Tearing Up The <i>Andromeda Strain</i>
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Tearing Up The Andromeda Strain
Carolyn S. Nevin

Hokes Bluff High School
1865 Appalachia Road
Hokes Bluff, Alabama 35903

TYPE OF ENTRY: lesson/class activity

TYPE OF ACTIVITY: group/cooperative learning, prereading strategy for class discussion

TARGET AUDIENCE: Grades 9-12. Biology, advanced biology, applied biology/chemistry

An important issue related to Science, Technology, and Society is the development and use of biological and chemical weapons. News releases concerning American soldiers suffering from �Gulf War Syndrome� having in reality been exposed to manufactured toxins make biowarfare a timely topic. The Andromeda Strain is the story of an experiment in potential biowarfare gone terribly wrong. During our unit on viruses and bacteria, my students �read� this book using a cooperative learning strategy called a group intermix. The activity enables students to read a rather lengthy book in a relatively short period of time (2-3 class periods). The activity also facilitates effective class discussion of the material, since all students are actively involved in the reading process. What�s more, it requires just one copy of the book to tear up. In fact, the strategy works with any book you wish to incorporate into your curriculum.

I would like to thank Dr. Stanley Easton of Jacksonville State University, Jacksonville, Alabama, for introducing me to this reading strategy through the auspices of the Northeast Alabama Network of Environmental Educators.

BACKGROUND: Do you avoid assigning your students a full-length book to read, because they either don�t do the reading or because the cost of 30+ copies of a supplemental book is simply not in your science budget? This activity helps overcome these obstacles while it gets your students reading in a group effort and improves their communication skills. You will need one paperback copy of The Andromeda Strain, which you will tear up and prepare ahead of time to distribute to groups of students. Students travel from their assigned home groups to their reading groups. Each reading group is responsible for reading a given number of pages �together�. Then students return to their home groups, where they summarize all the content shared in the reading group. When a round is completed, the teacher distributes the next set of pages and the process is repeated.

Give students one or two minutes to read their assigned pages in the home group. Call time and have them move to their reading groups to share content. Do not allow students to take notes or to read their pages out loud to group members. They must summarize the content in their own words. Once all pages have been read, you can conduct the class discussion of the material. Possible topics appear below. During class discussion, it is helpful to have one copy of the complete novel per group for student reference.

PREPARATION TIME: One hour to number pages and tear up the book.

CLASS TIME : 2-3 class periods


How many participants?
Ideally, you should have 3 groups of 3, 4 groups of 4, 5 groups of 5, etc. Thus, you will need 9, 16, 25, or 36 students. If there are extra students, they may travel as a buddy for a student, sharing responsibilities. Alternately, poor readers may be paired with skilled readers.

How to prepare the book?
Assume, for example, that you have 16 students. You would then prepare the book for four groups of four, so you would use letters "A","B","C", and "D". Beginning with the first page of text, write the letter "A" on the upper right-hand corner, front side only, of the first four pages. Write the letter "B" on the next four pages, the letter "C" on the next four, and the letter "D" on the next four. Then start over with "A" and continue this process until you have marked all the pages students are to share. See Figure 1.

How to group students?
Seat your 16 students in four groups of four students each. Explain that students will be reading one copy of a book together, which they will they discuss as a class. Label each group as A, B, C, or D. These are the home locations. Explain that each student will be a member of two groups -- the home group and the content group-- and two groups will meet at each of the four locations.

How to distribute the pages?
Deal out the first 32 pages (16 sheets) into four sets. Each will contain pages marked A through D. Give the lowest numbered pages to group A, the next lowest page numbers to group B, etc. For example, Home Group A will get pages numbered 1, 9, 17, and 25 (See Figure 1). Each student takes a page and notes the letter on the top. The letter indicates the content group the student is to go to for sharing. Instruct students to get the same letter each round so that they will alternate between the same two groups each time.

Now students read their pages.
Give students 1-2 minutes to read both sides of their pages. Explain that they will be responsible for sharing the content in their content groups. They will also have to listen carefully to the other members of their content groups, since each of them will have to share information from the entire content group with their home group members.

Students share in content groups.
Students go to content groups as indicated by the letter on their pages. Students in each content group will now have consecutive pages from a part of the book. Students take about a minute each to share content according to page order.

Students share in home groups.
Students return to home groups and share what they have learned. Again, allow up to a minute for each student to speak. At this point students in each home group will be sharing 32 pages of text.

Complete the reading.
Distribute the next 32 pages and repeat the group intermix until all pages have been shared.

What if students get lost?
It helps to ask a few questions about what is happening in the story between rounds of reading. That way, you can monitor student progress and make sure all students are following the plot.

NOTE: If you spread the reading out over 2-3 class periods, you should allow time during each session to briefly discuss the pages read. Students can take notes during this time.

Before students begin the group reading activity, I ask them to watch for examples of stereotyped portrayals of scientists, gender roles, examples of computer technology and laboratory techniques (This novel was published in 1969.). Then we discuss the changes that have taken place. We compare the �biohazard suits� worn by scientists in The Andromeda Strain to the modern ones worn by scientists in The Hot Zone. I also ask students to watch for ways the scientists in the story use the scientific method for problem solving.

Compare/contrast this activity to The Blackout Syndrome investigation from Access Excellence.

Bioethics of Biowarfare Research -- our textbook (Biology -- Principles and Explorations, Holt, 1996) has a Science-Technology-Society essay at the end of Chapter 20 dealing with this topic, as well as a list of related readings.

Revisiting the science of Aerobiology -- read and discuss the article in the February, 1997, issue of Discover by Kevin Krajick called &34;The Floating Zoo&34; The article provides a good discussion of our growing concern about airborne infections and potential for biological warfare.

EVALUATION could include the writing of an essay to be placed in the student portfolio. Figure 1. Page assignments (numbers) and group assignments (letters) for four groups of four students. Write letters in the upper right-hand corner of the pages.

     Group A....Group B....Group C....Group D	 


Content.....A.........A.........A..........A Group A.....1.........3..........5..........7

Content.....B.........B.........B...........B Group B.....9........11........13..........15

Content.....C........C ........C..........C Group C....17.......19.........21.........23

Content.....D........D .........D........D Group D....25.......27.........29........31

Use the above figure as a model for numbering the remaining pages of your copy of The Andromeda Strain.

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