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  • Alexis Jones Moraga

CRISPR Debate Project at MPA

With COVID restrictions in the classroom, adapting lesson plans to be challenging and engaging can be difficult. This past semester, Tricia Markoff and I decided to collaborate on a mid-term project for sophomores. This project would incorporate content from her Biology class with research and debate tools from my English II class: a project where students debate whether or not scientists should use CRISPR for genetic engineering. CRISPR is an acronym for clustered regularly interspaced short palindromic repeats, and is a family of DNA sequences found in the genomes of prokaryotic organisms such as bacteria and archaea. In

preparation, we discussed the material we would be teaching and evaluated the project’s

requirements and rubrics.

During Tricia’s class, she taught students about the structure and properties of DNA and included resources that highlighted current discussions of CRISPR and genome editing. Students needed to be familiar with the vocabulary and composition of DNA before understanding how technology like CRISPR operates and what concerns are present with

editing DNA. Correspondingly, I focused on teaching students how to identify credible research sources and prepare and present an argument based on supporting evidence from

their research.

After teaching the foundational subject material, students were assigned to research teams and allowed to pick their stance on scientists’ use of CRISPR from a list of topics. Some examples of the topics included were, “Should scientists use CRISPR to bring back the Woolly mammoth?” and “Who should decide whether or not a person receives genetic editing?”. The students went through a step-by-step research process that required them to locate credible sources, format an MLA works cited page, and write a cohesive argumentative essay with extensive evidence and rebuttals that supported their viewpoint.

The day before spring break, students presented their arguments in MPA’s auditorium for their classmates; students in the audience completed forms that critiqued each team’s presentation. Although students admitted the project was rigorous, many felt that it pushed them to truly understand the content material and communicate with their team to apply what they had learned.

As teachers of students who constantly absorb new information, Tricia and I believe that it is essential for students to think critically about the ideas they are consuming and formulate conclusions founded on reliable evidence. This project allowed us to challenge ourselves and our students by connecting two different subject areas through interdisciplinary learning.

— Alexis Jones Moraga,

MPA Staff, English II, English III, English IV, & Yearbook

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