Understanding Alcohol
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Understanding Alcohol

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Teacher's Guide

Implementing the Module

The six lessons in this module are designed to be taught in sequence for one to two weeks (as a supplement to the standard curriculum). The following pages offer general suggestions about using these materials in the classroom; you will find specific suggestions in the procedures provided for each lesson.

What Are the Goals of the Module?

Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior is designed to help students develop the following major goals associated with scientific literacy:

What Are the Science Concepts and How Are They Connected?

We have organized the lessons to form a conceptual whole that moves students from thinking about what they already know, or think they know, about alcohol (Alcohol: Separating Fact from Fiction), to investigating how much alcohol is in different types of alcoholic beverages and how the alcohol is distributed in the body (A Drink Is a Drink, but People Are Different). Students next use simulations to investigate how alcohol affects movement of mice at different doses, at different times after consumption, and in different genetic strains (Responding to Alcohol: What’s Important?).

Students then discover that alcohol use spans a continuum from no use, to use, to abuse, to alcoholism, and that how an individual’s drinking is categorized depends on a variety of factors including personal choice (Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Alcoholism). Students focus their understanding of how alcohol affects a person’s functioning by considering how drinking alcohol impairs cognitive and motor skills. The amount of alcohol, the pattern of drinking, and the individual’s gender and body type influence how high the blood alcohol concentration is and how long it takes for it to decrease (Alcohol and Driving: When to Say No). Through consideration of how alcohol affects mental and physical abilities, students begin to consider how alcohol could affect them if they choose to drink. Finally, students synthesize the information they have learned to decide whether the use of alcohol should be restricted for all public activities and not just driving (Using Alcohol: Setting Limits). The following tables illustrate the science content and conceptual flow of the six lessons.

Science Content and the Lessons
Lesson Science Content
Lesson 1 Distinguishing between observation and inference.
Lesson 2 Concentration and miscibility. Relating body type to an individual’s response to alcohol.
Lesson 3 Use of animal models. Effects of dose, time after ingestion, and genetic background on individual response to alcohol.
Lesson 4 Factors influencing alcohol use and abuse. Interactions of genetics and the environment.
Lesson 5 Calculation of blood alcohol concentrations (BACs). Effects of metabolism, gender, and body size and type.
Lesson 6 Relating BAC levels to impairments. Assessing risks and costs of alcohol use to the individual and to society.
Conceptual Flow of the Lessons
Lesson Learning Focus Major Concept
Lesson 1
Alcohol: Separating Fact from Fiction
Engage*: In this lesson, students express prior knowledge and become engaged in the study of alcohol, its use and abuse, and alcoholism. Students receive mixed messages about alcohol use. They are warned of its dangers, yet it is portrayed as part of a desirable lifestyle in movies, media, and advertisements.
Lesson 2
A Drink Is a Drink, but People Are Different
Explore: In this lesson, students explore the alcohol content of various types of alcoholic beverages and how alcohol distributes in the human body. The Explore phase gives students a common set of experiences upon which to begin building conceptual understanding. The total amount of alcohol in a typical serving of beer, wine, or hard liquor is about the same. Alcohol distributes throughout the water-containing portions of the body. The brain has a high water content, and alcohol exerts many of its effects here.
Lesson 3 Responding to Alcohol: What’s Important? Explore/Explain: Students analyze simulations of the effects of alcohol on mouse activity levels. Students express their understanding of the simulations in their own words and by using graphs. The greater the dose of alcohol, the greater the effect on behavior. Alcohol is metabolized by the body. Its effects decrease with increasing time after consumption. Individuals within a population differ in their response to alcohol. Such differences are partly due to genetics.
Lesson 4
Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Alcoholism
Explain/Elaborate: Students continue to investigate how and why humans use alcohol. They broaden their conceptual understanding and apply what they have learned in a new context. Alcohol use ranges along a continuum from abstinence to use, to abuse, to alcoholism. Where an individual falls along this continuum depends on genetic and environmental factors. Personal choice plays a key role in an individual’s decision to use alcohol.
Lesson 5
Alcohol and Driving: When to Say No
Explain/Elaborate: Students refine their understanding of how alcohol affects human behavior and begin to consider how alcohol could affect their own lives. Drinking alcohol impairs the functions of the mind and body. The extent of impairment depends upon the amount of alcohol in the blood. This in turn depends upon many factors including the drinker’s body weight, gender, and amount and pattern of drinking.
Lesson 6
Using Alcohol: Setting Limits
Elaborate/Evaluate: In this lesson, students apply what they have learned in previous lessons to a new situation to demonstrate their understanding of concepts. The effects of drinking alcohol are dose dependent. People who drink and have blood alcohol concentrations below the legal limit for driving may still be impaired. Public policies aimed at alcohol must balance many factors.
*See How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

