To GMO or not? That is the question... (Day #3 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! Please find the more intricate details of this lesson plan there.

Anticipatory Set ("Hook")

5 minutes

Extended from Day #2...

Straw Poll: Take a quick account of how many students fall into each of the four "claim" categories. Essentially make note of how many students believe a particular claim (by show of hands):

Claim #1: GMOs are mostly harmful.

Claim #2: GMOs are mostly helpful.

Claim #3: GMOs can be either harmful or helpful.

Claim #4: More research is needed.

At this point in the three day process, students will have listened to one perspective (Bierke Baer) regarding GM foods and human health; a decidedly anti-GMO stance for sure. They will also have read an in-depth account of the pros and cons of GMOS. By the way, it is rather difficult to find a single text source that gives homage to both sides of the GMO debate!

Throughout this process, students were exposed to a wide variety of perspectives as they poked and prodded their own thinking, values, morals, and experiences as they develop their own attitude. All very academic!

To develop further the real world relevance and controversial nature of GMOs (regardless of your particular POV), I came across the website titled The site features 100 controversial issues ranging from the tentative US-Iran Nuclear deal and cloning to the legalization of marijuana and Genetically Modified Foods. Each poll is based on information contained in really eye-catching infographics and a disclaimer that the facts are legitimate. So maybe you will want to check this poll out and see for yourself?

Photo credit:

Instructional Input/Student Activities

45 minutes

Reiterated from Day #1...

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.

Doubtless there are myriad ways to package one's thinking about a potentially divisive topic like GMOs but I found a really slick way to lead students through a four step process that embodies the spirit of argumentation with supporting evidence quite well.


Day #3: Present the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning Graphic Organizer  used to identify the possible claims related to the controversy, the evidence gleaned from annotating the GMO article, and the defense of the chosen position.


Essentially it is broken down into these steps:

1. Please describe at least a total of ten (10) of the most compelling main ideas/supporting evidences from your research; 5 pros and 5 cons.


2. Choose the claim that most closely matches one's opinion based on reading, background knowledge, and personal values.

3. Choose at least four (4) observations (evidences) from the step 1 in support of your chosen claim (#1, 2, 3, or 4).

4.  Explain, with your three (3) best evidences, your reasoning (why you chose claim)

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

5 minutes

Straw Poll II: Revisit the four claims of the CER graphic organizer and determine (by show of hands) if, and how many students had a change of opinion as a result of the reading, class discussion, and introspection.

Depending on time and dynamics, I like to delve into a discussion of the factors that did or did not lead to such a change.

Q: What percentage of students shifted their thinking from their initial perspectives?

Q: What made you rethink things (as actual or potential consumers of bioengineered products)?

Q: What evidence was most compelling? (This could segue into a number of directions such as validity of research methods, the role of media, inherent biases, and worldviews held). Fascinating stuff!

Update: In my Period 5 class we did discuss various claims chosen and, somewhat surprising to me, the Straw Poll II was virtually the same as the original (on Day #1). There was little to no shift in opinion. Most students mentioned the clearly biased POV of the TED Talk video but they didn't seem to mind this. It seemed to come down to whether a student thought that science was a great and powerful tool to solve problems (and agreed with GMO usage) or that too much was still unknown about the technology or what is known is damning enough to halt its use.