It’s the year 2030. Designer 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 fill various roles required to address the multi-faceted challenges associated with this kind of technology.

This is the preamble to a unit project I created in my first year but never got the chance to implement due to time constraints. The entire project is story-driven around the concept of “designer genes” and students get to assume the roles of different employees in the company, such as geneticist, PR rep, sales and marketing, etc. It is designed, no pun intended, to cover the Cell Division, Genetics and Molecular Biology unit for Biology 30.

The project is broken down into several tasks with activities that fit into each one. Each task encompasses a major concept or theme and the activities serve as the individual “lessons” which provide students with the tools necessary to complete the larger sections. By breaking it down into smaller pieces, the work becomes more manageable for students. For example, one of the tasks is modelling DNA with activities such as looking at base pairs, tricodons, the structure of the molecule, and so forth. What makes the tasks so important is that they themselves are pieces of a larger puzzle (or project) which can be easily assembled by pulling together all the disparate components.

This particular project has as its final objective the creation of a marketing campaign for the company, Genetically You. Our original design was to have the students create a website to market the company, but after considerable feedback from colleagues, that was deemed to be a little too narrow of choice. I would therefore adjust the unit to end with a campaign instead in which the students can choose from one of five different approaches: website, newspaper ad, magazine ad, radio commercial, or television commercial. Each approach would have its own criteria and could then be “constrained” enough (see post “The Secret to Inquiry” for more information on “liberating constraints”) to provide students with the guidance needed to deepen their work.

One of my favourite parts of the project is the public relations aspect, wherein the company comes under fire by activists known as “The Naturalists.” Obviously, creating a market for designer genes is going to raise some controversial issues, one of which is the possibility for ‘taboo’ genes (blue eyes, fair skin, etc.). The students are asked to take the role of PR rep and to anticipate arguments against the company by looking at ethical and social issues surrounding our product. This is especially interesting because it has ties to the social studies curriculum and could be interwoven into other classes through collaboration with other teachers.

Over the summer, I’d like to do some more work and add a few sections to make sure that every single student outcome is covered by the entire unit. As it stands right now, it’s missing a few tasks and activities such as those which might address cell division. I’d also like to find the precise curriculum connections and map those out. When we were peer-reviewing other units developed in IO, one of the other groups had used Inspiration software to map out the curriculum outcomes across science, fine arts, and language arts.

There’s far too much to the unit than can be explained here in a single post, so if you’d like more information about the project just leave me a comment and I’ll see about getting you the details.