Meet the Gene Machine stimulating bioethical discussions at school by nikeborome


									Meet the Gene Machine:
stimulating bioethical
discussions at school
                                call that th
     Host: …
               W  hat do you
                                                              Laura Strieth, Karen Bultitude,
            Oh, the M
                         y Hyper C
                                                sis with      Frank Burnet and Clare
                                 etic Analy
                     ising Gen
             Real Time
                                        ve                    Wilkinson use drama and
                          lity U   nit.
                              ene Mach
                                           ine. And           debate to encourage young
                 K… the G
       Host: O
               what does
                            it do?
                                le of DNA
                                              , insert it     people to discuss genetics and
                    ke a samp                    ay and…
        Chris: I ta               e Microarr                  what it means for us all. Why
                in h ere and th
                          achine.                e analyses
         Host: Gene M               e Machin                  not join in?
                    an d the Gen
         Chris: …                          complete
                             nts out a
                 it and pri
                  genetic pro

                                                                                                                Image courtesy of the Science Communication Unit

34    Science in School Issue 9 : Autumn 2008                               
                                                                                                    Teaching activities

                                                                                                                                         Image courtesy of the Science Communication Unit
Genetics: a difficult subject             (Burden, 2007; Millar, 2006), and                 secondary-school students. It is par-
   Genetic technologies have advanced     school students themselves have been              ticularly appropriate for students
dramatically since Watson and Crick       shown to value themw4.                            aged 13-18 but could also be used
first announced the structure of DNA        Meet the Gene Machine was                       with other age groups.
55 years ago. But these advances –        devised by the Science Communi-
including an increase in the number       cation Unitw5 at the University of the            Try it in your own classroom
of genetic tests to diagnose or predict   West of Englandw6, Bristol, and is                  Meet the Gene Machine opens with
disease, the growth of gene banksw1       funded by the Wellcome Trustw7. The               a short play to inform and amuse
and advances in reproductive tech-        project and the training materials                young people: a scientist explains his
nologies – have raised complex per-       were developed with the advice of a               newly developed gene machine dur-
sonal, social and ethical questions.      genetic counsellor, scientists, a teacher         ing a television chat show. The play
Who should have access to a person’s      and a playwright. The activity has                stimulates an informed and lively
genetic profile and how should it be      been tested across the UK and inter-              debate by introducing pupils to basic
used? How does personal genetic           nationally.                                       genetics and raising vital ethical and
information affect our perception of        The format is transferable and easy             social questions about modern and
ourselves and others? Who owns and        to perform: it has been used success-             future genetic technologies.
controls genetic data? How are minor-     fully by university students, science               The script for the play can be freely
ity communities affected by genetic       centre and museum staff, actors and               downloadedw2 for use in the class-
information? These are just some of                                                         room and may be performed either by
the questions that audiences (aged                                                           two teachers or by two pupils. The
13-18) are encouraged to think about        Chris: Ah,                                       only essential props are a cotton bud
and discuss during a ‘Meet the Gene                       now that’s a                      and a fictional gene machine, which
                                                                         really inter-
                                                    esting gene.
Machine’w2 event, and which you can        Host: Uh                                         can be designed in accordance with
employ in your own classroom.                           huh.                                the teacher’s or students’ imagination.
                                           Chris: Wel
   The activity concentrates on discus-                 l, it’s pretty                        Following the play, there is a struc-
                                                                       technical. Y
                                                  might want                         ou
sion and debate – encouraging the                                 to talk to a              tured discussion, during which stu-
                                                  people abou                  few
students to think critically about the    Host: Yes?             t that…                    dents can express their own opinions
impact that science has on their lives    Chris: (DE                                        and consider the opinions of their
and on society. These skills are cen-                 EP BREAT                              peers on matters of genetic testing. To
                                                                     H) That gen
                                                 suggests you                      e
tral to the science courses recently                              have a pred               enable teachers running the activity to
                                                sition towar                   ispo-
introduced in England and Walesw3                               ds breast ca
                                                                             ncer.          involve as many students as possible                                                                   Science in School Issue 9 : Autumn 2008   35
in the discussion, the Meet the Gene             each characteristic is genetically        discussion, the students should pin
Machine team have developed some                 determined.                               the laminated paper for each char-
ideas and games suitable for a range                                                       acteristic on the wall at the appro-
of settings. Below are two of the most           Ranking game characteristics:             priate point on the spectrum
successful techniques.                           Musical ability                           between these two signs.
                                                 Cystic fibrosis
The ranking game                                 Alcoholism                             Tips
   Ask the audience to grade an array            Hair colour                              To keep the class interested, we rec-
of characteristics (such as hair colour          Athleticism                            ommend that you run the ranking
or criminality) on a spectrum between            Intelligence                           game for no more than four or five
‘very genetic’ and ‘not genetic at all’.         Bowel cancer                           characteristics. You could either select
Not only do students react enthusias-            Huntington’s disease                   characteristics that have been consid-
tically to this game, but it enables the         Sickle cell anaemia                    ered in previous lessons or introduce
teacher to clarify the basic science and         Schizophrenia                          a fresh topic to students.
draw attention to uncertainties in the           Criminality                              For the first characteristic, you
field of genetics.                               Homosexuality                          could ask your pupils to each stand
                                                 Bad breath                             on the spectrum according to how
Resources required                               Eye colour                             genetic (or not) they believe the fea-
1) Print a selection of genetic and              Short hair                             ture to be. This way you can get them
  non-genetic characteristics (see             2) A sign reading ‘very genetic’ and     moving and talking to each other
  examples below) on laminated A4                another reading ‘not genetic at all’   right from the start.
  or preferably A3 paper. The stu-               should be positioned at opposite         For many characteristics, there is no
  dents should discuss to what extent            ends of the classroom. During the      known right or wrong answer; it is

