Lesson 16

A Bioethics Question: DNA Information and Society (Day 2 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: Introducing the Activity

5 minutes

1.  Ask students to take out their DNA bioethics article and DNA collection Bioethics Close Reading Activity document completed with their answers.

2.  Tell them that today we will be doing an activity to explore the ramifications of this issue using a drama strategy called pro/con.  

3.  Ask students to sit in a circle around you as you set up chairs to show them what they are going to be doing in their teams.

  • Note:  I used the outdoor library garden space for this activity.  I highly recommend doing drama strategies outside of the classroom if possible--using a larger space like the library or all purpose room or outdoor space just heightens this shift away from the norm into a more adventurous mode for students.  These larger spaces also allow for more movement and adjustments so that each group can concentrate on their small group settings with needing to shout or being distracted by other groups that are too close by to ignore.

The Classroom Flow: Time to Model the Activity

15 minutes

1.  Tell students you will now demonstrate the 2 person activity. Ask for a student volunteer to be the listener/clapper while you model the stream of conscious pro/con role.  Your sample topic could be things like vacation, dancing, uniforms, homework, or even dinner!  After the short demonstration, give a round of applause for your student volunteer, ask them to join the audience again and then them the following question:

What was that like for you?

How did you know when to clap to tell me to change from one side to another?  

Was the clapping random or did you have a plan?

After students talk about how intensely they were listening and how they were trying to time the clap to make it easier for me the speaker to talk about the other side, take just a few comments from the audience about what is was like to watch and try to make sense of things.  They will be eager to try it out on their own!  Check out my video below demonstrating this technique for you.

  • Note:  I also created this Pro/Con drama strategy outline document after my class completed the activity.  I don't envision using it with students although you could do that.  For me, I wanted to keep this about the in the moment discussion between me and the students and between student groups.  Introducing complicated directions on paper that were easier to understand when modeled in person was not the direction I wanted to go in for this work.  However, I think it is a great reminder for teachers about what the procedure looked like in the class session.  Check out my short video demonstrating and discussing the techniques outlined below that you will model. 

2.  Next, set up chairs for a three person version of this activity.  The only difference here is that instead of one person needing to take on both the pro and con roles, one student is responsible for pro, the other con, and the third is the listener/clapper.  Model it with two student volunteers.  Ask the class to suggest some topics and then pick one as a group or use one of my examples listed in #1.  I have used all of them with students and they were highly successful in getting students laughing, at ease, and aware of what their upcoming jobs were going to be during the remainder of the activity.  Debrief the same way you did above.

4.  Finally, bring in a fourth chair for the final version of pro/con, called Voices in My Head.  Tell the class you saved this for last because it is a really interesting experience.  In this formation, one person is the listener (no clapping), one person is the speaker, and seated by the speaker are two people, one representing the pro side and the other representing the con side.  The pro and con volunteers speak/whisper directly into the ears of the speaker who then switches back and forth between the pro and con ideas for the listener to hear.  When you are done, debrief the same way you did above.  

  • Note:  This one is a really crazy ride for kids (and adults too), but one I highly recommend letting kids experiment with.  You'll find here that the volunteer speaker should be the most extreme extrovert in your class, one who can handle how disorienting it can be to have two people talking to you while you speak to another person.  At the same time, it is a great opportunity to point out just how often we do this to ourselves in terms of stress and that learning to quiet the voices so we can focus on just one is a powerful skill.  Students will relate to this! You can also point out what you will most likely observe--that the pro/con speakers start to take turns without even discussing it in order to be kind to the speaker.  The compassion you will see throughout this session is really touching and inspiring and pointing out how easily we do this when we are paying attention is yet another great 'soft skill' lesson for learners of all ages.

The Classroom Flow: Using the Pro/Con Drama Technique

20 minutes

1.  Tell students to take out their article and turn it over.  Give them a few minutes to think of one or two potential pro/con ideas to explore within their group activity today and ask them to write them down on the back of their article.  You will find that students take this brief brainstorming session seriously and that they are eager to give the strategy a try on their own.  

