy of the daily work report.  The agenda for the first project work day is:

1. Meet with team to determine goals for the day. "Press Secretary" writes these down on the daily work report sheet. (5 minutes)

2. Once goals are determined, students work independently/collaboratively and perform the tasks required to meet the goals. (40 minutes)

3. Meet with team to review/write down accomplishments, next steps and questions or concerns on the daily work report sheet. (10 minutes)

4. Before leaving, the "Press Secretary" submits the daily work report to the teacher. (1 minute)

On all subsequent days, the "Press Secretary" also picks up the previous day's daily work report, and the team spends 5 minutes taking action on the feedback provided.

Providing Timely Feedback and Project Submissions

One of the key components of this type of project is that the students need to receive timely feedback on the work they are doing. The way I handle this is through the daily work report. Every evening while the project is running I go over each team's daily work report and offer suggestions, request a draft is submitted for feedback to myself or to peer editors, invite members of the team to a meeting on the next day, etc. This really depends on what was submitted - sometimes no feedback is necessary other than "keep doing what you are doing". But it is important to say something, daily.

This daily summative assessment allows me to keep track of where everyone is and helps to identify potential problems and correct them before presentations.

Once teams begin crafting the presentation, and in order to ensure that students keep in mind the necessary components for the project, I developed a "timeline tracker". This is a document created on Google docs, where press secretaries submit their work for feedback. They also identify (and make visible) where they are in the project. This is what the tracker looks like as students add to it and request feedback: