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Genetic Testing: Road Map or Crystal Ball?
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Grade Levels: 9-12

Estimated Time: One class period to introduce concept, one to show video and/or read case studies. Writing assignment can be homework.

Introduction: Students are exposed to the pros and cons of genetic testing and must take a stand by writing a position paper, after viewing the "Who Gets to Know?" video and/or reading case studies from the Our Genes/Our Choices series.

Materials Needed
Teaching Strategies
Assessment Ideas
Extension Ideas
Standards Correlations
About the Author

Lesson Objectives:
Students will:

  • Define genetic testing
  • List the benefits of genetic testing
  • Understand some of the possible negative consequences of genetic testing
  • Express a viewpoint and support it.

Materials Needed:

Teaching Strategy:

  1. Ask students, "What do you know about genetic testing? What is meant by the phrase genetic profile?" Invite students to take the "What Do You Know?" quiz on this Web site. Discuss their responses, and then have students explore the sites at: Genetic Counseling: http://www.4woman.gov/editor/jul99/jul99.htm and Understanding Gene Testing: http://www.accessexcellence.org/AE/AEPC/NIH/, to find out more about what can be learned through genetic testing.

    Be sure students can answer the following:

    • What is a gene?
    • Where are genes located?
    • How does heredity affect disease?
    • What is gene testing?
    • What are the possible uses of gene testing?
    • What information does a predictive gene test provide?
    • What are some of the benefits of gene testing?
    • What are some of the risks of gene testing?

  2. Present the quotation from Paul Miller: "A genetic test is, and this is why people are so concerned with genetics, an attempt to look into some fuzzy crystal ball and to make a guess about what that future may be."

    Suggest that there are two sides to this quotation. Those that disagree with the quotation might say that genetic testing is a road map, showing the path to the end of all genetic disorders, and would support wide-scale genetic testing. Those that agree with the statement might say that genetic testing leads to too many uncertainties and its use should be limited.

  3. Instruct students to divide a piece of paper into two columns and label one column "Road Map." Explain the road map view of genetic testing is that testing is ultimately beneficial, the key to preventing inherited disorders; it is definitely the direction we should be heading. The other column should be labeled "Crystal Ball." Explain that the crystal ball viewpoint is that there may be unseen problems associated with genetic testing; the future is not so clear and well-defined as the road map viewpoint might suggest.

  4. Show the video Our Genes/Our Choices "Who Gets to Know?" As the students watch, they should record the ideas presented in the video that support the road map idea or the crystal ball idea of genetic testing in the appropriate columns on their paper. To ensure that students understand, pause the video after a few key points are made and ask "Road map or Crystal Ball?" For example, Artie is told by his physician that knowing his risk for cancer could potentially save his life (road map). Alternatively, Artie's sister says that there is no legislation to protect their insurance rights if they are found to have a genetic defect (crystal ball).

    As an extension of video viewing, or as an alternative if the video is not available, ask students to read the Real-Life Stories which illustrate the road map and crystal ball viewpoints.

  5. Have students write a position paper on how they feel about widespread use of genetic testing. They must support their viewpoints using the concepts they recorded from the video and/or the stories. The Web sites listed in the Resources section may provide additional data that students can use to support their opinions.

Assessment Ideas:
Teachers may assess students' understanding of the issues through participation in class discussion, the Road Map/Crystal Ball organizer, and the final position paper.

Extension Ideas:

  • Find out which diseases may already be diagnosed through genetic testing.
  • Research the history and progress of the Human Genome Project.

Correlation to Standards:

Correlation to the National Science Education Standards:

  1. CONTENT STANDARD E: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understandings about science and technology:
    • Science often advances with the introduction of new technologies. Solving technological problems often results in new scientific knowledge. New technologies often extend the current levels of scientific understanding and introduce new areas of research.
  2. CONTENT STANDARD F: As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of science and technology in local, national, and global challenges:
    • Progress in science and technology can be affected by social issues and challenges. Funding priorities for specific health problems serve as examples of ways that social issues influence science and technology.
    • Individuals and society must decide on proposals involving new research and the introduction of new technologies into society. Decisions involve assessment of alternatives, risks, costs, and benefits and consideration of who benefits and who suffers, who pays and gains, and what the risks are and who bears them. Students should understand the appropriateness and value of basic questions--"What can happen?"--"What are the odds?"--and "How do scientists and engineers know what will happen?"

Note: This lesson plan is also correlated to state science standards through the PBS TeacherSource Web site.

About the Author: Author Viki Babcock taught biology and physical science for 5 years at Hannibal High School in Hannibal, Missouri. She is currently teaching biology, zoology and botany at DeSoto High School in DeSoto, Missouri.

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