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Grade: Senior
Subject: Science

#196. Introduction to Mendelian Genetics using Fiction

Science, level: Senior
Posted by Ashlee Grove (
University of Memphis, Memphis, TN
Materials Required: "The Behavior of Hawkweeds" short story in SHIP FEVER by Andrea Barrett
Activity Time: 2 days
Concepts Taught: History of Mendelian Genetics and What it is like to be a 19th century scientist

Lesson: Introduction to Mendelian Genetics using Fiction
Concepts taught: History of Mendel and what was like to be a
19th century scientist
Materials: “The Behavior of Hawkweeds” in Ship Fever,
a collection of short stories by Andrea Barrett
Level: 10th and 11th grade Biology
Model: Direct-Interaction Model
Procedure: •Check for previous days understanding--
quick review of cellular structures, especially
the nucleus and mitochondria where all genetic
information is stored and translated.
Introduce new unit-- Genetics
Have students get up and group themselves by eye color
or ability to roll tongue or not
Discuss the percentage of population for each color
State purpose of reading Barrett-- to place Mendel, the
father of Genetics in historical perspective; to think
critically about what it means to be a scientist; to
explore what it take to make ground breaking discoveries,
such as inheritance patterns. We looked at eye color and
tongue rolling, Mendel looked at pea plants.

•Read aloud “The Behavior of Hawkweeds”

•Discussion of Mendel and birth of Genetics:
1. What is Mendelian Genetics?
Basic inheritance patterns discovered. These were
discovered via many hybridization experiments where
genetically different parent plants were crossed and
the resulting progeny observed to discover how traits
are passed from one generation to the next.

2. Why the pea plant?
Ease of cultivation, controlled pollination, and avail-
ability of varieties with differing traits visible--
color, shape, texture of seeds.

3. Who was Mendel and what happened to him? Who was
Carl Nageli? (21)
Gregor Mendel (1822-1884), raised in Moravia, studied
at Augustinian Monastery in Brunn, and also took
course work at the University of Vienna. 1856, hybrid-
ization experiments began. Public lecture on work in
1865. Publication 1866. Not until 1900 were findings
seen as significant

4. Why were his discoveries not considered significant?
Chromosomes role as bearers of genetic information
unknown at this time; meiosis and mitosis not yet

5. What would it be like to spend 10-20 years of your
life working on a theory and never knowing any recognition?
Discuss Rosalind Franklin as an example.

•Homework: Ask your parents, teachers, and other friends
if they know of a writer, artist, musician, scientist, etc.
who was not recognized until after they were already dead.
Look this person up and write a short paragraph about how this
might have affected them? Do you think it would have changed
their lives had they know they would be famous some day? Were
they better off not knowing? Where did their ambition come from?
Don’t spend a lot of time researching who they were, the focus
of this assignment is for you to put yourself in their shoes.
I want to know what you think about it. Be creative.