How Does the Module Correlate to the National Science Education Standards?

National Science Education Standards iconUnderstanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior supports teachers in their efforts to reform science education in the spirit of the National Research Council’s 1996 National Science Education Standards (NSES). The content of the module is explicitly standards based: Each time a standard is addressed in a lesson, an icon appears in the margin and the applicable standard is identified. The Content Standards: Grades 5–8 chart below lists the specific content standards that this module addresses.

Content Standards: Grades 5–8
Standard A: As a result of activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop Correlation to Understanding Alcohol: Investigations into Biology and Behavior
Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry  
  • Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 6
  • Design and conduct a scientific investigation.
Lesson 3
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
Lesson 3
  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 5, 6
  • Recognize and analyze alternative explanations and predictions.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 6
  • Communicate scientific procedures and explanations.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
  • Use mathematics in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5
Understandings about scientific inquiry  
  • Different kinds of questions suggest different kinds of scientific investigations. Some involve observing and describing objects, organisms, or events; some involve collecting specimens; some involve experiments; some involve seeking more information; some involve discovery of new objects; and some involve making models.
Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5
  • Mathematics is important in all aspects of scientific inquiry.
Lessons 2, 3, 4, 5
Standard C: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop understanding of  
Structure and function in living systems  
  • Living systems at all levels of organization demonstrate the complementary nature of structure and function. Important levels of organization for structure and function include cells, organs, tissues, organ systems, whole organisms, and ecosystems.
Lessons 2, 5
  • Specialized cells perform specialized functions in multicellular organisms. Groups of specialized cells cooperate to form a tissue, such as muscle. Different tissues are in turn grouped together to form larger functional units, called organs. Each type of cell, tissue, and organ has a distinct structure and set of functions that serve the organism as a whole.
Lessons 2, 5
  • The human organism has systems for digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control, coordination, and protection from disease. These systems interact with one another.
Lessons 2, 3, 5
  • Disease is a breakdown in structures or functions of an organism. Some diseases are the result of intrinsic failures of the system. Others are the result of damage by infection from other organisms.
Lessons 4, 6
Reproduction and heredity  
  • The characteristics of an organism can be described in terms of a combination of traits. Some are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment.
Lessons 3, 4, 5, 6
Regulation and behavior  
  • Behavior is one kind of response an organism can make to an internal or environmental stimulus.
Lessons 1, 3, 4, 5, 6
Standard F: As a result of their activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop understanding of  
Personal health  
  • The potential for accidents and the existence of hazards impose the need for injury prevention. Safe living involves the development and use of safety precautions and the recognition of risk in personal decisions.
Lessons 1, 5, 6
  • Alcohol and other drugs are often abused substances. Such drugs change how the body functions and can lead to addiction.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6
Risks and benefits  
  • Risk analysis considers the type of hazard and estimates the number of people who might be exposed and the number likely to suffer consequences. The results are used to determine the options for reducing or eliminating risks.
Lessons 4, 5, 6
  • Students should understand the risks associated with natural hazards (fires, floods, tornadoes, hurricanes, earthquakes, and volcanic eruptions), chemical hazards (pollutants in air, water, soil, and food), biological hazards (pollen, viruses, bacteria, and parasites), social hazards (occupational safety and transportation), and personal hazards (smoking, dieting, and drinking).
Lessons 1, 4, 5, 6
  • Important personal and social decisions are made based on perceptions of benefits and risks.
Lessons 4, 5, 6
Standard G: As a result of activities in grades 5–8, all students should develop understanding of  
Science as a human endeavor  
  • Science requires different abilities, depending on such factors as the field of study and type of inquiry. Science is very much a human endeavor, and the work of science relies on basic human qualities, such as reasoning, insight, energy, skills, and creativity, as well as on scientific habits of minds, such as intellectual honesty, tolerance of ambiguity, skepticism, and openness to new ideas.
Lessons 1, 2, 3, 6

