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Genes-R-Us

By Richard Benz



Abstract

Genetics and genetic counseling---a study of garden peas and fruit flies? How can the modern student relate to the classic principles of genetics? Do the frequencies associated with flower colors excite your average high school students? Probably not! How about forming a genetic counseling agency with your students and "service" the entire senior class during their "marriage project" in senior health?

Genetic counseling can be used to introduce students to basic genetics, an important interface of the biological sciences and the human condition. Many high schools throughout the U.S. have "marriage" or family living programs in which students are randomly paired early in the school year. They work to plan a wedding, a household budget that includes rent, car bills, food bills, (all the things that pop up very quickly once you are "out on your own,") and a future family. It is this future family that attracted my attention a few years back. The students were randomly given a baby to care for (the baby was either an uncooked egg, or a five pound sack of flour.) This care includes feeding, cleaning, baby sitting, and all the worries and bills associated with the new responsibility of a family. This is a perfect time to introduce human genetics to the soon-to-be parents.

Hence, GENES-R-US !


Information for the Teacher

GENES-R-US is a genetic counseling service created and designed by a high school biology class and offered to high school health class (or home economics class) "couples expecting a child" as part of a family living project. The counseling takes place after pregnancy has been determined. (This is not always the case, but was true in the case of the senior health project and was therefore included in the brochure written by the biology students.) Couples who already have at least one child with a genetic disorder, couples who have a known family genetic disorder, couples who have a genetic disorder such as diabetes and want to know the chance of passing this trait to the child, and couples of advanced age or have been exposed to a drug or toxin that may cause a genetic disorder in the fetus should subscribe to this service.

The project starts with a basic introduction to genetics in a first or second year biology course. The introduction to genetics starts with an overview of human genetic disorders (from information included in the biology text, county or state health districts, or other labs included in the 1994 Biology Module from the Woodrow Wilson Institute.) Next, the students are introduced to genetic counseling as an application of genetics and genetic concepts. The PBS program "Genetic Screening" from the series "Hard Choices" along with the PBS series titled "The Secrets Of Life" starring David Suzuki, is used to give the class a good overview of the role of a genetic counselor and the many difficult choices that arise as a result of heredity. The program reviews a number of human genetic disorders including sickle cell anemia, cystic fibrosis, and Tay -Sachs disease, and so on. At this time the students are given the job of forming a genetic counseling service that will interact with the senior health class' family living project. The biology students are to develop a complete counseling service including a brochure that gives a general overview of genetic counseling along with overviews of many genetic diseases, visual aids, (posters, overheads, hypercard stacks, ...) and design a presentation that will be given to the senior health classes. (Students at Wickliffe High in Ohio have developed a computer program that is used by the health classes to determine the birth of the project's babies.) (See below for a description of the first generation of the "Baby Decision Maker" software.)

The students research information for their brochure and for the health class presentations from a variety of sources including: their biology text, health texts, government pamphlets, genetic texts, and interviews with local and national genetic counselors as well as national foundation offices that support genetic disorders. Once the brochure is complete and the audio-visual aids are selected and edited, the biology students set up a schedule for visiting the senior health classes. Prior to starting the project it is important that the biology teacher and the senior health teacher coordinate the project. Not only do two curriculum areas agree to work together, but the teachers must agree on a time of the year, and on class visitations. It is also important for the biology students to interact with the health teacher prior to visiting his or her class.


The "Baby Decision Maker" Software

The "Baby Decision Maker" software is written in Applesoft Basic (a hypercard version is in the works.) The program asks the student couple if they would like to subscribe to the GENES-R-US genetic counseling service. If not, the couple will "spin" for a baby only one time(actually, the computer is set up to randomly select a child.) If they subscribe to our service, they get a second try if they want. Of course a second try is equal to having an abortion or putting the first child up for adoption, and this is explained and discussed with the classes.

The computer is programmed to include the sex of the child and the following possible situations:

  • Normal Birth
  • Twins (Fraternal and Identical)
  • C-section Birth
  • Sickle Cell
  • Tay-Sachs Hemophilia
  • Down Syndrome
  • Of course, not every genetic ailment is programmed, but representative samples are included. If the couple chooses the GENES-R-US service, they can opt for a second chance. Whatever happens, the couple receives a birth certificate with the baby's sex and genetic condition. (This is for record keeping purposes.) The following are typical results from a senior class of 104 students (52 couples,) that were involved in the Family Life project:

    Typical Baby Project

    Boy Births   Girl Births   Total Couples   Counseling
    18 (34.6%)   31 (59.6%)    52 (100%)       47 (90.3%)
    
    Twins*       Down          Hemophilia      Tay-Sachs
    3** (5.7%)   2 (3.8%)      3 (5.7%)        0
    
    C-Section    Premature     Sickle Cell
    11 (21.5%    2 (3.8%)      2 (3.8%)
    
    *One Identical set of twins, two fraternal twins (boy/girl)
    **One set of twins was aborted due to a Down Syndrome birth.

    Included in this set is the computer listing written in Applesoft Basic which can be run on an Apple II, Apple II Plus, Apple IIe, Apple IIc, or an Apple GS Computer. Teachers may use the "Baby Decision Maker software by simply typing the following computer listing into any Apple II computer. It can also be adapted for other computers. For information on how to do this, contact your school computer teacher or computer wizard. The program can be run by the biology students during their health class or home economic class presentation. If you have questions about this program, contact:

    Richard Benz
    Wickliffe High School
    Wickliffe, Ohio 44092
    (216) 944-0800


    Computer Listing for Apple II
    Genes-R-Us Baby Decision Maker Computer Program
    (Applesoft Basic Version) Written by Richard Benz.

    20     HOME
    25     SPEED= 50
    30     HTAB 3: FLASH : PRINT "WELCOME TO THE BABY DECISION MAKER"
    31     HOME
    32     HTAB 3: PRINT "BROUGHT TO YOU BY THE BIOLOGY BUNCH"
    33     HTAB 3: PRINT "FROM THE WICKLIFFE HIGH BIO II CLASS"
    34     HOME     
    35     SPEED= 250: NORMAL
    40     VTAB 4: PRINT "THIS PROGRAM WILL DECIDE WHAT KIND OF"
    50     VTAB 6: PRINT "BABY YOU WILL HAVE BY MENDELIAN PRIN-"
    60     VTAB 8: PRINT "CIPLES DEALING WITH THE PARENTAL BACK-"
    70     VTAB 10: PRINT "GROUNDS..."
    78     SPEED=  50
    80     VTAB 22:  HTAB  30:  PRINT  ";
    90     GET  Z$
    91     SPEED= 250
    100    HOME  :VTAB 2:  PRINT  "  PLEASE INPUT YOUR NAME  (LAST)  :"
    


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