                                                                                        Image courtesy of the Science Communication Unit

                                                                                                                                            Image courtesy of the Science Communication Unit

36   Science in School Issue 9 : Autumn 2008                                                            
                                                                                                                      Teaching activities

                                                                                                              group receives. Within their groups,
                                                                                                              the students should discuss whom
                                                                                                              they would be happy to divulge their

                     International transferability                                                            genetic information to, whom they
                                                                                                              would prefer not to tell, and why. At

                                                                                                              the end of the activity, a spokesperson
                     Meet the Gene Machine was originally delivered by the UK team as                         from each group should share with
                     part of Czech Science Week in 2003, and has since been performed                         the class the points that were raised
                     successfully in many other countries, including Italy, Portugal, Latvia,                 during their discussion. Groups do
                                                                                                              not need to reach a consensus but
                     Costa Rica and Hong Kong. The format is easily transferable, requires
                                                                                                              they should explain their reasons for
                     few specialist props or theatre effects, and is easy to stage for various                divulging the information to some
                     audience sizes and venue types. The materials and event format are                       groups and not to others.
                     currently designed for students aged 13-18, and the science is acces-
                     sible to mixed-ability groups.                                                           More activities for the classroom
                                                                                                                 The Meet the Gene Machine team
                                                                                                              has designed further teachers’
                                                                                                              resources to facilitate discussions of
important to emphasise this, as it will                to run the activity in small groups or                 bioethics in the classroom. The mate-
encourage the students to share their                  with the whole class.                                  rial is easy to use with lesson plans
opinions. This uncertainty in the field                  Family                                               and suggested resources, for example
of genetics is what makes it possible                    Doctor                                               handouts to produce, to run the activ-
to have an open discussion and for                       Insurance company                                    ity in the classroom. It is freely avail-
the activity to be updated with new                      Employer                                             able online in Word formatw2.
developments as they occur.
                                                         School                                                  For advice on using the resource
   For information on current genetic
                                                         Police                                               materials, contact the Science
news and technologies, visit the
                                                         Friends                                              Communication Unit (science.
Science Communication Unit web-
sitew4. Here, you can find an archive of               Tips
our monthly newsletter, produced                         Try splitting your class into groups                 References
during the UK rollout of the Meet the                  of five and giving each group four                     Burden J (2007) Twenty First Century
Gene Machine project, which contains
                                                       cards to talk about. You can decide                     Science: developing a new science
information on genetics. The newslet-
                                                       which combination of four cards each                    curriculum. Science in School 5: 74-77.
ter is freely downloadable.

