Lesson 15

A Bioethics Question: DNA Information and Society (Day 1 of 2)

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SWBAT connect science technology to ethical and social concerns and defend their point of view using evidence and logic.

Big Idea

Help students connect science to our community with this engaging two day lesson series on the bioethics of DNA sample collection!

Notes for the Teacher

This two day lesson series explores a current bioethical dilemma involving the collection, storage, and use of DNA samples.  Combining a current issue, the always interesting topic of DNA and drama strategies is engaging for students and can lead to some very interesting conversations that connect science and society in meaningful ways for the kids.  This was my first attempt at using this particular drama strategy and my students and I were really happy with the outcome.  Focusing on different voices gave students a broader perspective about the topic on which to base their own judgement and assessment of the situation.  Critical thinking at work, in a fun and low-key environment.  I'd love to hear about your experiences with this strategy!

On Day 1, students are introduced to the topic and read, annotate, and reflect in preparation for the next day's activity.  Standard(s): W.9-10.2dSL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.1dSL.9-10.3RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.6RST.9-10.8HS-ETS1-3SP7SP8

On Day 2, students work in teams to explore diverse perspectives using a popular drama strategy.  Standard(s): SL.9-10.1SL.9-10.1aSL.9-10.1dSL.9-10.3RST.9-10.2RST.9-10.4RST.9-10.6RST.9-10.8HS-ETS1-3SP7SP8

My curricular goals here are to connect science and society in a meaningful way for students and to continue my theme for the year of seeing science as related to our everyday lives and decisions.  By spending time reading, discussing, annotating, and in role play, we can work together as a team to unpack challenging reading material and deepen understanding of the issue and the science involved.  Any time I can use a strategy that can assist in pre-writing activities and bring complex material to life in the classroom, I am ready to go to work!  This was my first experience utilizing this approach with my students and we all agreed it was a good choice for them and their understanding.  I will look forward to hearing about your experiences with this lesson strategy in your classroom! 

The Classroom Flow: Generating Questions

10 minutes

1. Using the spokesperson protocol, ask student groups to discuss and share out their conversations about the following prompts: 

What do you know about DNA fingerprinting?

What is it?  What can it do for us? Are there any problems associated with it?

Students will know that you can use DNA to establish paternity and to look for disease genes and that it is used in crime scene investigations.  They will also point out that there can be false positive/negative tests that give inaccurate results or that in some cases the DNA can't be compared effectively.

2.  Tell students that today you will be exploring the topic of DNA fingerprinting in society.

3.  To help frame the work during this lesson series and depending upon your students' background knowledge and interest, showing this short video clip about the process can help students picture what we are going to be talking about more vividly.  

4.  Once the video clip is finished, take any additional questions from students.  The purpose of this lesson series is not to know the DNA fingerprinting process in significant detail, however, knowing the information from this video will help their reading and comprehension going into the next day's activity.  Most students will feel comfortable with the general concept of fingerprinting.  Some students may be curious about how scientists know where to analyze DNA for comparison considering we have so many stretches of nucleotide sequences in common with each other (as well as with many other organisms).  You can mention to them that scientists have identified highly variable regions along DNA strands and they make sure they test/compare DNA from those sections.

The Classroom Flow: Reading and Annotating

25 minutes

1.  Pass out copies of the 2013 Scientific American article by Erin Murphy entitled, 'The Government Wants Your DNA.'  If you subscribe to the magazine, you can access the full article online and there is also good summary of this article available online as well.  Most library databases will give you access to it or you can email me for a copy.  Other topics/articles will work too, pick what works best for you content area focus and your students.

2.  Tell students that they will have time in class now to read, annotate, and reflect on the article in preparation for a written assignment.  Let them know that you will be working as a class tomorrow to really dig into the topic and unpack its meaning.

3.  Pass out the DNA collection Bioethics Close Reading Activity document to students and remind them that the focus right now is on reading for understanding and that there will be time to decipher the analysis questions together later. 

  • Note:  My students appreciate time to read in class as it takes some pressure off of them in terms of their heavy homework and activity load.  I provide sticky notes, highlighters, index cards, and space for them to spread out and work on their own, read aloud with a partner, or sit near me so that they can concentrate, focus, and check in as needed.  Alternatively, you might choose to read together as a class or assign this work for homework but I have not found either of those options to be as engaging or successful in terms of reading comprehension and retention as our class time close read session. 

4.  While students read and annotate their article, observe closely and intervene with support for students who seem confused, distracted, or otherwise off task.  

  • Note: In general, I don't find this to happen very often.  Students like that they have reading partners, they know they probably won't have time to do the work at home with all of the rest of their homework and after school activities, and they know that I am there to help them when they get stuck on a specific term or concept or simply need a focus break and some cheerleading/accountability to get back to work after that break is over.

The Classroom Flow: Individual Analysis

10 minutes

1.  After students have been reading and annotating for approximately 25 minutes, announce that students should begin looking at the analysis questions and formulating responses.  Tell students they may collaborate in pairs or work on their own as they go through the questions and that the expectation is that no matter what their process today during this session that their final written work will be typed and in their own words. 

  • Note:  Check out a typical student work sample with answers to each of the reading discussion prompts.  This is a dense text and frankly, I wasn't sure if this lesson was going to work.  Much to my happy surprise, I observed that students were very interested in these DNA related topics concerning privacy rights, equity, justice, and information security.  The activity in the second lesson of this lesson series allowed students to dig deep into the challenging academic language and ideas in this article in a way that translated into their responses.  In other words, I don't think today's work alone would have produced the same great results.  As with any deeper level skill, it takes multiple approaches including both individual and group work in order to really understand, construct, connect, and retain this level of information and ideas. 

2.  Remind students that lab tables are limited to one pair per table to encourage focused discussions and minimize distractions and off task conversations.  Other student pairs can move their desks around to find a semi-private space within the room to talk, research, think, and write.

The Classroom Flow: Preparing for Tomorrow's Activity

5 minutes

1.  Announce to students that their homework tonight is to complete their analysis questions and the vocabulary search to the best of their ability.  Tell students that tomorrow's lesson will help them with any lingering issues from tonight's homework assignment and that the final due date for their work will be set as a group during our second session of this two day lesson series.

2.  Remind them that tomorrow they will be using all that they know in a brand new activity during class that will help them to clarify their thoughts, ask questions, and solidify their knowledge.  They will want to know what it is...keep it a surprise! :) Novelty during the second semester is a great engagement tool!

And now on to Day 2!