To GMO or not to GMO? Biotechnology Assignment

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As described in my blog post with the same title, here is the activity that I have created for my IB biology students to address the subtopic of genetic modification in the genetics unit.   I am actually really excited to how they respond to this activity in terms of their level of motivation and learning.  In the past, I have not devoted as much time to this.  By focusing more attention on Aim #8, which is to raise awareness of the moral, ethical, social, economic and environmental implications of using science and technology, this has potential to have quite an impact on their learning.  I will let you know how it turns out. 

In the end, the essential questions that we will be exploring are: 

  1. How can we assess whether risks are great enough to justify banning techniques?
  2. How can the scientific community inform communities generally about potential risks?
  3. How can we make informed decisions without propagating irrational fears?  
  4. We know that careful research is needed to assess the risks of GMO, but what if the research itself could be risky?  
  5. Do protesters who destroy trials of GM crops make the world safer?

Here is a link to the assignment.  Feel free to do what you will with it.  I am considering working this article from Co.Design into the mix as well.  I would like to get a before and after reaction of the students to the genetic modifications suggested in this article. I might post it to our Facebook group as a pre-reading the night before and then have them respond to a poll. I could then have them revisit their responses after our class debate too see if any have changed their position. Anyway, If you have any other ideas or suggestions, I would love to hear about them! 

By the way, while researching companies the other day, I came across this article.  Needless to say I will not be sharing this article with my students, but I do wonder if they will discover it on their own.  I can't wait for our debate.  I must admit, there were some surprises.  I will be needing to make a call to my financial adviser :-) 

Choose Your Own Adventure: Cell Membrane Transport

This purpose behind this lesson is explained in this post.  For this assessment I used the online choose your own adventure tool, Inklewriter. To save time in class, I had my students sign up for an account and play around with the tool before class.  I work at a 1:1 laptop school, so having students "play around" is sufficient for them to familiarize themselves with the program as they are used to this.  Depending on your situation, you might want to provide your students with more specific instructions so that they have a cheat sheet.  You don't want the new technology to take away from the intended learning experience. 

Prior to class, the students did a guided exploration of the top on Google docs using simulations, videos, and questions.  All of my IB classes complete google docs prior to the introduction of information for two reasons.  One, I don't have to spend valuable class time teaching vocabulary, and I can spend my classes truly engaging in the material at a deeper level allowing for more hands-on activities and learning beyond simply knowledge acquisition.  The second reason I do this is to address the learning needs of students in a tight time frame.  Brain research tells us that students need multiple exposures to information at certain timed intervals to create long term memories.  When you only have one class period to teach a concept, it is important to provide them with a preview before that class and an opportunity to revisit the information later.  I use Google docs for this purpose. 

On the day of class, I paired up the students and explained the project to them using the doc that they had received prior to class.  We discussed the basic format of a choose your own adventure, and then I had each pair create a shared doc so that I could monitor their planning of their story from my computer. 

The critical piece of this assignment is to first determine how to break transport up into two or three potential pathways.  Once students figured this out, they were able to continue with their stories.  While monitoring the development of their stories, I checked to ensure that they had this first piece in place.  If not, I would either comment on their doc, or have a discussion with the pair to send them in the right direction. 

They were given one class period to work on their stories, and the stories were due the following class period.  Students were asked to send me a link to their story so that I could assess them.  To make things interesting, I turned the assignment into a competition.  The best stories were read out in class (post-exposure to information aligned with brain research).  I used the IB essay rubric for the question, "Explain the process of active and passive transport that move materials across a membrane" to grade the assignments, and then I gave them formative feedback on their use of creativity to communicate content information.

This assignment allowed me to identify any gaps in their understanding of cell membrane transport, and gave me an opportunity to address these gaps on a personal basis prior to their summative assessment on this topic.  The results for this essay on their test over cells and digestion were higher than I have see in other classes that I have taught.  It is still early, but I am curious to see how they do in applying this concept to other topics that come later in the course. 

Here is the PDF version of this assignment.  You can also find the doc at this link so that you can make a copy and edit as you see fit.