Teaching Standards

The suggested teaching strategies in all the lessons support teachers as they work to meet the teaching standards outlined in the National Science Education Standards. The module helps teachers of science plan an inquiry-based science program by providing short-term objectives for students. It also includes planning tools such as the Conceptual Flow of the Lessons chart and the Suggested Timeline for teaching the module. Teachers can use this module to update their curriculum in response to their students’ interest in this topic. The focus on active, collaborative, and inquiry-based learning in the lessons helps teachers support the development of student understanding and nurture a community of science learners.

The structure of the lessons in this module enables teachers to guide and facilitate learning. All the activities encourage and support student inquiry, promote discourse among students, and challenge students to accept and share responsibility for their learning. The use of the 5E Instructional Model combined with active, collaborative learning, allows teachers to respond effectively to the diversity of student backgrounds and learning styles. The module is fully annotated, with suggestions for how teachers can encourage and model the skills of scientific inquiry, as well as the curiosity, openness to new ideas and data, and skepticism that characterize science.

Assessment Standards

Teachers can engage in ongoing assessment of their teaching and of student learning using the variety of assessment components embedded within the module’s structure. The assessment tasks are authentic: They are similar in form to tasks in which students will engage in their lives outside the classroom or in which scientists participate. Annotations guide teachers to these opportunities for assessment and provide answers to questions that can help teachers analyze student feedback.

How Does the 5E Instructional Model Promote Active, Collaborative, Inquiry-Based Learning?

Because learning does not occur through a process of passive absorption, the lessons in this module promote active learning: Students are involved in more than listening and reading. They are developing skills, analyzing and evaluating evidence, experiencing and discussing, and talking to their peers about their own understandings. Students work collaboratively with others to solve problems and plan investigations. Many students find they learn better when they work with others in a collaborative environment than when they work alone in a competitive environment. When all this active, collaborative learning is directed toward inquiry science, students succeed in making their own discoveries. They ask questions, observe, analyze, explain, draw conclusions, and ask new questions. These inquiry-based experiences include both those that involve students in direct experimentation and those in which students develop explanations through critical and logical thinking.

This view of students as active thinkers who construct their own understanding out of interactions with phenomena, the environment, and other individuals is based on the theory of constructivism. A constructivist view of learning recognizes that students need time to

This module provides a built-in structure for creating a constructivist classroom: the 5E Instructional Model. This model sequences the learning experiences so that students have the opportunity to construct their understanding of a concept over time. The model takes students through five phases of learning that are easily described using five words that begin with the letter “E”: Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, and Evaluate. The following paragraphs illustrate how the 5Es are implemented across the lessons in this module.


Students come to learning situations with prior knowledge. This knowledge may or may not be congruent with the concepts presented in this module. The Engage lesson provides the opportunity for teachers to find out what students already know or what they think they know about the topic and concepts to be developed.

