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You Be the Teacher: Genetics

Subject:Science, Biology, Genetics (DNA & RNA Structure, Mendelian Genetics/Punnett Squares, Replication, Protein Synthesis, Genetic Engineering)

Grade Level: 9-11

Description: Students are grouped homogenously by language and ability level in order to learn about various aspects of genetics. In their groups, they are given specific sub-topics to teach the class. A more scaffolded version of the sub-topics guides them as they research answers on the Internet and in textbooks. After learning the material, they create a lesson plan to teach the class. Lessons must include a warm up/do now, minilesson, activity, closing, and a homework assignment. They spend almost the entire 1-hour period teaching the class. At the end of each lesson, the class takes a short quiz to assess how well the “teachers” taught the material, and they fill out a performance evaluation form and the “teachers” reflect on quality of their lesson as well.

How it Works: The projects start with completing the research. The students complete most it using the Internet, but the research could be completed by only using books. The use of the Internet allows students to translate information into their native languages if needed.

Once the students understand the content, they construct a minilesson that varies from handouts that the class completes, a short PowerPoint presentation, and a poster to a mini-lecture driven by questions from the “teachers” to showing a BrainPop video. The students decide which format is best suited to their language, skill, and preference and the material they need to teach.

After the MiniLesson, all groups prepare a hands-on activity for the class to complete. In order to facilitate choosing an activity, we provide students with folders containing various activities relating to each topic for them to choose from. For example, activities included building a DNA molecule using clay, cutting out puzzle pieces to make a DNA molecule, and decoding messages using the codon table. Before teaching the lesson, students actually do the activity themselves and obtain all of the materials needed to complete the activity beforehand.

Students answer any questions that the class has at the end of the lesson. The class then completes an evaluation of the lesson the “teachers” taught, and the “teachers” completed a self evaluation of the quality of their lesson. A mini-quiz is given at the end of each lesson to assess the quality of the lesson and how much the students learned. Once every group has presented their lesson, a comprehensive test is given to the students.

Final Project/Product: The final product is the actual lesson that that the students teach.

Overall Value: This project’s greatest value is that the students actually assume the role of the teacher. It is amazing to see how much responsibility they take on and the pride they have in their lessons. In order to teach the material, the students need a strong understanding of it; teaching the class further cements their own understanding. Usually when each group studies a different topic, the group only understands their topic and does not understand the topic that their peers researched. This project solves this dilemma as the students are ‘taught’ the other topics by their peers. Furthermore, genetics lends itself well to differentiation. In order for the students with more English proficiency to fully understand their topics (such as protein synthesis or genetic engineering), they have to understand the more basic topics (such as DNA structure). At our school, we usually group students heterogeneously, but this gives students the opportunity to work with others who are similar in their English fluency and ability levels. It also enables different students to take on leadership roles within their groups and takes some of the pressure off students who speak little English since they are in a group with others like themselves. Students also have a greater appreciation for the amount of work that goes into preparing a lesson as well as the difficulties with classroom management.

English Language Learners: This project is geared toward ELL students because each topic the students teach is at a different level. The basic topics are fairly visual and easier to understand. The more complex topics require a basic understanding of the easier ones, so even if the group that is teaching DNA structure has difficulty conveying the material, the more advanced groups already understand it based on their own research. This means that there is less pressure for the students who are new to English, as most of the students have a basic knowledge of the topic before their lesson.

Grouping the students homogenously allows the teacher to spend more time with the students who are the newest English Language Learners. During the lessons, the teacher devotes most of the time to guiding these students through the lesson and its corresponding activity as the other students in the class are working in groups independently.

The scaffolded versions of the research questions help guide the students better than just giving them specific subtopics that they need to teach in their lesson. Students with lower fluency with English are able to use PowerPoint presentations and BrainPop as their minilesson to ease the pressure of speaking in front of the class.

The warm-ups/do-nows are visual in order to reach all of the students. Requiring all groups to have a lesson with an activity means that most students choose very visual or hands-on activities.

Tips for the Teacher: We were concerned at the start of the unit that the students would have difficulty grasping the material with little prior knowledge or exposure to genetics, but they managed to do a great job. In order to teach the students some of the major concepts, we used extended warm-ups/do-nows. We created giant DNA molecules out of paper and had the students figure out the base paring rules. Then we created a giant RNA molecule and compared it to the DNA. To teach replication, we then “unzipped” our giant DNA molecule. By the time the students were ready to present their lessons, they were familiar with most of the topics.

