Personal Genetics Education Project

We create interactive lessons for high school and college educators to engage their students in discussions of ethics and personal genetics. The lessons are relevant to multiple subjects, including biology, health, social studies, law, physical education and psychology. All of our lesson plans contain background reading for teachers and students, a selection of classroom activities, discussion points, in some cases a slide presentation or video clip, and an evaluation. Each lesson can stand alone, or all the lessons can be taught as a unit.

Lesson topics:

Additional resources from pgEd:

  • Please visit the pgEd blog for links to recommended resources and current events and the “Professional Development” and “pgEd in your classroom” tabs for information on teacher trainings and classroom workshops.
  • Like us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter to keep up with the latest in personal genetics, new resources, and upcoming events.
  • Check out our interactive online tool, Map-Ed, for 5-question quizzes on key concepts and topics that you can use with your students and pin your classroom (or just your zip code) on our map of genetic awareness.
  • Watch videos from our series “Personal Conversations/Personal Genetics” to hear stories from our friends and colleagues about exploring their own DNA as well as the importance of talking about personal genetics with young adults.
  • Download pgEd’s clickable brochure with information about our resources and trainings. Please help us spread the word by sharing with your friends and colleagues.
  • If you are interested in receiving updates from pgEd by e-mail two to four times a year, click here to join our mailing list.

Feedback is most welcome, and we would love to hear from educators about their experiences using these materials in the classroom.
Click here to let us know what you think!

Unit Overview:

Preparing to teach the lessons  **Updated for 2015**
Students currently in high school or college will enjoy opportunities as a result of scientific advances in genetics and will be asked to solve novel dilemmas on how genetics will be used in medicine and in society. Exploring the social and ethical issues while examining the key scientific principles makes for a learning opportunity that engages students and prepares them for the very real decisions they will face in the near future. This overview includes resources for teachers who are looking for a “big picture” idea of the latest genetic research and the issues percolating around the personal, societal, and medical possibilities and questions.
Download overview: Word document or PDF.

Lesson Plans:

Introduction to personal genetics  **Updated for 2015**
Aim: How might new advances in personal genetics impact our lives, our medical decisions and society?
Summary: This lesson introduces students to the recent advances in genetics, genetic testing and personal genome sequencing, and presents some of the decisions and ethical challenges an individual may face regarding the use of this technology. It also highlights some of the likely benefits of personal genetics, such as gaining the ability to act on one’s genetic risks, tailoring medicines and interventions, and becoming more active and engaged healthcare consumers.
Activities: Do now exercise (7 minutes), slideshow (15-20 minutes), four corners discussion (15-25 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.

Direct-to-consumer genetic testing  
What are the potential benefits of and concerns about genetic tests being sold directly to consumers?
Summary: This lesson provides students the opportunity to explore the excitement and challenges related to the direct-to-consumer (DTC) genetic testing industry. How do consumers react to genetic information gleaned from DTC services? What information can be learned through a DTC test, and do consumers need or want a doctor or genetic counselor to access this information?
Activities: Do now exercise (10 minutes), “Panel of experts” debate (65-70 minutes).
Download lesson plan:
Word document or PDF.

Genetics, jobs and your rights **Updated for 2015**
Aim: How can genetic information inform job choice and impact the kinds of jobs a person could perform?
The lesson explores the Genetic Information Nondiscrimination Act (GINA), called the “first civil rights legislation of the 21st century” by former Massachusetts Senator Ted Kennedy. Learning about the history of genetic discrimination in the workplace, along with the progress being made to ensure workers do not have information about their DNA used inappropriately, is key to seeing the potential of personal genetics come to fruition.
Do now exercise (7 minutes), jigsaw (45 minutes).
Download lesson plan:
Word document or PDF.

Genetics and reproduction  
How does genetic testing of embryos and fetuses offer hope to individuals wishing to have children, and what are the ethical implications of that testing?
This lesson addresses the genetic reproductive technologies that are being used by individuals who, for a variety of reasons, wish to know and/or have some choice about the genetic makeup of their children. It begins with a discussion of the technologies that can reveal the genetic makeup of fetuses and then moves on to a technology called preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). The goal of this lesson is to give students an opportunity to discuss many aspects of PGD such that they become aware of the diversity of opinions surrounding PGD.
Activities: Do now exercise (5-7 minutes), slideshow (15-20 minutes), scenarios (20-45 minutes), fishbowl discussion (20-30 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.

Athletics and genetics **Updated for 2015**
Aim: How might personal genetics impact and transform athletics?
Genetic testing is increasingly playing a role in sports. As the genetic basis for many health conditions is revealed, some doctors, coaches, and academic and athletic organizations are wondering whether genetic analysis can provide health and safety benefits for athletes. Can genetics help minimize the risk of injury? In addition, as scientists uncover numerous genes linked to athletic performance, questions have emerged about whether genetics might play a role in guiding young people toward the sport in which they are likely to have the most success. In this lesson, students are asked to consider how their own genetic information might influence their athletic path.
Activities: Do now exercise (7 minutes), pair-share exercise (10 minutes), slideshow (20-30 minutes), scenarios (30-35 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.
Download: scientific supplement: Word document or PDF.

