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The Human Genome Newsletter

Michael A. Tolfa

Type of Entry:

  • project

Type of Activity:

  • hands-on
  • simulation
  • inquiry lab
  • authentic assessment
  • group/cooperative learning
  • community outreach/off-site
  • review/reinforcement

Target Audience:

  • Life Science
  • Biology
  • Advanced/AP Biology
  • Anatomy and Physiology
  • Genetics, Biotechnology
  • Special needs (gifted, ESL, LEP, NEP, Fragile-X

Notes to Teacher:

THGN is an authentic forum for student research, original laboratory or literature, historical, or creative expression. THGN exists to provide positive outside reinforcement for excellence in your classroom. I know of one writer, Rana Nicole Hutchison, who became a "home-town hero" when she published in a nationally distributed publication. I want more kids across the country to gain the same sense of fulfillment and gain the same recognition. Our hard-copy edition becomes a treasure for our published writers. And, we always need teachers who want to share ideas.

Required of Students:

Students are required to follow our publication guidelines. These were developed to model professional publications while maintaining the flow in high school classrooms.

Preparation and Class Time Needed:

None additional. You already expect your students to research and write. [MH1]This is a repository of excellence and serves as a model of successful writing at the high school level. It is used in many high schools as examples of peer writing ability.


The Human Genome Newsletter (THGN) was created in 1993-94 by Michael Tolfa. THGN meets these needs: (1) enhance learning about modern biology/biotechnology and its implications; (2) integrate electronic technology with traditional biology instruction; (3) actively involve students of differing talent and motivation in an authentic publication; (4) develop cooperative work habits yielding a powerful product; and, (5) developing leadership. With supervisory control among Nebraska students, works from both within and outside Nebraska are published.


What question does this activity help students to answer?

The Human Genome Newsletter (THGN) serves as a vehicle for student expression on topics related to modern biology/biotechnology. It chiefly seeks to answer - "I have learned that the process of science includes information dissemination. Where and how do I publish the results of my investigation?



In agreement with constructivism and current practice, students are provided with real opportunity. The Human Genome Newsletter provides a student-authored forum for expressing their ideas related to the scientific, legal, and ethical implications of research and developments in the international human genome project.


The mission of The Human Genome Newsletter is to provide a forum of expression to enhance learning about modern molecular genetics, with special emphasis on the human condition.


  1. All students can learn human genetics and make informed decisions relevant thereto, given support and opportunity.

  2. Human genetics is an integral part of everyday life.

  3. Learning human genetics goes beyond the scientific implications. It includes legal, ethical, and social ramifications.

  4. Learners must be empowered to think and learn (more) for themselves.

Users of The Human Genome Newsletter will:

  • understand human genetics at the molecular level

  • use problem solving skills to make informed decisions

  • communicate both opinion and fact to a variety of audiences and be able to discriminate between fact and opinion

  • become involved in local decision making

For three years I used a satellite offering uplinked by the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications (MCET). Developed and hosted by Robin J. R. Blatt, M.P.H., Genetics Coordinator of the Massachusetts Department of Health, The Human Genome Project presented modern molecular genetics in an interactive format. Presentations featured professionals from MIT, Massachusetts General Hospital, The Shriver Center, and others. Students interacted via telephone and internet with each other, featured professionals, and production staff. Some of my students wrote and presented original works on genetic engineering, inheritable diabetes, and other topics.

From a modest beginning of four pages and local distribution, THGN grew to 20 pages with national distribution in two years. Second year funding was provided by MCET. But, as Robin Blatt told me, "MCET's commitment to this course is winding down. I've wanted to leave something that will keep molecular genetics in classrooms around the nation. Perhaps this [THGN] will be the on-going legacy." And an interdisciplinary legacy it is! We are including original art, poetry, discussion, articles, interviews, research, and ideas from students in Nebraska, Florida, Massachusetts, New York, Nevada and elsewhere. THGN's success is rooted in Nebraska student cooperative ownership. Learners of varying background and motivation have a place in this publication. As one average, low motivated student put it, "I never thought I'd be writing for important people all over." - Doug Smith, 10th Grade. And, more highly motivated students have been able to interview and publish pieces about Fragile x, cancer, and Huntington's disease.