In order to hold individual students accountable for the work they completed each day, a group leader assigned every member of his/her group a grade at the end of each period. This was taken into account in the individual student’s final grade for the project.


 Standards Addressed
Elaborate on basic scientific and personal explanations of natural phenomena, and develop extended visual models and mathematical formulations to represent one’s thinking.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Living Environment
Hone ideas through reasoning, library research, and discussion with others, including experts.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Living Environment
Organisms inherit genetic information in a variety of ways that result in continuity of structure and function between parents and offspring.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Living Environment
Explain how the structure and replication of genetic material result in offspring that resemble their parents.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Living Environment
Explain how the technology of genetic engineering allows humans to alter genetic makeup of organisms.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: Living Environment
Students listen, speak, read, and write in English for critical analysis and evaluation.
  Grade: 9-12 Subject: ESL

Day 1: Research
Students research a topic using the Internet and textbooks.
Students understand detailed information about the topic they are researching.
Students complete an activity guide.
Internet access
Activity guides
Group Folder for students to keep their work and the Daily Participation Grade
Each group will have an individual set of vocabulary for their specific topic (see related attachment).
Procedure 1
Introduce the project to the students.
a. Put students into five homogeneous groups by language and skill level.
b. Give the ‘Genetics Project’ handout specific to each group and go over the details of the project with the students on an overhead projector.
c. Give each group a folder for their work with a ‘Daily Participation Grade’ paper stapled inside.
d. Have students choose a Group Leader.
Procedure 2
Students conduct research.
a. Students find the answers to the questions on their Project Guide on the Internet or in textbooks.
b. Some groups may require the Project Scaffolding to focus their research.
Procedure 3
Team Leader assigns a grade for each member of his group using the provided rubric at the end of each day. This providse an effort grade for each student in the group at the end of the project.
Giving students general DNA information during the warm-up/do-now is helpful in giving them new information as well as checking for understanding.
Students should have the teacher check the answers to their questions formally so that they do not teach incorrect information to the class.

Day 2: Lesson Planning
Students will plan a lesson to teach the class for 45 minutes to one hour.
Students will plan a warm-up/do-now for their lesson. (~5 minutes)
Student will prepare a mini-lesson about their topic. (10-15 minutes)
Students will choose a hands-on activity to teach to the class. (~20-25 minutes)
Students will prepare a closing activity to conclude their lesson. (~5 minutes)
Students may require a variety of materials to prepare for their lessons. These will vary from group to group and class to class.
How creative the students become will determine the materials you need.
You may need students to bring in their own supplies from home.
A folder of activities for each group
Key vocabulary for each lesson will depend on the presentation (see related attachment).
Procedure 1
Students should split up these parts of the lesson and each person can work on one to complete the work in the time given.
a. Students should plan their warm-up/do-now.
b. Ideas: handout, overhead, written on the board, etc.
Procedure 2
Students prepare a mini-lesson to teach the class about their topic.
a. Students can teach this in any way they choose, but ALL of the material on their Activity Guide must be presented. Ideas: PowerPoint, Internet Animations, BrainPop Videos, Informative Poster, etc…
b. Students prepare the mini-lesson.
Brain Pop http://brainpop.com
Procedure 3
Students choose their activity.
a. Teacher finds a few hands-on activities from the Internet that they think their students would be able to teach. They should print these out and put them into a folder, one folder per topic. The hands-on activities should be easy to understand and teach.
b. Students choose from a folder provided by teacher.
c. Students figure out what materials they need for the activity.
Procedure 4
Students should prepare a closing activity to sum up their lesson.
a. Students make a homework assignment for the class including themselves.
b. Students test their own teaching by making a homework assignment about what they taught.
c. Students are responsible for grading the assignment the following day and it will count towards the class homework grade.
Procedure 5
Team leader assigns a grade for each member of his group using the provided rubric at the end of each day.

Day 3: Lesson Final Preparation
Students will get their lessons ready to present to the class.
Students will complete all portions of the lesson plan.
Students will try the activity they will teach.
Students will have a final draft of their lesson plan.
Students may require a variety of materials based on what their lesson plan has in it.
Key vocabulary for each lesson will depend on the presentation (see related attachment)
Procedure 1
Students write up their final lesson plans, get all of their work ready to teach the class, and put it into their folders for the presentations.
a. Write up the final lesson plan for the project (type if there is time).
Procedure 2
Make copies of necessary items for the class.
Procedure 3
Students should try their activity to be sure that they understand how it works and that they have all of the supplies they will need.
a. Students bring in supplies for their activity.
Procedure 4
Team leader assigns a grade for each member of his group using the provided rubric at the end of each day.

