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STS Biology - Teaching Controversial Topics

By Christopher Hilvert



Type of Entry:

  • Activity

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on
  • roll play
  • inquiry

Target Audience:

  • Biology
  • Life Science
  • Applied Science


Background

Each of the three activities submitted presents difficult science topics in the context of the human experience. The activities focus on real-world problems, which have science components, from the students' perspectives. These three activities allow students to investigate, analyze, and apply concepts and processes to real situations.

The three activities are as follows:

  • Genetics Mock Trial

    Students defend ethical genetic considerations using concepts from the genetics unit during a mock trial, role-play situation;

  • Genetics Student/Teacher Demonstrations

    Both students and teachers use various household and community items to depict the concepts of genetics;

  • Diversity Mock Television Talk Show

    Students formulate and defend a position on animal research and animal rights using concepts from the diversity unit.

Students must have access to up-to-date research opportunities (CD-Rom, Internet, Periodical Guide, etc.). Teachers need to allocate one day for each of the authentic assessment opportunities (mock trial and mock TV show) and can incorporate the genetics demonstrations into class discussion time or lecture. In addition, a brief 10-15 minute introduction to each activity at the beginning of the unit would be appropriate.


Project

Genetics Mock Trial

The State of Illinois, in an unprecedented case in the United States, is attempting to block the potential donation of fetal tissue by a couple that is carrying a fetus that will be born without a brain. Marianne and Mac Jeffries of Morris, Illinois have conceived a child with the genetic disorder anencephalus, little or no brain development, and wish to donate the tissue and/or organs of this infant to science for fetal tissue research. According to doctors and scientists, this infant will die within a day of birth (100% mortality with this genetic disorder). Doctors would be able to use the baby's organs for transplants or the tissues of the fetus if the baby were aborted. The State of Illinois, in following the lead of the Republican Congress, feels that successful development of fetal tissue transplant techniques would encourage more women to have abortions.

In the beginning of the unit, students will be assigned roles. It will be their responsibility to use library resources to research the case (and others like this one) and the character they will play in the trial. They will then role play the character in a mock trial at the end of the unit.

Diversity Mock Television Talk Show

The unit project for Diversity, Animal Rights: Just Like Us?, is composed of two parts:

  • Part 1: Students are required to research a position of their choosing regarding the Animal Rights Movement or Animal Research by using the informational resources in the library (Dynix, InfoTrac, ProQuest, Periodical Guide to Literature, etc.) or any other library. They then write a position paper of one to two typed or word processed pages.

  • Part 2: Students will be assigned to groups of 3-4 that will defend a particular position in the Animal Rights Movement or Animal Research in front of a talk show audience (similar to Oprah/Donahue/Jenny Jones/Geraldo/ect.). Each person in the group must speak and know the pros and cons of the position selected. They must then field questions from the show host and the audience. Students will be graded on:

    1. how well they know the position and can defend it to others;

    2. the ability to answer pertinent questions from the audience, attempting to refute the evidence of other groups.

    Each group will be "on stage" for a 5 minute discussion of their position followed by a 3 minute question/answer session from the audience.

    Illinois Mock Court to Hear Fetal Tissue Case

    The State of Illinois, in an unprecedented case in the United States, is attempting to block the potential donation of fetal tissue by a couple that is carrying a fetus that will be born without a brain. Marianne and Mac Jeffries of Morris, Illinois have conceived a child with the genetic disorder anencephalus, little or no brain development, and wish to donate the tissue and/or organs of this infant to science for fetal tissue research. According to doctors and scientists, this infant will die within a day of birth (100% mortality with this genetic disorder) and they would be able to use the baby's organs for transplants or the tissues of the infant if the baby were aborted. The State of Illinois, in following the lead of the Republican Congress, feels that successful development of fetal tissue transplant techniques would encourage more women to have abortions.

    Student Assignment:

    In the beginning of the unit, you will be assigned one of the following roles. It will be your responsibility to research the case (and others like this one) and the character you have in the trial using the IMC and/or another library. You will then role play your character in a mock trial at the end of the unit.......what are you waiting for?!?! Get researching!

    Mock Trial Roles

    Marianne Jeffries- Marianne Jeffries is 35 years old and suffered one miscarriage three years ago. The Jeffries have had difficulty beginning their pregnancies. Marianne's health is generally good. There is a history of diabetes in Marianne's family; her father developed the disease at the age of 49 and is currently taking insulin daily. Marianne stopped smoking at age 28 after being a moderate smoker for about 6 years.

    The Jeffries- The Jeffries recognize the seriousness of the abnormalities being experienced by their fetus. They are emotionally devastated by the situation; their desire to have a "normal" child has been frustrated again. They asked about the possibility of fetal transplant to make "something good" come out of their tragedy. The Jeffries are also concerned about the effects of an abortion on Marianne this late in her life. They want to try to have another child unless this condition is likely to occur again.

    Judge James Warren- a newly appointed judge to the mock trial court, Judge Warren will preside over the case, making sure the defendant, plaintiff, and jury are ready to hear the case. The judge will also, following closing arguments by the attorneys, charge (instruct) the jury. This will include an explanation by the judge of the issues to be decided.