2.  Give examples of the correct pro/con structure so that students can see that their ideas need to be framed as a yes/no question and not an open ended one.  You can work with individual students to shape their individual ideas to fit the format needed for this activity.  Some potential ideas include:

  • The United States should set up a database to collect the DNA of every single person in the country.
  • Officials should be able to collect and keep DNA whenever they want for whatever purpose and length of time they feel is necessary and appropriate.

3.  Tell students that they will be breaking up into pairs to work through the first version of pro/con.  Tell them to find a partner, arrange their chairs, and decide which of their pro/con ideas they will be exploring together.  Go around to ensure that every student has a partner.

4.  Allow student groups to begin their exploration.  You may go around to help support groups as they work with their roles within the group.  After about five minutes, tell students to switch roles within their pairing.  They may opt to continue using the same pro/con idea or pick another from their self-generated list of ideas.

5.  Tell students to continue working in their role until you call for a switch. 

  • Note: By requiring students to stay in their role for a longer period of time, you allow for more ideas to be generated.  There will be more pauses but student groups and you will find that this allows for better listening between all four group members as they single out what they are listening to/for.  You can adjust this time for each role throughout the class session to meet the needs of the students and your bell schedule.

Check out photos of my students working in pairs.  In them, you can see the set up for each pair (facing each other): pro con student pairs at work part one and pro con student pairs at work part two

6.  Tell students to arrange themselves in groups of three for the next pro/con phase.  Assist students as they go from even to odd numbered groups so that every student is in a group.  Tell students to pick their roles and choose their topic for the pro/con discussion.  Remind them that you will be telling them to switch and to stay in role until you tell them to change.

Check out this photo of my students working in trios.  Going from two to three person teams is a great way to mix up student groups because unlike going from two to four student teams, they can't simply just go with their best friend and join another best friend duo.  This shifting from even to odd allows for interesting mixes of students and different voices to emerge within the role playing activity.  You will need to be very supportive in making sure that no child is left without a group.

7.  Finally, tell students to shift into four person groups.  Help students find a group so that no one is left on their own.  Repeat your same instructions:  choose roles and a topic and stay in role until you tell them to shift into new roles.

Here are some photos of my students working in four person groups for the Voices in My Head version of this activity:  voices in my head students at work part one and voices in my head students at work part two.  In both photos, you can see how important the physical set up is to making this activity run well.  

8. Once every student has tried every role, ask them to bring their articles and move into a group seating arrangement so that you can share out experiences using this drama strategy.

The Classroom Flow: Activity Debrief

10 minutes

1.  Ask student groups to discuss the following prompts:

What was this process like for you?

What did you learn?

What final thoughts do you have about the ethics of DNA collection?

2. Using the spokesperson protocol, briefly share out student responses.  Students will tell you how different things came up for them in each role and how the teams worked together to make sure everyone felt good about their experience in each role. As you can see from this photo, students will have many things to say about DNA collection and will be eager to share!  You can prompt more responses with questions like:

  • When/under what circumstances should officials be able to collect DNA?
  • How long should they be able to keep it?
  • Who should be able to see it? Who shouldn't be allowed to see it?
  • Could it be used in science research without the person's knowledge?  Could it be sold or bought?
  • What do you think about the author's recommendation that we should establish a national DNA database that each citizen must contribute to at birth?

3.  Remind students of the due date for their written analysis questions and field any clarifying questions that come up.  

  • Note: Check out a typical student work sample of this lesson series written assignment to see the typical level of quality responses you can expect from your students.  I am very proud of the work students did and wish I had known this was going to be such a successful lesson series.  If so, I would have added a last day to explore responses to this last prompt more thoroughly and perhaps to write a letter to the article's author agreeing or disagreeing with her point of view about the establishment of a universal, national DNA database to promote equity.