By Kevin Sinusas
At the end of the fall semester, students investigated a series of historical and current social issues related to cell division. In traditional biology curricula, this topic can often be an exercise in meaningless memorization and recitation of “the stages of mitosis” that are quickly forgotten after the test. At Common Ground High School, our students were actively engaged in true scientific exploration as demanded by the new Next Generation Science Standards and our increasingly scientific world.
Students became experts in the details of the cell division process by investigating what happens when cells start to lose the ability to divide – aging – and what happens when cells continue to divide in places where they should not – cancer. Our investigations of these two opposite sides of “cell division gone wrong” unfolded initially through the historical narrative of a poor African-American woman, Henrietta Lacks. Her remarkable cells, taken without permission after her death from cancer, were the first ever grown in the lab to continue dividing forever. Literally tons of her cells have been grown since; they have been sent into space, blown up by atomic bombs, and used to invent the Polio vaccine.
After following procedures to stain and view individual chromosomes from these revolutionary cells under the microscope, students followed this cellular story from the past into the present and future. They reviewed findings of cutting-edge research in biological and social science showing how internalized racism can affect cellular aging and how new drugs coming on the market now may or may not be able to radically extend human lifespan. They explored all sides of these issues through the lenses of their growing scientific skills and social justice awareness. The final product of these investigations, presented here, was a series of articles, images, and advertisements for a magazine entirely written, edited, and published by students called Cell Biology & Society: How divisions between people can affect the division of cells.
Click the cover below to explore the magazine this class put together.