EBWR - Recovering the Romanovs

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The objective of this lesson is to assess student mastery of concepts explored in the genetic testing lesson, Mystery of the Romanovs, in which DNA Fingerprinting confirmed the identities of various members of the historical Romanov family.

Big Idea

How can the latest in genetic testing technology be used to identify victims of a brutal crime as well as trace genetic disorders present in a family for generations?


5 minutes

Effective writing programs must meet the diverse needs encountered by most teachers in classrooms where students have a wide range of skills and abilities. Over thirty skills are involved in writing including grammar, syntax, and spelling. Therefore, quality writing programs must emphasize the importance of prewriting, provide a respectful instructional environment, utilize checklists and rubrics to assess writing, and employ strategies such as direct, explicit, and systematic instruction.

The needs of struggling late adolescent writers vary greatly depending upon their prior knowledge, skills, motivation and writer identity. Teachers need to stress the importance, particularly in high school instruction, of the significance of writing beyond the classroom and emphasize the value of writing as an indicator of future success in college and in the biotechnology workplace.

Writing is not just a method of communication and expression. Several researchers have found that as with reading, improving one’s writing skills improves one’s capacity to learn and the inability to write effectively greatly limits a students opportunities for education and future employment. Therefore, content area teachers who can contribute to improving the writing of struggling late adolescent emerging writers will positively affect these student's literacy levels and career opportunities for years to come.

In an effort to motivate my late adolescent emerging writers and readers to WRITE for extended periods of time I have them grapple with controversial and sometimes sensational issues in biotechnology which are known for generating great debate. Forensic science, the intersection between Biotechnology and Law, uses biotechnology to address questions arising from criminal investigations or litigation. DNA fingerprinting, a genetic testing technique used in forensic science, can be used to solve crimes, determine paternity, and identify evolutionary relationships.

This lesson enables students to respond to a writing prompt about one of the most prolific applications of DNA fingerprinting in history. I use this lesson as an assessment after students have investigated the topic of DNA fingerprinting in the lesson titled, Mystery of the Romanovs.


BT. 7.1 - Differentiate between moral, ethical, and legal biotechnology issues.


10 minutes

A great way to prepare for our timed writings or EBWRs is to review the scoring rubric as well as by reviewing any of the facts in the Romanov case which would be critical to successfully completing the composition. Since this EBWR focuses on a student's ability to integrate multiple sources of data we review this skill to ensure that they are able to properly explain the application of the forensic science technique investigated in the lesson, Mystery of the Romanovs. Students were also given time to carefully review ALL the data provided on this topic online, on the website DNA Interactive, via our Edmodo course site in addition to the written resources provided along with the actual writing prompt.  

During a pre-writing whole group discussion I begin by displaying Slide 3 thru Slide 9 of a short presentation as well as allowing students to review the common mistakes or misconceptions associated with DNA fingerprinting. For example, in this particular prompt, I would remind students that the use of both traditional fingerprints and DNA fingerprinting are forensic techniques that could be employed in this case. However, traditional fingerprints cannot conclusively establish heredity, genealogy, paternity, and evolutionary relationships. 

Keep in mind that the ultimate goal is for our students to WRITE so don't consider it "cheating" or "watering down" the experience if support, guidance or information is reviewed during the pre-writing period to ensure that students will be able to compose an on-topic, relevant and accurate written response. The following photo illustrates a pre-writing strategy grounded in the Hochmann Writing Program that was used to help students compose topic or thesis sentences in a prior timed writing. 

Evidence Based Written Response

35 minutes

Students are given 35 minutes to complete an Evidence Based Written Response (EBWR) based on a written prompt which enables them to evaluate a real-life case study involving DNA fingerprinting. In preparation for this extended timed writing, students engage in a whole group prewriting discussion and brainstorming activity. 

Student prompts are scored using the MTHS Biotechnology EBWR scoring rubric. Using the rubric, several components of each of the three sections of the completed narrative are scored. In order to manage this labor intensive tasks members of my department have scored the student responses as a team, which has evolved into a valuable professional development opportunity that I would suggest to any PLC. Another strategy I have implemented has been peer evaluation of the completed narratives and then a final review and scoring by myself as the instructor. Regardless of the grading method or mode, I always preview many of the narratives PRIOR to grading to determine any reoccurring themes or statements found in the student narratives which will serve as "anchor statements" in addition to whole student responses that may serve as "anchor papers" such as Anchor Paper A and Anchor Paper B provided. 

Below are "anchor statements" collected from a sample of over 25 student narratives during my preview ritual in preparation for a department scoring meeting: 

REE (Results, Evidence, Explanations)

- revolution resulting in Tsars being overthrown after ruling for over 300 years

- STR's or short tandem repeats used to identify parents supported by DNA fingerprint

- identification of Skeleton #4 as Tsar Nicolas using STR's & DNA fingerprinting results as evidence

- clear explanation of modes of human inheritance (i.e. each parent donates half of genomic data)

- short tandem repeats should be discussed in relation to genes being passed down from parents to offspring


PP and PE (Possible Perspectives and Errors)

- DNA allowed members of law enforcement to decipher the identity of remains found in a mass grave using skulls and pelvic bones to determine age, gender, race and familial relationships

- new way to investigate crime w/interdisciplinary team of investigators which includes a new member of the team, scientists

- reliance on multiple documents and bodies of evidence that were more than circumstantial or prone to multiple interpretations

- build stronger cases that are not just based on eyewitness accounts, reduce overturned convictions or verdicts

- significant mtDNA discovery suggests that mitochondrial DNA mutates faster than expected prompting new DNA forensic procedures and methods

- increase in rate of mutation of mtDNA might cause tests to miss a match leading to false negatives

- traditional fingerprinting used to be the "gold standard" when identifying suspects however it requires that a set of fingerprints from the individual being identified appear in database

- criminals can use gloves to avoid leaving fingerprints which can easily be removed or wiped off; however it is very hard to remove and destroy DNA left from hair, saliva, and skin, etc.


PA (Practical Applications)

- DNA fingerprinting provides a higher degree of accuracy and validity over traditional fingerprints despite the fact that both can place a suspect at the scene of a crime however both alone cannot prove guilt

- DNA fingerprinting requires less sample and enables faster analysis regardless of the age of the sample

- a more sensitive dating technique depending on where DNA is recovered which is great since fingerprints are no longer an option the longer a victim is deceased 

- requires storage of big data (database), field called Bioinformatics, an intersection between biotechnology and information technology (IT), which refers to the storage and analysis of the vast amounts of information generated by the biotech industry