Human Genetic Variation
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Implementing the Module (continued)

Dealing with Values and Controversial Topics

Instructors sometimes feel that the discussion of values is inappropriate in the science classroom or that it "detracts" from the learning of "real" science. The activities 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. Opportunities to encounter and consider carefully some of these ways will reinforce and enrich those scientific principles that we desire to teach.

The activities provide a variety of opportunities for students to discuss, interpret, and evaluate basic science and public health issues in the light of values and ethics. Many issues that students will encounter—especially those having to do with individual susceptibility to disease and personal decisions that various people might make about genetic testing and medical treatment—are potentially controversial. How much controversy develops will depend on many factors, such as how similar your students are with respect to socioeconomic status, perspectives, value systems, and religious preferences. It will also depend on how you handle your role as facilitator of the discussion. Your language and attitude may be the factors that influence most the flow of ideas and the quality of exchange among the students.

Neutrality may be the single most important characteristic of a successful discussion facilitator. The following suggestions may help you think about how to guide your students in discussions that balance factual information with values.

Following these general suggestions should help you stimulate meaningful student-to-student interaction with as little direct involvement by you as possible. Initially, some students may have difficulty responding without specific direction. It is important, however, that you resist the temptation to intervene extensively in the initial, sometimes uncomfortable phase of long silences and faltering responses. Unless students are given opportunities to evaluate ideas and values in the context of a larger problem, they may never learn to do so.

Assessing Student Progress

Because we expect this module to be used in a variety of ways and at a variety of points in an individual teacher's curriculum, we believe the most appropriate mechanism for assessing student learning is one that occurs informally at various points within the activities, rather than something that happens more formally, just once at the end of the module. Accordingly, we have integrated a variety of specific assessment components throughout the activities within the module. These "embedded assessment" opportunities include one or more of the following strategies:

These strategies allow you 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 of new information, communication skills, and ability to synthesize ideas and apply understanding to a new situation.

An assessment icon and an annotation that describes the aspect of learning you can assess using a particular strategy appear in the margin beside the step in which each embedded assessment occurs.

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