    The Jury- 6 or 12 students to determine the fate of this case

    Plaintiff Attorney for the State, Stephanie Rodgers- a young, career-path, aggressive state's attorney who has been working for the State of Illinois for three years.

    Defense Attorney for the Jeffries, B.J. Ork- one of the more successful defense attorneys in the United States. He has lost only 2 cases in his 18 year history. Clerk of the Court, James Shelly- calls the court to order, swears in the jury, and keeps track of the time.

    Potential Witnesses

    St. Christopher's Hospital- potential site for the fetal tissue research; one of the leading hospitals in the country for pediatrics; extremely modern and up-to-date.

    Dr. Richard Thomas- the foremost authority in the United States on fetal tissue research; has spent most of the last three years in Washington, D.C. attempting to convince the President and Congress on the need and importance of fetal tissue research.

    Douglas Johnson- legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee, feels that fetal tissue research will lead to many more abortions.

    Dr. Arthur Caplan- director of the University of Minnesota's Center for Biomedical Ethics, has stated that few women, if any, would be moved to have an abortion by a charitable impulse.

    Dr. Louis Sullivan- head of U.S. Department of Health and Human Resources, who defends the federal government's ban on fetal tissue.

    Judy Rosner- a member of the United Parkinson Foundation, a group attempting to overturn the fetal tissue ban.

    Jim Drake- a congressional lobbyist for the American Medical Association.

    Representative Henry Waxman (D-California)- sponsor of a congressional bill attempting to overturn the moratorium on fetal tissue research.

    Senator Gordon Humphrey (R-New Hampshire)- vehemently opposes fetal tissue research, thereby supporting the Republican federal policy.

    James Bardsley- president of the International Institute for the Advancement of Medicine, the nation's largest supplier of fetal tissue.

    Teacher Demonstrations

    "ISOLATING DNA"

    Materials needed:

    • a piece of beef liver, 4x6 cm in size, 1 cm thick

    • 3 beakers

    • graduated cylinder

    • tap water & boiling water

    • hot plate

    • knife or scalpel

    • trichloroacetic acid (TCA)

    • 2 pieces of filter paper

    • funnel/stand

    • 10% sodium cloride solution (saltwater)

    • test tube

    • 95% ethyl alcohol solution (cold)

    • glass rod

    Steps:

    1. Place the liver in a beaker and add 75ml of tap water. Cut, shred, and tear the liver with the knife (be rough!). Stir and allow the debris to settle to the bottom.

    2. Carefully pour the fluid off the top into another beaker, being careful not to allow any of the solid pieces to be poured in with the fluid.

    3. Take about 15 ml of this liquid and add to it 15 ml of TCA. Pour the solution through a filter. (The material that clings to the filter paper contains the DNA.)

    4. Scrape the insoluble material off the filter paper and dissolve it in another beaker with 15 ml of 10% NaCl solution.

    5. Take the beaker and place it in boiling water for about 10 minutes, then allow to cool. (You may want to lecture a bit at this point.)

    6. Take the cool solution and pour it through another filter. (The DNA will now be in the solution that passes through the filter.)

    7. Take this filtrate and slowly dribble 2-3 as much 95% cold ethyl alcohol into it. The milky white precipitate is the DNA. Take a glass rod into the solution and withdraw the thick mass of DNA fibers.

    "GENETIC COIN TOSS"

    Ask a student to assist you in this demonstration. Exhibit a coin (a silver dollar would be great!) and confirm with the student it has both a head's and tail's side. Ask the students of the chances that the head's side will turn up when the coin is tossed. (Obviously, he/she will say 50-50). Explain that we can also say that the ratio is 1:1 or 1/2. Let the student toss the coin and record the result on the board.

    Now ask:

    "If this coin is tossed again, what are the chances that the same side will turn up again?" (The chances remain 1:1, or 1/2) Every time the coin is tossed, the odds of a particular side turning up goes back to 1:1. Allow the student 10 trials and record each result. Compare the actual results to the original prediction of 50-50.

    "As the number of trials increased, how did the actual ratio of results compare to the expected?" Odds are, the greater number of trials, the closer to 1:1. (If not, continue the coin toss!)

    *** Optional: You may wish to further this demonstration by having coins that represent different genes for a trait to extend development of segregation and independent assortment revealing genotypic and phenotypic ratios.

    "COMBOS"

    Take the scarves, hats, and gloves that the students bring in (1 of each item of clothing is fine) and place them in separate piles. Ask a student volunteer to come up and put on a combination of one hat, one scarf, and one pair of gloves. Have the students write down the combination. Then have that student return the clothing and sit down. Repeat the process with more volunteers, asking each to choose a different combination, and having the students write down the combinations. After about 10 volunteers, give the students 5 minutes to write down as many combinations as they can think of. (With 5 hats, 5 scarves, and 5 pairs of gloves = 5 x 5 x 5 = 125, etc.)

