To GMO or not? That is the question... (Day #1 of 3)

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Students will make and defend a claim stating their position (i.e. argue) regarding the creation and use of genetically modified organisms with consideration of its pros and cons.

Big Idea

Biotechnology (and genetic engineering in particular) can produce changes that are helpful or harmful.

Learner Goals

Note: I recommend that you first check out this resource in order to get the most out of this lesson!

In high school I took several drafting classes and, for a while, I had hoped to become an architect. With respect to planning instruction and teaching, I feel that I can still live out the detailed approach to building something intricate and complex even though the product is a lesson rather than a certain "built environment".

The lesson-planning document that I uploaded to this section is a comprehensive overview of how I approach lesson planning. This template includes the "Big Three" aspects of the NGSS standards: Disciplinary Core Ideas, Crosscutting Concepts, and Science Practices. Of course, there are many other worthy learning goals, skills, instructional strategies, and assessments that can be integrated into a class session. I don't feel compelled to check every box but, rather, use it as a guide to consider various options and tailor the lesson in light of these.

Generally speaking students will understand that…

1. biotechnology (and genetic engineering in particular) can produce changes that are helpful or harmful.
2. every case of genetic engineering brings up social, ethical, legal, and moral questions.

Specifically, students will be able to…

1. make use of an annotation strategy to better understand and explain the key ideas being communicated in a scientific text. (Science Practice 8)
2. make and defend a claim stating their position (i.e. argue) regarding the creation and use of genetically modified organisms. (Science Practice 7)

I hope you get some value from my work!

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

5 minutes

Day #1: Self-Assessment:

Direct students to review Enduring Understanding #3 and 4 of the unit map. Then prompt students to examine the Essential Question for this unit:

"Just because genetic engineering can be done, should it be done?"

Take a moment to unpack both parts with a special emphasis on the second part. Since this open ended question invites multiple points-of-view it is especially important that students gather high quality evidence (in sufficient quantity) with which to support a particular claim with well-thought reasoning. In this way, two students may disagree in the chosen claim and can still merit consideration on the strength of their logic and reasoning.

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

Teaching Challenge: How do I develop a classroom culture where students engage in meaningful and productive scientific discourse with peers?

Teaching Challenge: How do I support students to persevere and grapple with complex tasks?

With respect to the first two challenges, I believe that a first step is taken by simply discussing issues that are current and relevant. Who doesn't have an opinion about society and the world at large and wants good and tasty food? A cursory glance at the GMO issue may not lead to a full appreciation of the multiple layers that this investigation requires if we are to do so with integrity.

Necessarily then, it starts at the "ground floor" (the simple introduction) and then progressively builds and spirals back on itself. Therefore, this three-part lesson serves as the capstone for this unit on genetic engineering. To start out, students considered whether certain GMO scenarios were fact or fiction. Then we navigated through the technical aspects of actually creating GMOs and now we are looking at the ethical, moral, social, and health dimensions of the debate. I believe that there is always a compulsion to race ahead quickly to "cover" breadth (due to the ever present time constraints we face) but instead must linger at the richer regions of the curriculum in order to develop depth and understanding. It is this focus that I am trying to achieve with this final bit of the unit. So when the complexity increases we must necessarily slow down or face the very real risk of "covering" material at the sake of meaningful and transformative understanding.

Teaching Challenge: How do I support my students to compose, communicate, and evaluate a clearly stated, evidence-based, compelling argument?

Lastly, the idea of arguments, evidence, and the lot are pretty well understood by the vast majority of high schoolers that I have met. But in this unit I want to lead them to a specific model for crafting the best product of their analytic and reasoning skills.

-TED Talk Segment (Bierke Baehr): Present this video featuring one point-of-view regarding the state of our nation’s food and the system that produces it. 

-Turn and Talk: Next, prompt students to discuss what they had seen and heard in the TED talk and allow them to digest the main points presented.

-Four Corners: Using the signage (4-3-2-1), prompt students to physically move to the corner that best matches Bierke’s view. As a group, select a spokesperson to represent their reasoning. Review norms for the respectful and mutual exchange of ideas. Give three to five minutes to allow for discussion and then give audience to each spokesperson in turn; I go from #1-#4. Have students return to their seats when done.

-Post- it Annotation  #6: Using this particular annotating strategy or one of the other possibilities, students will read and annotate their understanding of the pro and con perspectives. During the process, subdivide the larger Post-It notes into half, each one dedicated to the pro and con side. For more strategies, click here. (Source:

-Genetically Modified Foods: Helpful or Harmful? By Deborah B. Whitman

Provide the remainder of class for reading the first portion of the GMO article titled Genetically Modified Foods: Helpful or Harmful. This article can be accessed online via a number of search engines.

Closure: What did we learn? Where do we go from here?

5 minutes

Random Draw: Randomly select three students to review the three aspects of the annotation strategy learned today.

Specifically, students ought to recall that a quality summary (using the strategy) ought to include:

1. the main idea(s) of the paragraphs

2. supporting details within paragraphs

3. key vocabulary, definitions, comments, questions, or connections made in the writing

Essentially, I want my students to learn how to read for comprehension and to unpack the ethical and practical aspects of a very hot topic (i.e. GMOs).

Continue to Day #2...