Lesson 3: Profiling a Potato Killer
“Profiling a Potato killer” is a lesson designed to have students use internet resources to determine the confounding factors behind the potato blight and the contributing factors that led to the most destructive famine in human history. In this lesson, students will use the scientific method and inquiry to determine how the pathogen spread over the world and the historical context surrounding this tragedy as a part of the module “CSI Dublin: The Hunt for the Irish Potato Killer.” “CSI Dublin: The Hunt for the Irish Potato Killer” is an integrated project incorporating science concepts of earth science, biology, biotechnology and art to allow students to apply their understandings of epidemiology and plant pathology into the historical context of science and human health. This unit plan would be best used after previous units or discussions on DNA, biotechnology, taxonomy, bacteria, viruses, plants, protists and fungi and immunity, but is not necessary for this lesson plan.
- The learner will employ the scientific method to inquire why the famine was worse in Ireland than in any other location.
- The learner will evaluate internet resources to understand the historical context of late blight.
- The learner will relate plant pathology and poverty to serious risks to human health.
Curriculum Alignment – National
- Content Standard A: “As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, understandings about scientific inquiry”
- Content Standard C: “As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of: interdependence of organisms”
- Content Standard F: “As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of personal and community health, population growth, natural resources, environmental quality, and natural and human-induced hazards.”
- Content Standard G: “As a result of activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of science as a human endeavor, nature of scientific knowledge, and historic perspectives”
Curriculum Alignment – State
- North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Biology, Goal 1
- North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Biology, Goal 4.04
- North Carolina Standard Course of Study for Biology, Goal 5.03
Classroom Time Required
This lesson requires 50 to 90 minutes of class time; activity may be finished at home.
Pre-activity discussion: 5 minutes depending on student questions.
Student Activity: 45 to 90 minutes depending on student ability (reading) levels.
Post-activity discussion: 5 minutes depending on student questions.
Students should understand the steps of the scientific method, pathogen, epidemic, pandemic, host. They do not need to know any information about P. infestans or the Great Famine, as they will learn this within this lesson.
- Students will need access to computers with an internet connection. (See Modifications section)
- To open the activity, the teacher should review the concepts from the prior days or perhaps review student maps. The time the teacher wishes to dedicate to this activity will vary depending on the nature of the classes.
- The teacher will explain that P.infestans was the pathogen that caused the Irish potatoes to rot, however there were other factors that caused the Great Famine. You can help your students brainstorm as they perform the observations section of the activity.
- Using that information, students should create a hypothesis based upon the information from their observations as well as the pre-lab discussion. Make sure all students have recorded their own unique hypotheses before they begin their web research. (See comments section.)
- Have students go onto the three sites outlined on their laboratory sheet and begin their data collection. (See modifications section.) o Website Number 1: http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/17/opinion/17reader.html?_r=2&oref=slogin o Website Number 2: http://www.bbc.co.uk/history/british/victorians/famine_01.shtml o Website Number 3: http://www.historyplace.com/worldhistory/famine/
- Allow students 40 to 90 minutes to work independently on their data collection while monitoring their progress. You may wish to give them an additional day in class to complete this activity on a normal schedule or the entire period on a block schedule.
- If students finish their data collection, have them begin the analysis and conclusion questions.
- In the last remaining minutes of class recap on what they have done and if there are any questions. Students who did not finish in class should complete their data and/or analysis and conclusion questions for homework (or the next day in class.) Assure students that only their data questions will be assessed upon accuracy whereas the rest of their score depends on the thought and quality of their responses. Ensure that all students can complete the assignment. (See comments section.)
- NOTE: There is also a homework assignment that is optional for use in your classroom. It can be also used by an History or English teacher to help students write in a historical or different person’s perspective.
- The teacher will score the student responses based upon completion of each step of the scientific method. The twenty-nine data questions should be assessed upon accuracy and quality of student responses as well as the one extra credit question. The six conclusion questions should be graded based upon use of critical thinking skills.
- The optional homework should be assessed by the rubric provided.
- For this activity, some schools may or may not have access to computers with internet access. For this reason, the articles have been saved into word documents available to print. This can also be distributed for students who do not finish in class and do not have technology access at home.
- For ESL and ELL students, they may use an online translator such as Babelfish (http://babelfish.yahoo.com/) to translate entire web pages into their preferred language. They can print these pages to take home in their preferred language if they do not have technology access at home.
- Because P. infestans is the causative agent of the potato disease and subsequent famine, be vigilant that students do not acquire the misconception that every time there is a P. infestans outbreak there will be a famine. Using current articles or other resources showing that late blight is occurring today (which catastrophic hunger) could help dispel this myth: http://www.nytimes.com/2009/07/18/nyregion/18tomatoes.html
- It is important for students to understand the importance of observations in formulating a hypothesis. Teachers should foster the creative and unique thought processes and emphasize that there is no “right or wrong” answer, only supported or not supported.
- Some students may not have access to internet resources or a computer at home. Encourage students to stop by at the end of the school day (or other convenient time for student and teacher) to get the printed copies of the material to read at home.
- It would be a good idea to meet with your students other teachers in the disciplines mentioned in the extensions above to determine what activities can be done together to help reinforce student engagement and learning. (See Extensions section)