Protecting athletes with genetic conditions: Sickle cell trait  
Whose responsibility is it to ensure that athletes with medical conditions are both safe and treated fairly?
As the genetic basis for many health conditions is revealed, some doctors, coaches, and academic and athletic organizations are wondering whether genetic analysis can provide health and safety benefits for athletes. As of 2013, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA), the governing body of college sports in the United States, began screening all of its athletes for the genetic condition sickle cell trait (SCT). This lesson explores the discussion surrounding this policy and asks students to examine how genetics might impact their own athletic choices and options.
Reading and notes (15 minutes), proposal (30-50 minutes), presentations and group discussion (15-20 minutes).
Download lesson plan: 
Word document or PDF.

Personalized medicine  
How might personalized medicine impact our healthcare?
Summary: Personalized medicine, also referred to as precision medicine, holds great promise to improve healthcare. As the cost of genetic analysis decreases and research advances, it is becoming increasingly possible to include a person’s genetic make-up in the repertoire of tools that inform his or her healthcare. This lesson asks students to delve into the hopes and challenges of personalized medicine and to consider the practical applications of genetic analysis in medicine.
Do now exercise (10-15 minutes), creating a brochure (30-45 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.

DNA, crime and law enforcement **Updated for 2015** 
Aim: How will advances in DNA technology impact individuals, law enforcement and society?
Summary: The collection and analysis of DNA is an important tool in law enforcement. This lesson explores the challenge of establishing ethical and legal frameworks in a timely manner to guide the use of newly developed technologies. A key question that is woven through this lesson is how we as a society can use genetics to keep people safe, solve crimes and, at the same time, develop policies that provide appropriate safeguards and privacy protections.
Activities: Do now exercise (5-7 minutes), slideshow (20 minutes), video clip (15 minutes), discussion (10 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.
Complementary lesson: Check out the lesson “Short Tandem Repeats…And Murder!” which explores the science behind forensic DNA analysis. (from our colleagues at The American Society of Human Genetics)

History, eugenics and genetics  
Aim: How can we as a society avoid the mistakes of the past to take advantage of the promise of genetics?
Summary: This lesson provides students with a historical overview of the American eugenics movement and highlights some of the advances and breakthroughs that have been achieved through genetic and genomic research. Many people fear that new advances in genetics, particularly embryo screening and analysis of fetal DNA, could lead to a new era of eugenics. The goal of this lesson is for students to start discussing these topics so that they can understand the complexity of the issues and engage in conversations that contrast the dangers of eugenics with the benefits that can come from genetic information.
Activities: Slideshow (40 minutes), discussion (15-20 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.

Using primary sources to examine the history of eugenics **New for 2015**
Aim: How can we use primary sources to discover how the eugenics movement became popularized in the United States and Europe?
Summary: This lesson uses primary source documents to explore issues of race, gender and class in the 20th century. It is intended to extend the ideas explored in “History, eugenics and genetics.” The goal of this lesson is for students to use original sources to understand how the eugenics movement used propaganda to enter mainstream America to promote its agenda, and use critical thinking skills to analyze and interpret the sources.
Activities: Document analysis and worksheet (20-30 minutes), discussion (20-30 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document and PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.

Genes, environment and genetic complexity: Aggression in humans  
How do genetic factors impact complex human behaviors such as aggression?
Summary: Questions about whether genetics can, in part, explain violent, aggressive behavior in humans are not new. Recent episodes of large-scale violence, whether in schools or other public places, have renewed discussion about the intersection of crime, mental health and genetics. In this lesson, students are asked to examine popular but incorrect ideas related to the idea that a single gene or even set of genes can “cause” humans to behave aggressively.
Activities: Video clip (15 minutes), class discussion (20 minutes).
Download lesson plan:
Word document or PDF.
Download discussion questions: PowerPoint slides.

Scientific themes in personal genetics 
Aim: What are the fundamental scientific concepts needed to understand personal genetics?
Summary: This lesson introduces students to scientific concepts in genetics that have broad implications for individuals and for society. Students will be asked to consider the role of DNA in our personal and cultural identities as well as our understanding of diversity. They will come away with a perspective that the benefits of personal genetics can only come to light when we understand the potential and the concerns.
Activity: Slideshow (30-40 minutes).
Download lesson plan: Word document or PDF.
Download slideshow: PowerPoint slides.

NEW: We are developing an annotated reading list – click here for a recently updated version.

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A note on the materials in our lessons:  Some of the lessons contain a small amount of  copyrighted material, from news and academic sites,  the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. As a non-profit educational organization, we are making these materials available to advance education and public engagement around ethics and genetics.  We believe this constitutes a ‘fair use’ of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information go to: If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond ‘fair use’, you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.