by Chelsey Seedborg
I attended the Oregon Science Teachers Association (OSTA) annual conference in Eugene, Oregon on October 11th, 2019 with two goals. The first was to gain some insight on how to transition the classes I teach to the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) teaching style. The second was to obtain a lesson I could implement immediately into my curriculum. When I registered for the conference, I was prompted to sign up for four sessions. I chose two sessions offered by Molly Malone from the University of Utah, without realizing that she was the instructor of both. I chose “Natural Selection and Argumentation” for the first session, and “Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders” for the third session based on their titles alone. I teach high school biology so both titles resonated with me as being content appropriate and hopefully fulfilling my wish of taking home a relevant lesson plan. Molly was organized, professional, and extremely knowledgeable about the lessons she presented from the University of Utah’s online teacher.genetics and learner.genetics websites. Both sessions were very beneficial and helped meet both of my OSTA Conference goals.
The lesson from the first session, “Natural Selection and Argumentation,” is one that I will use this coming spring with my biology students during our unit on evolution. I have been looking for a way to show students a real-life example of natural selection and this is it! The multi part lesson guides students through decades of data collection on stickleback fish in Loberg Lake, Alaska. Students use electronic versions or paper cutouts to count armor plates alongside the fish, thus accumulating their own data. They then look at the number of plates in offspring resulting from the genetic crosses within the population to find evidence of natural selection. Using the data, the students must make a claim whether or not natural selection is the reason the fish population changed over time. Not only is this a real-life, relevant example of natural selection, but this lesson is perfect for integrating the NGSS principles of Claims, Evidence, and Reasoning (CER). The simple handout Molly gave us to guide students in the activity is a great way to scaffold students into the CER mindset. It shows them what three things are required for natural selection to work, then guides them into finding evidence of each requirement based on the data they looked at. Students can then defend the idea of natural selection being the cause of the change in stickleback by the end of the activity. There is also an activity included in the module where students look at non-examples of natural selection as well. I love this entire activity and can’t wait to use it in a few months!
The second session I attended was called “Exploring Genetics Through Genetic Disorders.” The title alone resonated with me because I’d been looking to do something different with genetic disorders in my biology classes. In the past, I had students select a genetic disorder to research and then present their findings in a formal research report and presentation. The research tended to be more on the symptoms of the disease and less on the genetic cause of it. The activities shown in this session are very based around the molecular genetics side of the disorders. This unit hasn’t been published on the teacher.genetics website yet so those of us who attended the session got a first look at it before it goes public. We were engaged the whole session as learners and teachers. I love that the units on this website are meant to stand alone so teachers can pick and choose which ones we want to utilize in our classes. We can go through all of them with our classes, or select single activities from the units to complement what we are already doing. They are all written to address high school NGSS standards, so I know they align with what I teach in my biology classes. Molly went through the materials on the website with us and then we did an activity where we looked at the genetics of Cystic Fibrosis. We were each given a different allele responsible for the genetic disorder. We analyzed what kind of mutation had caused the disease, and then looked at what the mutation does on a cellular, tissue, and organismal level. We were provided with a “Lab Notebook” to write in as we went through the activities, which is very student friendly and adheres to the NGSS teaching and learning style of student discovery. The end of the unit culminates with a symposium amongst the students. I have been wanting to try one in my biology classes, so this gives me the scaffolding I need to guide my students in preparation of one. Along with gaining another valuable lesson to take home, I learned some new biology at this session. I didn’t know that all five of the diseases included in this unit can all be caused by five different DNA mutations. I love learning new science! I absolutely loved the lesson we went through in this session and will utilize it next spring in my genetics unit.
All the materials that Molly used today are available for free on the University of Utah’s learn.genetics and teach.genetics website. I am in awe of all the amazing lessons available to not only teachers and students, but to the general public for free! I can’t wait to look around on the website for more activities to help me integrate NGSS-style lessons into my teaching. Molly is part of the team from the University of Utah that created both lessons. It was fun to be in her sessions as a student. She is a former teacher, so she could relate to those of us sitting in the session. I appreciated how she mixed the delivery of the needed information in the alloted time. Sometimes she showed us directly around the website and some of the time we were engaged in the hands-on activities that our students will be doing. She was prepared with relevant materials and always ready to answer our questions with knowledge and professionalism. These two sessions were both so valuable to me as an eductor. I walked away from OSTA this year more confident in my NGSS integration and very excited about the resources I know have from the University of Utah at my fingertips!