Day 4: Lesson Presentations by the Students
Students will be able to present information to the class in an effective manner.
Students will be able to identify the structure and function of DNA.
Students will be able to identify the differences between DNA and RNA.
As needed, depending on which activities the students choose to do.
Materials needed may include colored paper, scissors, computer, projector, clay/playdough, toothpicks.
Procedure 1
"Teachers" present the warm up/do now.
a. “Teachers” put the warm up on the board.
b. Students are responding to the warmup in their science notebooks or on the handout provided.
c. “Teachers” go over the warm up with the students.
Key vocabulary for each lesson will depend on the presentation (see related attachment).
Procedure 2
"Teachers" present a mini-lesson.
a. Varies depending on the group. The mini-lesson may consist of questions, notes, a worksheet, etc. A sample of a mini-lesson animation that some of the Genetic Engineering groups showed from the University of Utah is provided below.
b. Students take notes on the information provided by each group in their notebooks.
University of Utah http://learn.genetics.utah.edu/units/biotech/gel/
Procedure 3
"Teachers" present the activity.
a. “Teachers” explain the activity and possibly show a model.
b. “Teachers” pass out the materials.
c. Students complete the activity.
d. Students clean up the materials.
Procedure 4
"Teachers" present a closing.
a. “Teachers” wrap up the lesson in various ways depending on the group.
b. Students ask the “teachers” any questions they have. “Teachers” respond.
c. “Teachers” pass out homework.
d. Actual teachers asks each member of the presenting group a question from their scaffolded worksheet to test their knowledge.
Procedure 5
Actual teacher will give every student a mini-quiz.
a. Actual teacher passes out a short quiz (made by the actual teacher) to test the effectiveness of the group’s lesson.
b. All students (including the presenting group) take the mini-quiz.
c. Students fill out an evaluation of the group’s lesson, and presenting group (“teachers”) fill out a self-evaluation.
d. Team Leader assigns a grade for each member of his group using the provided rubric at the end of each day.
The Science Spot - Genetics with SpongeBob http://sciencespot.net/Media/gen_spbobgenetics.pdf
Homework will vary depending on the group’s presentation. Some groups may design handouts for the students while other groups may just have them write a paragraph about what they learned.
The actual teacher is able to assess the students during the lessons because he/she is moving throughout the room while the group presents. The mini-quizzes allow the teacher to assess how much the class actually learned from the student teachers.

Day 5: Assessment
Students will understand that DNA is the hereditary information of life.
Students will understand that the shape of DNA is a double helix.
Students will understand the similarities and differences between DNA and RNA.
Students will understand how DNA is copied.
Students will understand how proteins are made.
Test (3 different levels: blue – new to English, green, orange – comfortable with English)
Procedure 1
a. Teacher passes out the test to students based on their level of language acquisition and ability.
b. Students complete the test. They are able to use dictionaries that translate from their native language to English.
As an individual extension to the group project, have the students complete genetics books individually (See Book Project).
The teacher will use the test scores to gauge student understanding. Based on the quiz results, the teacher may decide to re-teach some of the topics.

Tiffany Thornton & Kara Bristow



International High School at Kingsborough Community College
755 E. 100th Street
Brooklyn, NY 11236

Tiffany moved to New York after college to become a New York City Teaching Fellow. She taught ninth-grade Living Environment in 2005 at a new school in Coney Island. After her first year, she taught at one of the International High Schools throughout the city that are designed for recent immigrants. International High School has allowed Tiffany to develop her skill with project-based learning and incorporating technology in the classroom.

Kara has been teaching at the International High School for three years now and was one of the founding teachers there in 2005. She taught Earth Science for a year and has been teaching Living Environment to nine/ten grade mixed classes the past two years. Students there work in collaborative groups on projects in which the teacher facilitates the student learning. Working in a school environment with English Language Learners has taught Kara the importance of making lessons accessible to all of the students in her classroom. She enjoys sharing hands-on lessons with her students and looks forward to many more years at her school.

Important documents for this lesson plan.

Activity Folder Samples.doc
Book Project.doc
Daily Grade.doc
Genetics Book Template.doc
Genetics Project.doc
Genetics Test.doc
KaraT_Lesson plan template.doc
Project Scaffolding.doc
Self and Peer Evaluations.doc


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