  In this activity, the audience
explores issues of confidentiality,
ownership of information, consent to
the information being shared and the                                        Feedback from the audience
wider implications of genetic testing.
  Split the audience into groups and                                        ‘The drama is humorous and informative, and you get to hear lots of
                                                                            different opinions during the discussion’ (14-year-old student)
                                                        BAC K G R O U N D

ask them to discuss whom they
‘would really tell’ details of their                                        ‘The group discussion worked very well and makes you think about
genetic information to and whom                                             everyday issues’ (17-year-old student)
they ‘would really not tell’.                                               ‘With an emphasis on developing scientific thinking, the Meet the
                                                                            Gene Machine materials provide a valuable opportunity for students
Resources required
                                                                            to discuss different aspects of genetics. The resources support teachers
  Print A4 or preferable A3 laminated
                                                                            to engage students through structured debate of contemporary
cards with any of the options below.
                                                                            issues. A number of useful strategies for group work are included,
In a classroom of 30 pupils, we sug-
                                                                            which can be successfully applied across several subject areas’ (head
gest you use a total of 24 cards, but
this depends on whether you decide                                          of science)                                                                                     Science in School Issue 9 : Autumn 2008    37
                                                                                          and published in 2003, is available
           This article gives a brief description of a set of fairly simple, yet
                                                                                        w5 – To learn more about the Science
           innovative activities that can be easily used in any science (espe-
                                                                                         Communication Unit, see:
           cially biology) classroom to promote student interest, thinking and
           debate on important ethical issues about the application of genetic
                                                                                        w6 – To find out more about the
           The article provides a sample of a large selection of teaching activ-
                                                                                         University of the West of England,
           ities complete with instructions and lists of required materials; more
           activities are available on the Internet. The material is ready to use;
           the teacher has only to download it and – if necessary – translate it        w7 – The Wellcome Trust is the
           from English. Furthermore, motivated teachers can be inspired by              world’s largest medical research
           the material to develop their own similar activities for use in other         charity funding research into
           science subjects (protection of the environment versus economic               human and animal health. To find
           development, and a comparison of the pros and cons of different               out more, see:
           energy sources could make interesting cases).
           The article could be used as the basis of a debate or discussion
                                                                                           Laura Strieth, Karen Bultitude,
                                                                                        Frank Burnet and Clare Wilkinson all
           1. What is included in a person’s genetic profile?                           work at the Science Communication
           2. Who should have access to a person’s genetic profile and how              Unit at the University of the West of
              should it be used?                                                        England. Located in the School of Life
           3. How does personal genetic information affect our perception of            Sciences, the Science Communication
              ourselves and others?                                                     Unit was created in 1997 and is one of
           4. Who owns and controls genetic data?                                       the most innovative and original sci-
                                                                                        ence communication teams in the UK,
           5. How are minority communities affected by genetic information?
                                                                                        specialising in taking science directly
           6. What is the impact of genetic knowledge on people’s lives and             to the public. The Science Communi-

              on society?                                                               cation Unit has developed and been
           Additionally, the didactic material presented in the article (and on         involved in a large variety of projects
           the related website) could be used as a model for developing simi-           such as ‘Walking with Robots’, draw-
           lar material to investigate other ‘hot’ issues.                              ing together a network of key roboti-
                                                    Michalis Hadjimarcou, Cyprus        cists and science communicators to
                                                                                        engage a range of audiences, and
                                                                                        ‘Zero Carbon City’, a thought-provok-
                                                                                        ing activity on the implications of                  of a wide range of illnesses and to    climate change.
  issue5/c21science                              promote health:                           Well known within the UK and
Millar R (2006) Twenty First Century                       internationally, the core team travel
 Science: insights from the design             w2 – To find out more about the Meet     extensively, working in numerous
 and implementation of a scientific             the Gene Machine project, read the      countries – including, most recently,
 literacy approach in school science.           script and download resources, see:     Costa Rica, Hong Kong, Greece and
 International Journal of Science                  Latvia. The Science Communication
 Education. 28: 1499-1521                       events/meetthegenemachine.htm           Unit has pioneered the use of interdis-
                                               w3 – To find out more about the          ciplinary approaches to the communi-
                                                Twenty First Century Science            cation of science to members of the
Web references
                                                curriculum introduced in England        public and comprises an interdiscipli-
w1 – UK Biobank aims to study how                                                       nary team with science, social science
 the health of 500 000 people is                and Wales, see:
                                                                                        and science communication back-
 affected by their lifestyle, environ-
 ment and genes. The purpose of                w4 – Student Review of the Science
 this major project is to improve the           Curriculum: Major Findings, a project
 prevention, diagnosis and treatment            conducted as part of Science Year

38   Science in School Issue 9 : Autumn 2008                                                   

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