BioQUEST Notes 2.2 Part 4

BioQUEST Challenges High School Students

Sue Johnson's success with the 3 P's philosophy and BioQUEST's Genetics Construction Kit (GCK) computer simulation is showing that BioQUEST can be a valuable teaching tool for high school as well as college students.

Johnson, a high school teacher at Monona Grove High School in Monona, Wisconsin, developed a nine-week high school genetics unit based, in large part, on the GCK simulation. Knowing that students too frequently receive "ready-made" science consisting of clean facts and prepackaged truths, Johnson set out to offer the students a perspective on what it is like to do science and to think scientifically.

With this focus, the students were able deal with aspects of science rarely addressed in today's classrooms. They were involved as groups working together to devise explanations for problems without easy solutions and as individuals building multiple, competing models to explain the same natural phenomena. They saw the necessity to devise creative and inventive approaches to tackling problems as well as the role of critiquing other models and persuading peers of their point of view.

The nine-week unit started with concepts of model building. With the use of a simple push-pull box, students developed insights in the model building process: the relationship of models to data, the importance of multiple models and the necessity of persuasion by models.

After the model building projects, students were given the GCK simulation. In contrast to typical textbook genetics problems where emphasis is on reasoning from given causes to the prediction of effects, GCK-type problems require students to reason from effects to causes to develop genetic explanations. Students make inferences about the genetic mechanisms responsible for the phenotypic patterns observed in their data. Initially, students worked with monohybrid and dihybrid simple dominance problems. After development of a working model, they were introduced to problems where the data generated by GCK did not fit that simple dominance model--specifically, codominance. After model revision, group discussion and additional experimental trials, more complicated models were developed. In this fashion, students worked through problems of sex linkage, autosomal linkage, and multiple alleles, frequently modifying their models in light of new data.

The participants involved in this course were high school seniors. Monona Grove is a public high school and individuals were not selected specially for this project. Nonetheless, the approach worked! Models developed for the codominance data were given meaningful names including non-dominance and equal dominance. The curiosity with which the students approached the data and the satisfaction that they derived from creation of a working model were obvious. By the second round of model building, students were requesting access to the computers at additional times during the day. By the end of the course, students could converse in genetics with a degree of sophistication rarely seen in many college courses.

Clearly the GCK BioQUEST simulation is not designed exclusively for biology majors or even college level courses. It is our belief that this simulation, as well as others, are appropriate for students from high school through graduate level. While the simulations have been designed with a college first year student in mind, none of the simulations have stayed so circumscribed; many are appropriate for graduate level instruction since the simulations all allow some features, calculations or choices to be hidden or exposed depending on the sophistication of the user.

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