The Engage lesson in this module, Lesson 1, Alcohol: Separating Fact from Fiction, is designed to


In the Explore phase of the module, parts of Lesson 2, A Drink Is a Drink, but People Are Different, and Lesson 3, Responding to Alcohol: What’s Important?, students explore what an alcoholic drink really is, where alcohol goes in the body, and how it affects the activity level of mice. These lessons provide a common set of experiences within which students can compare what they think about what they are observing and experiencing.

During the Explore lessons in this module, Lesson 2, A Drink Is a Drink, but People Are Different, and Lesson 3, Responding to Alcohol: What’s Important?, students


The Explain lesson provides opportunities for students to connect their previous experiences and begin to make conceptual sense of the main ideas of the module. This stage also allows for the introduction of formal language, scientific terms, and information that might make students’ previous experiences easier to describe and explain.

In the Explain lessons in this module, Lesson 3, Responding to Alcohol: What’s Important?, and Lesson 4, Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Alcoholism, students


In Elaborate lessons, students apply or extend the concepts in new situations and relate their previous experiences to new ones. In the Elaborate lessons in this module, part of Lesson 4, Alcohol Use, Abuse, and Alcoholism; Lesson 5, Alcohol and Driving: When to Say No; and Lesson 6, Using Alcohol: Setting Limits, students


The Evaluate lesson is the final stage of the instructional model, but it only provides a “snapshot” of what the students understand and how far they have come from where they began. In reality, the evaluation of students’ conceptual understanding and ability to use skills begins with the Engage lesson and continues throughout each stage of the model. Combined with the students’ written work and performance of tasks throughout the module, however, the Evaluate lesson can serve as a summative assessment of what students know and can do.

The Evaluate lesson in this module, Lesson 6, Using Alcohol: Setting Limits, provides an opportunity for students to

To review the relationship of the 5E Instructional Model to the concepts presented in the module, see the chart Conceptual Flow of the Lessons.

When a teacher uses the 5E Instructional Model, he or she engages in practices that are very different from those of a traditional teacher. In response, students also participate in their learning in ways that are different from those seen in a traditional classroom. The following charts, What the Teacher Does and What the Students Do, outline these differences.

