Peer Teaching to Learn about Genetics and GMOs

We have developed a service-learning outreach program that involves Wake Forest undergraduates as peer teachers of high school students.  This program has been ongoing since 2010.  Students enrolled in the Wake Forest Biology Department course BIO 101 Biology and the Human Condition are taught a set of hands-on activities to learn about genetics, plant reproduction, crop improvement, and genetic engineering of crops.  The lesson uses tomatoes to teach the concepts and is framed by the issue of the effect of 6 years of drought on tomato production in California. After learning the activities and practicing them with their lab partner, undergraduates go to biology classes at different high schools in the Winston-Salem/Forsyth County school district.  Working in pairs, they teach the same activities to small groups of high school students.

Lesson concepts include:

photo students teaching students
WFU students teaching in high school and middle schools of Forsyth County NC.
  • The importance of mutations and human selection in the development of modern crops.
  • How traits are inherited (Mendelian genetics).
  • The reproductive cycle of plants.
  • How genetic engineering compares to conventional breeding as tools to improve crops.
  • Which genetically modified organisms (GMOs) are grown as crops in the US.
  • How ingredients from GMO crops are used in processed foods.

The multiple effects of this peer teaching program include:

• Reinforcement of genetics concepts that are part of the high school biology curriculum.
• Introduction of the concepts of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetic engineering to high school students.
• Improvement of undergraduate understanding of the biology concepts in the lesson.
• Increase in undergraduate interest in teaching and science.
• Giving undergraduates a chance to serve and interact with the local community.


The video below explains more about the project

The lesson materials are available for teachers’ use.

Click here to download lesson materials (http://college.wfu.edu/biolab/muday/lesson-materials)

photo students teaching students
WFU students showing examples of tomato plants to students in Forsyth County NC schools

Science Education Research Related to the Peer Teaching Service-Learning Program

We have studied the effects of peer teaching on undergraduate knowledge of genetics concepts, on interest in teaching and science, and on misconceptions about GMOs.  Undergraduates participating in the peer teaching program are non-science majors, which makes them an important study group for learning about interest in science.

Results of our studies have shown that participation in the peer teaching program:

  • Increases undergraduate knowledge of lesson concepts more than just hearing about them in lecture.
  • Increases interest in teaching in the majority of students.
  • Increases interest in science for many students
  • Decreases misconceptions about GMOs and their use.
  • Shifts student attitudes about the use of GMO crops in agriculture so that the majority of students are positive about their use.

Publications resulting from our studies include:

(student names appear in Bold Face type)

Chrispeels, HE, Klosterman, ML, Martin, JB, Lundy, SR, Watkins, JM, Gibson, CL, and Muday, GK (2014) Undergraduates achieve learning gains in plant genetics through peer teaching of secondary students. CBE Life Sciences Education. 13: 641-652

Klosterman, ML, Chrispeels, H, Reagan, B, Lundy, SR, Browne, CL, and Muday, GK (2014) That’s a Tomato?  Using a familiar food to explore genetic variation. Science Activities 51:1-16

Chrispeels HE, Martin JB, Klosterman ML, Lundy SR, Watkins JM, Gibson CL, Muday, GK. (In review) Cross-Age Peer Teaching Affects Interest in Teaching and Science in Non-Science Major Undergraduates. Journal of Biological Education

Chrispeels, HE, Chapman, JM, Gibson, CL, and Muday, GK (In review) Conceptual Change about the Use of Genetically Modified Crops:  Peer Teaching Increases Knowledge and Affects Perspectives in Non-Science Major Undergraduates.  CBE Life Sciences Education