Monday 29 August 2011

Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes In The Classroom

I've just got in from seeing "Rise of the Planet of the Apes" at the cinema. I really recommend it. There are some nice nods to the original, and apart from rather suddenly deciding the audience is stupid right at the very end, it has an intelligent means of linking the plot of this film to its earlier sequel.

Promotional image from this site

Because I'm a sad case and I don't get out very much, I spent much of the journey home figuring out how to use it in my teaching. Oh yes. To get a few thoughts down and maybe to help fellow teachers incorporate it into their lessons (bet it'll be out on DVD by half-term), this is what I think I could do with the film at A-level. I'm trying to be fairly vague, and I don't think I'll be spoiling things for people, but if you really want no plot details at all, maybe favourite this and save it to read once you've seen the film.

Edexcel Unit 1
Describe the principles of gene therapy and distinguish between somatic and germ line therapy.
The treatment is delivered through gene therapy, using a virus vector. Students will be able to evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of using viruses as vectors. They may also be able to say whether the technology is somatic or germ line therapy (some interesting discussion points relating to Caesar's acquisition of the gene...).

Edexcel Unit 2
Compare historic drug testing with contemporary drug testing protocols, eg William Withering’s digitalis soup; double blind trials; placebo; three-phased testing.
Rodman spectacularly violates drug testing protocols. He goes straight into human testing before the animal testing stage is signed off. He does not test first on healthy volunteers, going instead for a single sufferer. It may be useful for students to look at the outcomes and consequences of this, both to the single sufferer, to the research programme and to the greater human population.

Edexcel Unit 4
Describe the major routes pathogens may take when entering the body and explain the role of barriers in protecting the body from infection, including the roles of skin, stomach acid, gut and skin flora.
The first batch of virus gene therapy is administered by injection. The second batch is administered via inhalation. This could also link back to the idea of gene therapy by getting students to think about how viruses could pass from the blood and lungs to the brain.
Explain the roles of antigens and antibodies in the body’s immune response including the involvement of plasma cells, macrophages and antigen-presenting cells.
There's a bit of a twist there, with the immune system forming antibodies to the viruses bringing the gene therapy (hence the second batch). Students can consider this as quite a common drawback of gene therapy, and how it might have been overcome (it is never really explained).
Describe how an understanding of the contributory causes of hospital acquired infections have led to codes of practice relating to antibiotic prescription and hospital practice relating to infection prevention and control.
This is a bit of an odd one - the textbooks go through a fair bit of epidemiology, although it isn't strictly on the syllabus. Worth considering how infections become pandemic. Also worth examining the ease of transmission of blood-borne diseases over respiratory tract diseases, for reasons which will be obvious by the end of the film.

Edexcel Unit 5
Describe the use of magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and computed tomography (CT) scans in medical diagnosis and investigating brain structure and function.
All this work on cognitive ability and Alzheimer's disease would have been (and you can see some scans) supported by MRI or CT technology. Students could discuss the relative merits of each method.
Describe how animals, including humans, can learn by habituation.
There were an awful lot of stimuli in Caesar's and the other chimps' lives. Students can discuss whether the chimps were habituated to the stimuli, such as Caesar's wearing of clothing. Now habituation is not the same as conditioning, but it is worth going further to discuss conditioning, and there are plenty of points in the film where this is demonstrated, most notably at the primate "sanctuary".
Discuss the moral and ethical issues relating to the use of animals in medical research from two ethical standpoints.
A no-brainer really as far as figuring out why this is of interest in the film. There are plenty of examples of good and poor treatment of the animals. It is interesting to note that in the UK it is illegal to perform medical testing on the great apes (chimps, bonobos, gorillas and orang-utans), whereas chimp research in the USA is a booming business.

I'll be teaching all of Units 1 and 2, but am sharing my A2 class with a colleague this time, and she will be teaching those bits of Units 4 and 5 (I still get to do the eco-evo bit, the forensic entomology, the plant sensitivity, photosynthesis, muscles and drugs, so it's all good). The one problem I'll have is actually getting the conscientious young things I teach to kick back and watch a movie rather than studiously working all class (yeah, right!). I'm considering which other films are relevant to the A-level course, and have come up with "Gattaca" (for the genetic engineering issues), "The Island" (great when they all get talking about cloning themselves for organs), "Jurassic Park" (when genetic engineering, cloning and conservation goes bad), and "X-Men" (we already discuss which mutations are plausible given the nature of the genetic code and how genotype affects phenotype - e.g. super strength, regeneration, X-ray vision are possible since proteins are involved, whereas control of the weather is not).

Any more ideas or thoughts? I might put a bit more detail (and spoilers) into this and upload it onto TES and GTN.

1 comment:

  1. The Andromeda Strain. Experimental process- observations and formulation and testing of hypotheses.

    Silent Running- Conservation and Ethics.


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