Human Genetic Variation
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Implementing the Module (continued)

Activity 2, The Meaning of Genetic Variation, serves in a broad sense as the Explore phase of the model. In this activity, students ask and answer questions about the ways in which human variation might be significant, and then use resources on the Web site to explore its significance as the basis for evolution by natural selection.

Molecular Medicine Comes of Age, Activity 3, moves students into the Explain phase of the model. During this phase, students look more closely at the molecular basis for human genetic variation and develop a more detailed set of explanations for the concepts they have been exploring. Explain activities give students opportunities to articulate their developing conceptual understanding or to demonstrate particular skills or behaviors. Typically, this is where the teacher introduces relevant terms and definitions, and where students might do some assigned reading about defined topics. Keep in mind, however, that Explain activities still are student-centered. In Activity 3, the students develop their own explanations for how studying human genetic variation at a molecular level is changing the practice of medicine. Here, the teacher's role is to guide students so that they have ample opportunity to develop a more complete understanding of this phenomenon.

During the Elaborate phase of the model, exemplified in this module by Activity 4, Are You Susceptible?, students are challenged to extend their understanding of human genetic variation. Through a new set of questions and experiences, the students develop a deeper, broader understanding of the topic, obtain more information about areas of interest, and refine their scientific and critical-thinking skills. A teacher's primary goal in this phase of the model is to help students articulate generalizations and extensions of concepts and understandings that are relevant to their lives.

Finally, Activity 5, Making Decisions in the Face of Uncertainty, acts as the Evaluate activity for the program. At this point, it is important that students see that they can use their understanding of human genetic variation in the real world. It is also important that they receive some feedback on the adequacy of their explanations and understandings.

Evaluate activities are complex and challenging, and Activity 5 will stretch your students' abilities to listen, think, and speak.

Using the Human Genetic Variation Web site in the Classroom

The Human Genetic Variation Web site is a tool, like an overhead projector or a textbook, that you can use to help organize your use of the module, engage student interest in learning, and help orchestrate and individualize instruction. The Web site contains the following major resources:

The Web site runs on Apple Macintosh and IBM-compatible personal computers.

The recommended requirements for a Macintosh computer are the following:

The recommended requirements for IBM-compatible computers are the following:

The ideal use of the Web site requires one computer for each student team. However, if you have only one computer with Internet access available, you can still use the Web site (for example, by using a suitable display device to show animations or videos to the whole class or by rotating teams through a computer station to access Internet-based resources).

If you do not have the facilities for using the Internet in your classroom, a print-based alternative for each activity that requires the Web site is available for printing from the Internet. To use this version, you will need to print out the activity lesson plan and its associated masters.

Before you use this Web site or any other piece of instructional software in your classroom, it may be valuable to identify some of the benefits you expect the software to provide. For example, Roblyer (1997) suggests four major ways that instructional multimedia software can benefit students and teachers. First, well-designed multimedia software can help motivate students, help them enjoy learning, and help them want to learn more. Multimedia programs offer users a rich, interesting, and compelling environment in which to explore and learn, and it rewards users with a broader and more complex set of sensory experiences than print-based resources can provide. Well-designed multimedia resources can enliven content that students otherwise may perceive as dull and uninteresting. The video clips provided on the Human Genetic Variation Web site offer students this benefit. Because they provide nonlinear access to a rich array of information and stimulation, multimedia programs can also encourage reluctant students to immerse themselves in a topic, creating, in effect, a positive feedback loop in which students learn as they "go their own way," wherever their interest or curiosity takes them.

Second, well-designed multimedia software also offers unique instructional capabilities. For example, such software can stimulate students to explore topics in greater depth and in more different dimensions than students often are willing or able to pursue. The reference databases that support Activities 2 and 5 have this effect. This benefit is related to the first, but it deepens and intensifies learning rather than stimulates students to investigate content they otherwise would not investigate. Part of this benefit derives from the power such software has to provide essentially immediate access to a wealth of ever more detailed and complex information on a topic, all presented in interesting and unusual ways. Part of the benefit, however, derives from the software's very design. A well-designed user interface provides an easy-to-use navigation system, stimulates curiosity, and encourages exploration of related areas.

Completing activities using instructional software can help students learn to organize and be responsible for their own learning rather than depend entirely on the teacher for direction and support. This goal is commonly cited by teachers and employers, most of whom explicitly desire students and employees who are self-directed and can structure and execute work independently.

