This student project involves the creation of an information pamphlet which clearly explains the history and use of a food plant. The plant may be used by humans or animals, and must have been genetically manipulated by human beings. It is common for students to believe that this genetic manipulation has only occurred in the past 20-40 years, but they will find that genetic control of some variety has been used for almost as long as humans have practiced agriculture. Examples of this are saving seed from the most “successful” plants or cross-pollinating “desirable” strains (planting in close proximity or mechanically cross-pollinating). A mix of older and newer methods is optimal for the classroom discussions.
Students should sign up for the plant they have selected to avoid duplication and allow for the greatest range of plant species within the class. If the class is large, grouping of students to work on this project may be desirable. When the pamphlets are complete, a short presentation of the material compiled is made to the rest of the class in order to capitalize on the diversity of plants researched.
Having students put material into pamphlet form is more challenging than it initially appears. This requires the distillation of the most important ideas from the student’s research on the topic and consideration of vocabulary. The addition of graphics for clarification further reinforces concept comprehension. A bibliography of 5-10 resources is submitted on a separate sheet, with some of the sources cited being books/articles as well as electronic. The students may need some assistance in determining what is likely to be a credible electronic source.
This project is useful as initial inquiry, but perhaps more useful as an assessment. A semester of high school genetics should provide all the concepts needed to understand the material commonly available on transgenic plants used as foodstuffs as well as the background for making informed decisions regarding these issues. Heavy emphasis on what the science is behind biotech foods, as opposed to the emotional issues, is important.
The two sheets included in this lesson are the “Criteria for Transgenic Plant Project” and a “Grading Rubric”. This particular criteria reflects the thinking of a high school genetics class and its teacher, and the rubric is a direct reflection of that. These may be used by the classroom teacher as they are, or as an example to be modified for use in a specific classroom.