Biotechnology and the Holocaust

It's my first week of teaching high school (hooray, I survived!), and I came in two weeks after the Winter Break so I'm rushing to get the students ready for their state performance quizzes in Unit 5 Genetics. We've been slamming through presentations and notes, and just took our last quiz (before Monday's unit exam). I wanted something easy on them for Friday, but still worth the time.

The last section of Genetics is biotechnology. We talk about genetically modified agriculture, karyotyping, and the bacterial production of insulin through recombinant DNA. I decided to include part of the TED Talk "The Ethical Dilemma of Designer Babies" by Knoepfer and use the last half of class to engage the students in an ethics discussion.

As a small sidebar, I like to have the National holidays on the board (National Pie Day, etc) and I'd forgotten to look them up. My co-teacher noticed and wrote "International Holocaust Remembrance Day". It was a perfect thing to tie into the biotechnology information, because we had a lot of really good "pros" for genetically modifying humans (removing cancer genes, autism, etc) but not so many negatives. A brief discussion outlining eugenics and Hitler's Dr. Mengele and suddenly the students had some "cons" to go with it! We got responses like "we could make super humans that enslave us" or "we might be racist against the genetically modified people (maybe not think they're human". Students were willing to say they were pro or con on the issue and tell us why. Once we reminded them they could be neutral or unsure in an ethical dilemma, more piped in with why they were unsure. Even in the rowdy class it was a huge success.


Stuff I'd like to tie in next time:
SC.912.L.16.10  Evaluate the impact of biotechnology on the individual, society and the environment, including medical and ethical issues.

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