Multimedia software can offer students learning experiences that are closer to actual field experiences than the experiences print-based resources offer. The videos that support Activity 5 allow students to listen to people advocating real positions on the topic under investigation. Although the student's experience of the situation in Activity 5 is vicarious, it is more realistic and memorable than the comparatively static and unchanging experience a script of this story would offer. Because it engages more senses than simply sight, and because it requires more skills than simply understanding what one reads, well-designed instructional software also addresses many different learning styles and serves the needs of a wider population of students than most print-based resources.

Third, multimedia software can provide teachers with support for experimenting with new instructional approaches. The educational system in the United States is struggling to improve its ability to prepare students for the complex, collaborative, technology-rich workplace they will enter when they leave school. Technology can make possible new approaches to teaching in the classroom. For example, by moving the responsibility for organizing learning from the teacher to the student, instructional software can help teachers move into the role of observer and facilitator of learning rather than dispenser of information. As students work independently or in small teams, teachers can circulate throughout the room, listening to students interact with one another, asking and answering questions, and challenging students to consider alternative lines of research and analysis. These behaviors are very different from the typical ones teachers are engaged in when they carry the primary responsibility for delivering and explaining content.

Instructional software can also be an effective tool for helping teachers organize discussions of controversial issues in the classroom. In Activity 5 in this module, using videos to present conflicting positions may lend greater credibility to these positions than if they were presented by the teacher. It also depersonalizes the positions, allowing both teachers and students to focus on the substance of the issues rather than on the controversy itself.

Software programs on the Internet also offer teachers the opportunity to expand and enrich the number and depth of research-based projects they assign students, and to increase the scope and difficulty of problem or case-based activities they use in their classrooms. Although basic mathematic and communication skills still are considered essential for students to develop, educators are becoming increasingly aware that curricula must place less emphasize on learning specific factual information and place more on the ability to locate and use information to solve problems and to think critically about issues. The reference databases provided in support of Activities 2 and 5 and the simulation provided for Activity 3 allow teachers to involve students in problem-solving and in locating and using information while also teaching the basic skills students are expected to acquire.

Finally, well-designed instructional software can increase teacher productivity. There is a variety of ways such software can accomplish these goals, such as helping teachers with assessment, record keeping, and classroom planning and management. Instructional software such as the Web sites offers teachers the convenience of a full week of instruction anywhere there is Internet access. Instructional software can also give teachers increased credibility in their students' eyes. Many of today's students have been raised in a technology-rich environment and often respond positively to the use of technology-based methods that streamline and enhance communication between teachers and students and, in so doing, increase the efficiency of both.

Organizing Collaborative Groups

All of the activities in this module are designed to be completed by groups of students working together. Although many of the specific steps can be completed by individual students working alone, this strategy will not stimulate the types of student-student interactions that are one of the goals of active, collaborative, inquiry-based learning. Therefore, we recommend that you organize collaborative groups of between two and six students each, depending on the number of computers equipped with Internet access that you have available. Students in groups larger than this will likely have difficulty organizing the student-computer interactions equitably, which can lead to one or two students assuming the primary responsibility for the computer-based work. Although this type of arrangement can be efficient, it means that some students do not get the opportunity to experience the in-depth discovery and analysis that the Web site was designed to stimulate.

If you are teaching all five activities as a unit, we recommend that you keep your students in the same collaborative groups for all of the activities. This will allow each group to develop a shared experience with the software and with the ideas and issues that the activities present. A shared experience will also enhance your students' perceptions of the activities as a conceptual whole. This will be particularly important in the activities toward the end of the module, as students consider some of the ethical and logistical complexities associated with our growing knowledge about human genetic variation.

If your student-to-computer ratio is greater than six students to one computer, you will need to change the way you teach the module from the instructions in the activities. For example, if you have only one computer available, you may want students to complete the Internet-based work across an extended time period. You can do this in several ways. The most practical way is to use your computer as a center along with several other centers at which students complete other activities. In this strategy, students would rotate through the computer center, eventually completing the Internet-based work that you have assigned.

A second way to structure the activities if you only have one computer available is to use an overhead projection system to display the computer monitor onto a screen for the whole class to see simultaneously. Giving selected students in the class the opportunity to manipulate the program in response to class suggestions and requests can give students some of the same type of autonomy over their learning that they would gain if they were working with the Web site in small teams. Some activities require students to use the Web site for extensive research; if so, give the students printouts of selected portions of the program to work from. This strategy, however, will not give the students an opportunity to interact personally with the Web site. We recommend that you use this strategy only if you have no other options.

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