To develop an understanding of the role both nature and nurture play in determining an individual’s traits.
People can be described in terms of their traits. Some traits are inherited and others result from interactions with the environment. In this lesson, students begin to develop an understanding of the role played by nature (our genes) and nurture (the environment in which we live and the things that happen to us) in defining who we are and what it means to be human. This can be a difficult concept for students. For example, students of all ages believe that some environmentally produced characteristics can be inherited, especially over several generations. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 341.)
Without talking specifically about genes and DNA, the simple Internet experience that is at the heart of this lesson (A Nature and Nurture Walk in Mendel Park) can help elementary students begin to develop the understandings that will lead to more in-depth studies at the middle-school and high-school level.
Since the mapping of the human genome has been highlighted in the news, students may wrongfully get the impression that genetic science is leading us to a more deterministic view of inheritance in which the role of DNA takes precedence over other factors in determining who we are. To help you understand how this misconception can arise, read the article Heredity and Humanity by Francis S. Collins, Lowell Weiss, and Kathy Hudson. In this essay, three of the major players in the mapping of the human genome describe why there’s more to us than our genes.
Preview the activity used in this lesson, A Nature and Nurture Walk in Mendel Park.
Ask students how they are like their family members and how they are not. Ask them to discuss physical traits as well as personal traits such as likes, dislikes, talents, abilities, and interests. Write down students' ideas on the board or a large sheet of paper. Students will refer to these ideas again in the Assessment.
Have students use their Nature and Nurture student esheet to go to A Nature and Nurture Walk in Mendel Park on the American Museum of Natural History’s Ology site.
Have students read the introductory page that describes the terms “nature” and “nurture.”
When students have a good understanding of nature and nurture, have them click on the “Solve the Genetic Riddle” link to start the activity. As outlined in the instructions, the goal of the activity is to answer questions about nature and nurture (found by clicking on the stars in the four quadrants of the park) in order to solve the riddle, “What do you call a smart chromosome?”
Note: Be sure that students find the green stars in all quadrants of the park. To move to a different quadrant, they should click on the picture beneath the riddle (under the link “Click on a corner of the picture to see what else is happening in Mendel Park").
Students will solve the riddle and find the answer to be “A Super Gene-ius.” Depending on the level of your students, take this opportunity to analyze this answer, discussing terms such as “gene” and “chromosome.”
Have students develop at least two other “questions” that could be used in the online activity they just completed. They should develop questions that have both “nature” and “nature and nurture” as answers.
Finally, have students revisit the Motivation discussion. Now that students know more about the roles of nature and nurture, they should be able to more clearly explain traits (of themselves and their family members) in those terms.
You could extend the ideas in this lesson (for advanced students) by using the Science NetLinks 6-8 lesson Gene Puzzles. In this lesson, students will come to understand that in sexually reproducing organisms, such as humans, typically half of the genes come from each parent.