What the Teacher Does
Stage That is consistent with the 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the 5E Instructional Model
  • Piques students’ curiosity and generates interest
  • Determines students’ current understanding (prior knowledge) of a concept or idea
  • Invites students to express what they think
  • Invites students to raise their own questions
  • Introduces vocabulary
  • Explains concepts
  • Provides definitions and answers
  • Provides closure
  • Discourages students’ ideas and questions
  • Encourages student-to-student interaction
  • Observes and listens to the students as they interact
  • Asks probing questions to help students make sense of their experiences
  • Provides time for students to puzzle through problems
  • Provides answers
  • Proceeds too rapidly for students to make sense of their experiences
  • Provides closure
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Gives information and facts that solve the problem
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
  • Encourages students to use their common experiences and data from the Engage and Explore lessons to develop explanations
  • Asks questions that help students express understanding and explanations
  • Requests justification (evidence) for students’ explanations
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Introduces terminology and alternative explanations after students express their ideas
  • Neglects to solicit students’ explanations
  • Ignores data and information students gathered from previous lessons
  • Dismisses students’ ideas
  • Accepts explanations that are not supported by evidence
  • Introduces unrelated concepts or skills
  • Focuses students’ attention on conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Encourages students to use what they have learned to explain a new event or idea
  • Reinforces students’ use of scientific terms and descriptions previously introduced
  • Asks questions that help students draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Neglects to help students connect new and former experiences
  • Provides definitive answers
  • Tells students that they are wrong
  • Leads students step-by-step to a solution
  • Observes and records as students demonstrate their understanding of concept(s) and performance of skills
  • Provides time for students to compare their ideas with those of others and perhaps to revise their thinking
  • Interviews students as a means of assessing their developing understanding
  • Encourages students to assess their own progress
  • Tests vocabulary words, terms, and isolated facts
  • Introduces new ideas or concepts
  • Creates ambiguity
  • Promotes open-ended discussion unrelated to the concept or skill
What the Students Do
Stage That is consistent with the 5E Instructional Model That is inconsistent with the 5E Instructional Model
  • Become interested in and curious about the concept/topic
  • Express current understanding of a concept or idea
  • Raise questions such as, What do I already know about this? What do I want to know about this? How could I find out?
  • Ask for the “right” answer
  • Offer the “right” answer
  • Insist on answers or explanations
  • Seek closure
  • “Mess around” with materials and ideas
  • Conduct investigations in which they observe, describe, and record data
  • Try different ways to solve a problem or answer a question
  • Acquire a common set of experiences so they can compare results and ideas
  • Compare their ideas with those of others
  • Let others do the thinking and exploring (passive involvement)
  • Work quietly with little or no interaction with others (only appropriate when exploring ideas or feelings)
  • Stop with one solution
  • Demand or seek closure
  • Explain concepts and ideas in their own words
  • Base their explanations on evidence acquired during previous investigations
  • Record their ideas and current understanding
  • Reflect on and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Express their ideas using appropriate scientific language
  • Compare their ideas with what scientists know and understand
  • Propose explanations from “thin air” with no relationship to previous experiences
  • Bring up irrelevant experiences and examples
  • Accept explanations without justification
  • Ignore or dismiss other plausible explanations
  • Propose explanations without evidence to support their ideas
  • Make conceptual connections between new and former experiences
  • Use what they have learned to explain a new object, event, organism, or idea
  • Use scientific terms and descriptions
  • Draw reasonable conclusions from evidence and data
  • Communicate their understanding to others
  • Demonstrate what they understand about the concept(s) and how well they can implement a skill
  • Ignore previous information or evidence
  • Draw conclusions from “thin air”
  • Use terminology inappropriately and without understanding
  • Compare their current thinking with that of others and perhaps revise their ideas
  • Assess their own progress by comparing their current understanding with their prior knowledge
  • Ask new questions that take them deeper into a concept or topic area
  • Disregard evidence or previously accepted explanations in drawing conclusions
  • Offer only yes-or-no answers or memorized definitions or explanations as answers
  • Fail to express satisfactory explanations in their own words
  • Introduce new, irrelevant topics

How Does the Module Support Ongoing Assessment?

Because teachers will use this module in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in their curriculum, the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally throughout the six lessons, rather than something that happens more formally just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, integrated within the six lessons in the module are specific assessment components. These “embedded” assessment opportunities include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow the teacher to assess a variety of aspects of the learning process, such as students’ prior knowledge and current understanding, problem-solving and critical-thinking skills, level of understanding, communication skills, and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

assessment iconAn assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning teachers can assess appear in the margin beside the step in which each embedded assessment occurs.

How Can Teachers Promote Safety in the Science Classroom?

Even simple science demonstrations and investigations can be hazardous unless teachers and students know and follow safety precautions. Teachers are responsible for providing students with active instruction concerning their conduct and safety in the classroom; posting rules in a classroom is not enough. They also need to provide adequate supervision and advance warning if there are dangers involved in the science investigation. By maintaining equipment in proper working order, teachers ensure a safe environment for students.

The following are important ways to implement and maintain a safety program.

How Can Controversial Topics Be Handled in the Classroom?

Teachers sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it detracts from the learning of “real” science. The lessons in this module, however, are based upon the conviction that there is much to be gained by involving students in analyzing issues of science, technology, and society. Society expects all citizens to participate in the democratic process, and our educational system must provide opportunities for students to learn to deal with contentious issues with civility, objectivity, and fairness. Likewise, students need to learn that science intersects with life in many ways.

In this module, students have a variety of opportunities to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and health issues, some in the light of values and ethics. As students encounter issues about which they feel strongly, some discussions might become controversial. How much controversy develops will depend on many factors, such as how similar the students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious preferences. In addition, the language and attitude of the teacher factor into the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

The following guidelines may help teachers facilitate discussions that balance factual information with feelings.

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