Looking Ahead

The researchers are either on vacation, busy analyzing, or writing. Guess it�s time for us, the curriculum people to have our say.

We have been looking at what we have been teaching and how we teach it. What we teach is pretty good, we think. You can hardly go wrong with Mendelian genetics as the basic Genetics curriculum: monohybrid, dihybrid, incomplete dominance, sex-linkage, polygenetic traits, lethal genes, they are all there.

But how we teach it is another matter. Using computers to teach is a fairly new idea. All of us are still feeling our way in how to do this. Inquiry? Yes. Constructivism? Yes. Critical Thinking? Yes, yes. We believe in all of these things. Our problem is how best to use this new technology to motivate students to think.

From the beginning (going all the way back to GenScope) we have used puzzles as the basis of the curriculum. We pose a question: Can these two horned dragons ever have a hornless baby? The student has to cross the parents, either by allowing meiosis to occur and choosing the correct gametes (if they have the right genes) or by inspecting the offspring of the cross in pedigree view. If the parents each have an "h", then yes, they can have a hornless baby. If one or both of the parents is homozygous dominant (HH), then no hornless babies will be produced. In this case, hints are given that the student has to change the genes of the parents from homozygous dominant to heterozygous. If s/he takes the hint � success. If not, the message says to try again. Short answer and essay questions round out the exercise and log files are collected.

Each of the 11 activities is structured in this way. They were conceived and executed over a period of time as we observed students in the classroom or interviewed them. Their misconceptions, their mistakes in logic, their struggles with the concepts, all triggered new activities as we tried to help them over these hurdles.

The time has come to make a cohesive whole out of this hodge-podge. Although the activities are based on good biology, each one stands alone. Many years ago, in the beginning of the GenScope project, some dragon fables were written, just for fun. These fables were based on genetics problems. They could be used as an unifying theme for the activities. All we have to do is rewrite them to fit the scripting environment.

The basic idea is that the puzzles all take place in one town with a cast of characters that is constant. The people of the town of Zhang in the country of Rafal have dragons as pets. The Zhang Dragon Club has complete records of 18 generations of dragon pedigrees. The Genetics Technology Lab is presided over by Eric the Wizard, a prominent dragon geneticist. Diseases similar to human diseases can be studied, as can various gene interactions, Comparisons with real life genetic diseases and inheritance patterns will be made. Again, the embedded assessments will be part of the activity and the log files collected and analyzed.


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