    Then develop these ideas:

    1. random selection in genes is very similar to this exercise, except the number is in the thousands;
    2. independent assortment and segregation of genes.

    "PICTIONARY"

    With the pictures that the students bring in (one of their parents at the student's age), ask the student volunteer to briefly explain the reasons for their choice (and, perhaps, reasons from other students). From these responses, develop these ideas:

    1. traits are passed from one generation to another;

    2. some traits do not appear in all generations (they may 'skip' a generation);

    3. other traits may appear for the first time in one member (generation).

    ***CAUTION: This exercise should NOT be mandatory! Not all members of a family are biologically related!!

    "GENETIC ENGINEERING IN THE FARMSTAND"

    Introduce and begin your discussion of genetic engineering with a few examples of seedless fruit found in the supermarket. Common examples are oranges and watermelon. Allow students some time to discuss what genetic improvements are and hypothesize ways that the alteration might have occurred. Mutations have already been discussed and continue this idea through the selective-breeding process.

    ANIMAL RIGHTS: JUST LIKE US?

    "Animals injected with carcinogens, sliced open in dissection trays and thrown away; animals trapped and skinned alive for mink coats. Tomorrow on Oprah."

    The unit project for Diversity, Animal Rights: Just Like Us?, is composed of two parts:

    Part 1: You are required to research a position of your choosing regarding the Animal Rights Movement or Animal Research by using the informational resources in the IMC (Dynix, InfoTrac, ProQuest, Periodical Guide to Literature, etc.) or any other library. Then write a position paper (take a stand and defend it!) of one to two typed or word processed pages. Remember: Referenced materials must be in the form of a bibliography!

    Part 2: You will be assigned to a group of 3-4 students that will defend a position in the Animal Rights Movement or Animal Research in front of a talk show audience (similar to Oprah/Donahue/Jenny Jones/Geraldo/ect.). Be sure each person in the group speaks and knows the pros and cons of the position selected. You will then have to field questions from the show host and the audience. You will be graded on:

    1. how well you know your position and can defend it to others;
    2. your ability to ask pertinent questions from the audience, attempting to refute the evidence of other groups.

    Each group will be "on stage" for a 5 minute discussion of their position followed by a 3 minute question/answer session from the audience.

    Who's Who in Animal Rights and Animal Welfare

    There are at least 75 non-profit groups working for animal rights and animal welfare in this country. The groups' agendas vary. Some have multimillion-dollar budgets, large staffs and work on a wide range of issues. Others have little funding, skeleton work forces and focus on one or two issues. What follows is a list of some of the nation's most active and influential groups.

    American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA). Formed in 1866, this New York-based group is the nation's oldest animal welfare group. The ASPCA runs a variety of services to combat pet overpopulation, including animal shelters, adoption centers, spay-neuter clinics and rescue ambulances. The group also lobbies to pass and enforce laws against the cruelty to animals. In recent years, the ASPCA has worked to ban the Draize test, which is widely used in the cosmetics industry.

    Animal Liberation Front (ALF). Considered a "militant" underground group by many, this group began in 1984 at the University of Pennsylvania. It has claimed responsibility for conducting raids on more than 70 research facilities. Animal researchers consider the group a "terrorist" organization, because during some ALF raids research equipment has been destroyed and animals used in experiments have been set free.

    People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals (PETA). Formed in 1981, this Washington, D.C.-based group now has over 350,000 members and is the most active animal rights group in the nation. PETA is an activist organization whose official slogan is: "Animals are not ours to eat, wear or experiment on." PETA makes widespread use of legal action, "undercover" investigations, demonstrations, media campaigns and celebrity testimonials. Its agenda includes campaigns against biomedical and cosmetic animal testing, factory farming, hunting, the fur industry and high school dissection.

    American Medical Association (AMA). The foremost association for the medical community, the group has accused animal rights activists of misleading the public and using terrorist tactics to further their agenda. They say that federal and state laws now insure that animals are used humanely in research. They also say that the activists are hampering much-needed medical research (AIDS research included). In recent years, the AMA has mounted a counteroffensive against the animal rights movement to show the American public both sides of the issue. In addition, the AMA has challenged PETA's view on high school dissections by saying that "Science education is now under attack," by organizations that use school children as "pawns" to help further activist claims.

    Fur Information Council of America (FICA). The fur industry's campaign to counteract the animal rights protests. In 1990, the group began a $2 million anti-animal rights advertising campaign. The group says that animals raised for fur are kept humanely and killed painlessly with gas. Animals trapped in the wild, they say, suffer fates that are little different from those that await other animals in nature. The vice president of this group has said, "They (the activists) have no conception of animals in the wild. Animals don't die of old age. They starve to death or are torn apart by predators."

    Campaign for Human Health and Safety (CHHS). A coalition of personal-care-product companies (such as Johnson & Johnson, Revlon, Avon Products, and Faberge Inc.), medical and scientific organizations (such as the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services), and universities opposed to legislation that would restrict animal testing of biomedical and consumer products. This group works closely with the Coalition for Animals and Animal Research and the Incurably Ill for Animal Research.


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