Articles constituting student research must be documented with literature cited in the [Authorname, I. Title. Journal name V:(N);pp. Date.] form. Undocumented work will be considered student opinion. Writers will attempt to address these points: What, so what, what else, what lies ahead? Short articles should be 200-800 words with feature articles being 1200-2500 words. Articles with photos or original artwork are most welcome. Published writers will receive by-line and a complimentary hard copy. All writers must identify their school, class, and grade. Submissions are subject to peer and editorial review and may be modified to fit available space. Submissions may be made on diskette in MS-DOS format or by email to mtolfa@genie.esu10.k12.ne.us. Diskettes and photos will be returned if accompanied by a return, self-addressed postage-paid mailer. All writers are asked to attach a short autobiographical piece and a recent photo (black and white wallet is preferred).

Focus on the Child

Amanda Korth
Junior, Scotia NE

In November, three of my classmates, Mr. Tolfa and I attended a symposium in Lincoln on the Human Genome project. One issue that was discussed that symposium was where or at what age we should start educating our children. I think this topic is one of the most important. I think it is just as important not only for the children to be educated but the older generation also.

Marque-Luisa Miringoff, a speaker at the symposium said we have only began to think of the implications for children. I think that it is so true because I know there are so many kids out there who have no idea what's going on in society and its going to hurt them so much as they get older.

Ruth Purtilo, another speaker at the symposium, had so many important things to say. She said, help to set a course of genetics and FOCUS ON THE CHILD.

One question that was presented by Wanda Jubb, was does every student need to receive education on HIV. I think the answer is definitely yes because you have to start somewhere and it's more wise to tell them before they get the disease so they have a chance to prevent it. Not only in HIV, but in genetic diseases even though you can't prevent them you can get educated about the disease.

I think there is another important issue, it is labeling a person with disability. Betsy Anderson, also speaker at the symposium, said everyone should come in contact with a person who has a disability. Her son has a disability and she spoke about what she goes through with her son. I also think discrimination comes along with labeling persons with disabilities. Scotia, Nebraska is a very small town (around 300 people) and we don't have a lot of labeling, about six years ago we had gotten a new kin in our class and he was black (the only colored person in our school) and no one knew what to think we were all scared of him at least I now I was because I didn't know what to think. No one knew what to think because we haven't been exposed to different cultures that more of America experiences. Not only is discrimination against races but is also present on physical abilities.

Support Materials

  • Subscription to the National Fragile X Advocate, Chapel Hill, NC;

  • THGN Advisory Board


    1. The Miracle of Life. WGBH Boston. 1986.

    2. Protecting Human Subjects. Office of Extramural Research, NIH; 1993.

    3. In Whose Hands? Cystic Fibrosis Case Study of the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications (MCET) 1995.

    4. Fragile Pressure. Fragile X Case Study. MCET 1995.

    5. Shadows on the Screen. Cancer Case Study. MCET 1995.

    6. A Test of Time. Huntington's Disease Case Study. MCET 1995.

    7. The Fragile X Mystery. CBS News "48-Hours" 1990.

    8. Confronting the Killer Gene. WGBH Boston.

    9. Extraordinary People (Thalidomide). Frontline.

    10. Test Tube Zoo.

    11. Anonymous Ultrasound video supplied by ObGyn MD.


    13. Project Genetics. Ball State Univ. Muncie Indiana

    14. Microsmos Project. Boston University.

    15. Stafford Ethical Decision Making Model. Simmons College. 1995.

Method of Assessment/Evaluation

Articles written have already been assessed in your classroom for your purposes. Now, submissions to THGN provide reinforcement of your criteria. Articles are seldom accepted without requiring rewrite. And, since peer review is used, your students can become voluntary reviewers, teaching others what constitutes good research and scientific writing.

Reviews of articles may become part of your portfolio of student works. Articles submitted and accepted for publication again enter portfolio. Clearly, our location for publication provides foremost reinforcement for your requirements for excellence.

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