The subject of genetics is a science writers dream: there is mystery and intense drama in the lives of those affected. But most of all there is cutting edge science that we are only beginning to understand and of which we grasp the implications.
It's a bit harder to convince teenagers of that. Students pretty much view science as the classes they have to take to satisfy requirements. They know it affects them but it is a challenge for teachers to make direct connections with their lives.
It is a challenge that science journalists take onand master daily. New York Times Science Writer Natalie Angier says explaining research is "hard to do because science is very, very difficult. … The public really doesn't know anything about it, and it's the kind of thing where you never can make assumptions about what people understand." Angier says science writing is not simply translating into language that anyone can understand. It should be "skeptical, even critical." "It's not just bells and whistles and cheerleading," she said. "Science writers must "be able to critique science in the same way an art critic talks about painting."
Mary Mortimore Dossin wrote in a 1997 issue of College Teaching: "What I believe most students need is practice in the process of gathering information, analyzing and synthesizing that informationmaking their own sense out of itand then communicating their understanding to others."
Many in the education field believe that combining science with other subjects makes it more accessible. Gail Hall, a library media specialist in New Haven, wrote: "Integrating science and language arts makes the study of scientific concepts more familiar and less threatening."
The purpose of this unit will be to connect students to the basic science of genetics, current research and discoveries relevant to their lives and teach them a dynamic way to write about it. They will learn the basic properties of genetics and apply it to real life situations. For our purposes we will concentrate on the gene for breast cancer-BRCA2-for which there exists a test that many women have taken.
Students will meet normal people grappling with the dilemma of what to do about the fact that they carry an errant gene that could one day hurt them or their unborn children. They will communicate with genetic counselors who are faced with having to recommend testing, conduct those tests, and then convey the potentially devastating news. They will hear from scientists who work with these genes and doctors who treat the patients who are their victims. They will research the statistics compiled regarding these genetic abnormalities to know just how many people are dealing with this dilemma nation or worldwide. They will take notes throughout and with their grounding in genetics, will produce their own piece of science journalism that will convey the science and drama of it all.
Simply put, the goal is for students to become scientifically informed, opinionated citizens, while they practice the skills of collecting, reading, summarizing and organizing information and writing complex topics in a format that most can digesta newspaper article.