Socratic Seminar on Bioethics & Biotechnology - Biology


Oct 23, 2013 (3 years and 8 months ago)


Socratic Seminar on Bioethics & Biotechnology

Alyssa Neal


Socratic seminars can provide students with a unique opportunity to explore a concept
closely, to share their ideas freely with their classmates, and to hear the ideas of others in a
judgmental and open environment. As teachers, we are given the chance and challenge to “let
go” of controlling how the content is administered.

The role of the facilitator is to keep the seminar on track and to intervene only when
necessary. Ideal
ly, the facilitator would only sit and listen to the discussion. The facilitator
should never offer an opinion or judgment of a participant’s contribution. They should also not
offer their own ideas about the topic. The facilitator should only intervene

under one of the
following situations:

If the discussion wanders too far from the topic

If a participant is disrupting the seminar in any manner

If a participant has said something that others might not have heard or understood, the
facilitator may ask th
em to restate it or clarify their point.

Productive silence is valuable, and should not be interrupted. Students should feel free to
disagree and offer other opinions, but are always expected to do it in a respectful manner.
Remember that this is not a
debate. There are not winners and losers.



Enrich learning experience


Help students to become more thoughtful.


Help students become more appreciative and tolerant of other’s ideas


Help students become more able to articulate their thoughts.


Student handouts

Student research



Pair students up and assign each group a bioethics topic to research. They need to do a
short amount of research on their own about their individual topic.


Give each student a copy of both handouts be
forehand so they understand the guidelines
and have at least a brief introduction into each of the topics that will be discussed.


Whichever group researched the topic will be the ones to introduce it and start its


On the day of the seminar,

students will need to arrange themselves in a circle.


At this point as a facilitator, you might ask if there are any unfamiliar vocabulary words
in the text and make sure stress one more time proper seminar etiquette.


Appoint a group to begin the discu
ssion, and set back and observe.


If you did not want to assign an actual grade for the amount of comments made during
the seminar, you could assign a reflection paper on the topics discussed. Have students assess
the quality of the semina
r, how it might have been better, and what they learned from the

Student Handouts

Socratic Seminar on Bioethics & Biotechnology

We will be having a discussion on bioethics & biotechnology in class. This discussion will take
place _______
____________. The rules for the discussion are as follows:


This is a group discussion and we are discussion


One person speaks at a time.


You may disagree with the opinion of another student, but
do not turn this into a
personal attack.


Do not u
se any profane language, even if you are upset.

You will be graded on your participation in the discussion on a 20 point scale. The following
scale will be used and the score will be multiplied by two.

Grading Scale

10 = 100% attention and leader of the


9 = 100% attention and excellent participation in the discussion (8

8 = 100% attention and good participation in discussion (6

7 = 100% attention and made a few comments (4

6 = 100% attention, but spoke
very little (1

5 = 100% attention and did not speak at all

4 = 75% attention and did not speak

3 = 50% attention and did not speak

2 = 25% attention and did not speak

1 = did not pay attention

0 = personal attack on a fellow student

nts made that are not valid to the discussion will result in the loss of points.

Bioethic & Biotechnology Issues

Genetic Testing

Genetic Testing includes a wide range of topics including the

Fetal Genetic Testing:

This technology tests d
eveloping fetus for chromosomal abnormalities
and hereditary conditions. Down's Syndrome, Huntington's Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Tay
Sach's Disease are all examples.

Pre symptomatic Genetic Testing:

This technology tests an individual for a genetic cond
hereditary condition before the individual shows symptoms of the condition. It also establishes a
risk factor for the likelihood a person will develop a condition in their life time. This technology
also allows individuals to asses the risk of passi
ng on an affected gene to their offspring. Familial
Breast Cancer, Huntington's Disease, Cystic Fibrosis and Tay Sach's are examples.


his technology allows scientists to
genetically alter food. In some cases it is to make it a more

hardy crop, that will be able to be
sustained in harsh growing climates. In some cases it is to make crops insect resistant. There are
many applications and much controversy over the sale of genetically altered food

Human Cloning

This technology includes
both the potential for cloning an entire
human, and/or cloning organs( skin, heart etc.)
Should we clone humans? Why? Cloning of
organs holds the promise of overcoming organ rejection and organ shortage? Is it worth it?

Cloning of Extinct or Endangered An

his technology looks at
cloning of extinct and endangered animals: Is this a good idea? Can we support these animals in
today's environment? What is the benefit?

Animal Rights/Testing

This includes issues around using animals in the
classroom. Anim
al Testing for Drugs/Surgical Improvements, Cosmetics
Are human rights
paramount to the rights of animals? Is it always wrong? Are there any situations when using
animals is acceptable?

Organs for Sale

Currently, there is an international shortage for org
ans for
transplantations. The need is great for heart, lung and kidneys to become available for
transplantation. Organs are being sold on the black market in some countries, in some countries
it is legal to sell an organ. What do you think? What are the im
plications of organs for sale? Will
this technology encourage the impoverished to sell an organ as a way to find financial gain?

there any concern where this might lead?


This cumbersome word means transplantation of organs
between s
pecies. Should we use pig valves to replace faulty human heart valves? Should we
consider implanting a monkey's heart into a human? Where do we draw the line? What about
potential for rejection? Cross species infections?


We have the techn
ology to look at developing embryos and
predict accurately the sex of the offspring? What are the implications of this technology? Should
you choose the sex of your offspring? Why? Why not?

Invitro Fertilization

We have the technology to combine egg and sp
erm outside of
the mother , the embryo is then placed inside of mother's uterus for gestation. This has been a
miracle solution for couples who have been unable to conceive to have a child. Along with this
technology has come a vast array of situations inc
luding: The increase chance of multiple births
(when multiple embryos are implanted). Surrogate Mothers having implanted embryos. The
latest court case looked at at situation in which the infertile parents used donated eggs and sperm
and implanted the embr
yo into a surrogate mother? Who is the legal parent? Are there potential
concerns around this technology?

Stem Cell Research

Stem Cell Research has been all over the news in the last severa
months. This technology allows stem cells which are embryonic undifferentiated primitive cells
which can develop and multiply into any other cell type including nerve cells
This technology
has given hope to families with Alzheimer's, Parkinson's Disease
, MS and Spinal Cord Injuries.
Much of the controversy has arisen from what is the source of the stem cells.

Neonatal Decision Making:

How sick is too sick? How small is too

Should we use any measure possible to save life of a newborn?