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Michael Pritchard Professor; Co-Director of The Ethics Center Western Michigan University More Posts
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Created August 14, 2009
Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Added12/01/1999

Updated12/08/2016

Author(s) Theodore Goldfarb Michael Pritchard

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

Author(s):  Michael S. Pritchard, Department of Philosophy, Western Michigan University & Theodore Goldfarb, Department of Chemistry, State University of New York at Stony Brook

NOTE: This contribution appeared as a featured resource in the online and printed issues of ENC Focus: A Magazine for Classroom Innovators Vol. 8 no.3, published by the Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC.

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Contributor(s) Michael Pritchard
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Authoring Institution (obsolete) Eisenhower National Clearinghouse for Mathematics and Science Education-ENC
Volume 8
Issue 3
Year 1999
Publisher provided Keywords Instructional Methods Pedagogical Materials SCIENCE
Publisher National Academy of Engineering, Online Ethics Center
Language English

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Table of Contents

Lesson 15, The Envelopes

David Flatley, Principal, Selden Middle School, Selden, Long Island, NY. 
(This lesson was developed when Mr. Flatley was Chair of Mathematics and Science at W.T. Clarke Middle School, Westbury, Long Island, NY)

Overview of Lesson

Courses for Which Lesson is Intended
Biology classes.
Category that Best Describes this Lesson
Social issues.
Types of Teaching/Learning Activities Employed in this Lesson
Simulation- students imagining that they have learned specific genetic information about themselves.
Ethics/Values Issues Raised by this Lesson
Responsible use of genetic information, both by researchers and those who learn the information. Basic questions about just how much we want to know about our future health and behavioral prospects.

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Lesson Plan

The specific objectives of this lesson include students being able to communicate clearly the notion that ethics and values issues are central to scientific research and being able to identify at least one ethical concern related to the human genome project.

For a class of 30, 30 envelopes, 30 index cards, and a chalkboard are needed. Before class begins, each index card must carry a "genetic code." "Genotypes" are assigned based on the following distribution:

Message No. of Cards % of Class
Genotype 1 3 10
Genotype 2 3 10
Genotype 3 3 10
Genotype 4 21 70

[These percentages are not intended to represent the actual proportion of people who might eventually be determined to have such genotypes. They are used only for classroom purposes to make sure that each genotype has at least a few students wrestling with the problems they pose.]

The teacher should fold each card and seal it in a separate envelope so that the genotype is hidden. The following information should then be presented to the class: Assume for the moment that, thanks to the human genome project, certain human genotypes can be identified for members of this class. For our simplified example, we will consider only four different possible genotypes, 1, 2, 3, and 4 (described below). Each of these genotypes is related to a different set of human traits. The genotypes, their associated traits and the frequency of the genotype in our class population is listed in the following chart:

Genotype Traits Frequency
1 75% have tendencies toward extremely violent, perhaps even criminal, behavior. 10%
2 98% will die before 15 unless given treatment before age 5. Treatments currently cost approximately $3,000,000. 10%
3 75% have the sorts of mental and physical traits that are keys to becoming superstar athletes. 10%
4 No special tendencies have been identified. They all fall within the "normal" range in appearance, ability, and predicted behavior. 70%

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The teacher should randomly distribute one sealed envelope to each student and review the prepared information with the class. Then, without opening the envelopes, the following questions can be used to start discussion:

  • Do you want to open your envelope? What advantages or disadvantages might there be?
  • If you open your envelope, who should have access to the information? Who should not?
  • If this information became available to the public, what might be the consequences?
  • If this information were available before the birth of an individual, what consequences do you think this might have? Should it be made available? To whom?

All of this could be done orally. Or students could be asked to write answers to one or more of the questions considered before opening envelopes. This might most effectively be done over two class periods, with written answers prepared before the second period.

Discussion

This futuristic lesson can be used to raise students's curiosity about the genome project and some of the ethical, social, political, and legal questions it poses. Some time should be spent discussing the importance of knowing what percentage of those with certain genotypes will develop the traits in question, as well as what factors might contribute to or interfere with their development. This is important because, in most instances the human genome project information we are likely to discover will be in the form of the likelihood, rather than the certainty, that various traits will develop; and there may be much we can do to affect their development.

At the same time, it is important to discuss who should have access to whatever information is discovered. Should insurance companies have access to this information? Should our health care providers? The police? The schools? The children who have these genotypes, or only their parents? Are there limits to what science should be allowed to discover about us? Who should be allowed to conduct this research? Who should pay for it?For further discussion of these issues refer to Case Study #5: The XYY Controversy, in Chapter 4 of Section I.

Return to Part 2 - Model Classroom Lessons

Return to Ethics in the Science Classroom: An Instructional Guide for Secondary School Science Teachers

Cite this page: "Lesson 15, The Envelopes" Online Ethics Center for Engineering 7/14/2006 OEC Accessed: Friday, April 28, 2017 <www.onlineethics.org/Resources/precollege/scienceclass/lessonplans/part2intro/lesson15.aspx>