Technological Advances in Health

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Technological Advances in Health


To understand how technology influences human existence by examining the benefits and risks of different biotechnological advances.


This lesson will help students better understand how technology and science influence our existence. In addition, there are specific questions designed to help them overcome misconceptions that research shows students believe.

High-school students should understand that human inventiveness has brought new risks as well as improvements to human existence. In addition, they should realize that risk analysis is used to minimize the likelihood of unwanted side effects of a new technology. Last, it is important for them to be mindful that the public perception of risk may depend on both psychological as well as scientific factors. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 52.)

Students at this level should progress to higher levels of critical and creative thinking through increasingly demanding design and technology work. Activities should introduce new concepts including risk analysis and technology assessment. These activities should help students become aware that designed systems are subject to failure but that the risk of failure can be reduced by a variety of means: overdesign, redundancy, fail-safe designs, more research ahead of time, more controls, etc. They should also come to recognize that these precautions add costs that may become prohibitive, so that few designs are ideal. Because no number of precautions can reduce the risk of system failure to zero, comparing the estimated risks of a proposed technology to its alternatives is often necessary. The choice, usually, is not between a high-risk option and a risk-free one, but rather a trade-off among actions, all of which involve some risk. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 51.)

Students should realize that analyzing risk entails looking at probabilities and severities of consequences. However, comparing risks is difficult because people vary greatly in their perception of risk, influenced by such matters as whether the risk is gradual or instantaneous (global warming versus plane crashes), how much control people think they have over the risk (cigarette smoking versus being struck by lightning), and how the risk is expressed (the number of people affected versus the proportion affected). It is important for teachers to avoid promoting a particular point of view. The teacher's job is not to provide students with the "right" answers about technology but to see to it that students know what questions to ask. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 52.)

Research shows that students seem to have two perspectives on risk resulting from the failure of technological systems. In the first perspective, if the risk of failure involves the possibility of widespread harm, it is unacceptable; however, if the risk of failure is to oneself and voluntary, it is considered a part of life and hardly worthy of concern by others. In the second perspective, if the risk of failure involves harm to oneself and benefits to oneself, then it is of primary interest. Harm to others is simply ignored in this perspective. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 334-35.)

In addition, research shows that some high-school students believe scientists and engineers are more capable of making decisions about public issues related to science and technology than the general public. Students also believe that scientists and engineers know all the facts and are not influenced by personal motives and interests. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333.)

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Direct students to the Technological Advances student esheet, which will refer them to a story on Health Technologies.

After students have finished going over the story and the timeline, discuss some of the advances that were mentioned. While the article clearly points out the advantages of these technologies, ask students if they think that there might have been risks associated with them and what they think they might have been. Then refer students back to the esheet, which will connect them to a Science Update resource called Phage Comeback. After students have finished, discuss these questions posed on the esheet with the entire class.

  • What are phage?
  • What are the advantages and disadvantages of using phage to fight infections?
  • Why is phage being re-considered after so many years of obscurity?
  • Do you think the fight against antibiotic resistance should focus on new technology, or more judicious use of antibiotics? Give reasons for your answer.


Begin this part of the lesson by asking students to define technology and differentiate it from science. Any answer that explains how technology involves the application of science for practical benefit, and differentiates between the two, should be acceptable. For example, the science of an artificial heart involves cardiovascular research (such as the science of blood flow, and of electrical and mechanical power). The technology of design (how to minimize the risk of a power disruption, fit the device into the available space within the human body), however, involves technology research.

Next, refer students again to the Technological Advances student esheet. Explain to students that they will pick a scientific technological advance that is specific to the human body (e.g., organ transplants, prosthetics, genetic technology, etc.) that they would like to review in terms of pros and cons and share with the class. Tell students they will need to obtain your approval for the topic they select. Students should use the Technology and Health student sheet to help guide them in their research.


Using the esheet, students should prepare a five-minute presentation to the class about the technology that they have researched. They should also write a one-page explanation of what they have learned about the relationship between benefit and risk in the development of new technologies.


Students can consider two thought-provoking article on biotechnology and its pros and cons from Science Friday:

These Science Updates also can be used to extend or develop the ideas in this lesson:

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Lesson Details

Grades Themes Project 2061 Benchmarks