Last week I started both of my grade 9 science classes on their very first inquiry project. Titled “Mutant Nation,” it is a project that I have discussed on this blog before. The basic premise of Mutant Nation is as follows:

“The year is 2030.┬áDesigner mutations have changed the face of humanity. A new company, Genetically You, is offering people the chance to buy customizable genetic mutations. As an employee of this company, it will be your job to design a brand new mutation and accompanying marketing campaign.”

When I originally designed this project, it was aimed at a Biology 30 class where there is a deeper focus on genetics and the students could really get into the nitty gritty of DNA. This being a grade 9 science class, it had to be toned down quite significantly. As stated by the program of studies, genetics is only cursorily addressed, thus limiting students to the very basic facts about DNA.

Over the course of this year, I’ve found that my students handle work better when it is divided up into smaller pieces that can later be tied together to form a finished product. So I broke it down and split it into five “tasks,” and each one is handed in before the next task begins.

  1. Design a Mutation
  2. The DNA Effect
  3. The Public Domain
  4. The Marketing Campaign
  5. The Bioethics Committee

In Design a Mutation, students are introduced to the project and have a chance to brainstorm ideas about what they’d like to do. I found that by presenting the project in a fashion that mirrors The X-Men, students were more receptive to the overall concept. To get them started, I referenced the “X-Factor,” or the mutation found in all X-Men which give them their powers. Though it is only a single mutation, it is one that affects their entire physiology. However, in giving students the choice over what their mutation could be, the are quick to make choices that will present difficulty later on in the project. Each chosen mutation had to be approved before the students could continue. My criteria for approval was essentially that all mutations had to be physiological, keeping away from things like telepathy and telekinesis.

In The DNA Effect, students outline how their mutation will affect the customer. The goal of this task is to examine the primary function of the mutation (aesthetic vs functional), and how it will affect the physiology of the customer.

For the third task, The Public Domain, students have a chance to look at the wider-range of implications their mutation may have on the human population. As these mutations will all become part of the customer’s DNA, they must consider how it will affect the children and grandchildren. They must also consider what effect this will have on the human population as a whole.

The fourth task, The Marketing Campaign, is less question-based and more hands-on. Here students have a chance to actually design their marketing campaign and how their product will be sold to the public. It is at this stage that they can employ various technologies such as Xtranormal or iMovie for videos, word processors for print ads, or iWeb for websites. Though it varies from medium-to-medium, I encourage all students to be as creative as possible and use their knowledge of commercials and ads to come up with something that they would see as alluring.

In the final task, The Bioethics Committee, students examine the ethical considerations associated with altering the DNA of their customers. Topics like the FDA and genetically modified organisms (GMOs) would be excellent discussion starters. Furthermore, links to social studies can easily be made by referencing any eugenics programs that have occurred in the past. The most notable of these being the Aryans and the underlying meanings of an “aryan race.” It would not be unexpected for some students to stop at this point and say that their mutation is probably not something that should be sold to the public because it might be dangerous or harmful.

Despite all the work that will have gone into the project by this point, the process is intended to mirror the actual steps required for a product to be approved for sale to the public, and therefore a select few students may recognize that their product should not be sold to the public. In many cases, this would be the desired outcome because so many of the mutations will likely be so incredibly outrageous that to introduce them into the collective human genome would be disastrous for the species as a whole. However, this is unlikely given that many of the students will believe their mutations to be “cool” and thus the obvious choice for introduction to the public.

I have yet to implement the 3rd task for both classes, but I intend to keep posting as the project progresses as a method for reflection. At this point all I can say is that the project appears to be succeeding, but I won’t know for sure until closer to the end.



While I was madly planning for my first unit, I started to think about how I could make it more fresh and more inquiry-based. During my practicum experiences, I watched as material was taught in a very specific order: concept first, examples after. It got me thinking about what that looks like, and all I could think was, “how is that not boring, it’s all words!” The concepts for this unit are things like biodiversity, variation, niches, species, symbiosis, and natural selection, concepts which when left alone just end up as words on a page. Who actually remembers the three kinds of symbiosis? (The answers after the break.)

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If I had to describe my first day as a first-year teacher at my first school in one word, it would be: nauseating. I was so sick with worry and nerves this morning that I almost threw up. And this isn’t even at a school I’ve never been to before, it was my first-year practicum school. So it’s not like I was walking into a school I didn’t know, I actually knew quite a bit about this school before I even arrived. But that didn’t change the fact that I was nervous as hell.

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“We all strived to do it exactly as we were being taught…”

– Carmen Maidstone

This will probably end up being a rant. But first, a few questions.

  1. How legible is your handwriting?
  2. Do you write in cursive or by printing?
  3. How often do you write versus type/text?

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The Ring

“Moral disapproval alone is an improper basis on which to deny rights to gay men and lesbians. The evidence shows conclusively that Proposition 8 enacts, without reason, a private moral view that same-sex couples are inferior to opposite-sex couples.”

– Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker

The past week has been pretty amazing. The August long weekend played host to Vancouver’s Pride celebrations and my engagement to my partner; and yesterday saw the repealing of Proposition 8 by Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker. Each event alone is significant because they all celebrate our basic rights to freedom, equality, and love, but together they represent the power of diversity at its best.

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“The OS is the interface, the interface is the OS…they’re inseparable, they are one.”

– John Underkoffler

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What is “invention”? That is a question we tossed around tonight at a small get-together between friends. I can’t quite remember how we got into it, but a lot of the discussion centered around what invention means and how something can be considered to be an invention. By the end of the conversation we established that to be an invention, it would need to be more than just a progression of something else; a novel creation in other words.

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I was watching Ellen today on TV and one of her guest stars was Colin Farrell. Normally this wouldn’t be any more interesting than any other celebrity, except that he was there not only to promote his latest film but also his involvement with an organization called BeLonG To. BeLonG To is a group that aims to support gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth in Ireland. Mr Farrell recently made a statement to the group regarding bullying and homophobia as it relates very strongly to his brother Eamon who is gay and suffered through bullying and abuse in his childhood.

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I’m back! I know I’ve been away for a little while, just needed some time to recharge, go on vacation and take a break from writing. And boy oh boy, did I ever find a juicy bit of web linking for you. CBC uploaded this article today on the topic of salary increases for teachers in Alberta.

The content of the article isn’t really what I want to cover in this post, but rather the comments that followed the article. Yes, the topic of salaries is a sticky one with a lot of people, teachers and other professionals alike. But it’s what people perceive our professional lives to be that interests me. If you’ve never read the comments that follow a CBC article, I highly recommend you do, they can be hiding treasures that will make your day. (Though I find myself sometimes wondering if allowing comments is a good thing, given how many quick-to-judge, uneducated comments there are…)

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Today Google announced that they would be entering the e-book market with their service, Google Editions. This would put them in direct competition with Amazon and Sony, among others. Reading this, I began to think about all the other “markets” that Google has entered (and now dominate).

It wasn’t so long ago that Google acquired YouTube and gained the largest foothold in Web 2.0 videos. And then there’s Picassa, Google’s photo uploading service. Or when they opened up Google Docs, putting themselves between the user and Microsoft. Their mail service, Gmail, has been around for quite some time and is still growing, taking a huge bite out of Hotmail’s market share. Most recently, the Google browser, Chrome, started chewing away at Mozilla Firefox’s user base. Google’s very latest, Buzz, didn’t turn out quite so well (a jab at Twitter), but that doesn’t mean they didn’t try and aren’t still working on it.

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