more on teaching tips

Bruce Wightman wightman at
Thu Aug 17 21:55:04 EST 1995

To all worm breeders and others who responded to my post on teaching
earlier this summer:

Thanks for all your suggestions on ideas for teaching genetics to
non-biology majors.  The course went quite well, actually.  Most of the
time it was fun, except perhaps those times when I had that sinking
feeling that everything coming out of my mouth was clear as mud. 
Fortunately, those occasions were rare.

A few people asked me to pass on whatever I learned from others, or from
my own course.  Several people suggested a somewhat historical approach
and I felt that this was a good idea.  However, I was surprised to find
that while the approach itself was valuable, the HISTORY, per se, was not
what they were interested in.  I rather enjoy it myself, but the story of
Rosalind Franklin and Maurice Wilkins didn't really grab them (for

The class I taught had 27 students, so it was small enough to take
advantage of a discussion format.  This was a lot of fun.  I tried to find
provocative, accesible magazine articles to set them up with, and then
force them, by posing questions to them, to think critically about the
We did this once a week.
The most popular articles with the class were:
Andrew Revkin, "Hunting Down Huntington's", Discover, December 1993, 14:98f
Jesse Green, "Who Put the Lid on gp120?",  NYTimes Magazine, 3/26/95
Ruth Hubbard and Elijah Wald, "The Eugenics of Normalcy", The Ecologist, 1993,
John Carey, "The Gene Kings", Business Week, 3/8/95, p72f

These articles were used as jumping-off places for discussions of
Mendelian genetics and screening, the politics of drug development, genome
sequencing and behavioral genetics, and patenting and cloning,
respectively.  Surprisingly, Stephen J. Gould, one of my personal
favorites, didn't go over as well.

I thought some of the C. elegans "teaching group" might be interested in
some of these articles.

Thanks again for your comments and suggestions.

Bruce Wightman

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