As a middle science teacher, I am often looking for creative ways to engage my students. 7th grader don't take well to sitting down and reading or listening to lectures all day long. Who knew?

Enter "Geneticorp!"

Based on the idea behind Gattaca, I take my students on a flight to Titan where they are part of a mining colony.

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Illustration for article titled Welcome To Geneticorp! A Classroom Genetic Engineering Simulation

I first hand out job cards which have three levels of pay. I have the miners, the programmers, and the Leaders. (I give out the Leader pay based on my highest grades in class... the others I just randomly hand out).

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Then the real fun happens! The premise behind Geneticorp is that people in the future have the ability to pay for their children to have genetic enhancements. And each person going to Titan is going to have a child. With their money, they can upgrade:

Health, Physique, Appearance, and Intelligence.

They can also choose their gender, if they wish to pay for it. There are multiple levels of upgrades for each one, but in essence each "health" upgrade increases a child's resistance to some disease. (It is on a +1 system. Each purchase boosts a stat, but costs more money each time you purchase one.)

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The real kick comes in when they realize that the Leaders can purchase whatever they want for their kid, while the miners don't have a chance at more than a couple of stat upgrades.

Do they get mad at me? Yup. That's "life" I explain.

Each day I play the simulation with them, I have different scenarios and reflections/log entries for them to fill out. The first scenario, on a routine stop at a space station, details how a strange virus affects the babies. Those with the health upgrades to prevent the illness win, of course. (I bring them up to the "Doctor's Office" and have them roll a die to see if they survive. Bigger health bonuses help to prevent this).

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Most lower class citizens get the disease... but as with the theme of Gattaca, I try to focus on the human spirit. The "child" can show a fighting chance to defeat the disease! The student is now the baby in this scenario and I make them do x pushups to see if they have the will to defeat it!

I try to incorporate this in every scenario. From a school that they get placed in based on their "IQ" stat... most miners are in the lowest school that prepares them for the mines... but they can test out! (I have a basic math test, spelling test, etc. to see if they really can work hard to get someplace!)

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A sports competition where the upgrades get kids unfair advantages (a bean bag toss event where +1 earns them a point, or a race where kids get 5 feet off per +1, etc). Can you work hard to overcome this disadvantage?

The only one I don't have a test for it the "looks." My first year I did it, I put on a play performance, where the naturally beautiful kids (+1 in the appearance stats) got the best parts. But then kids who worked hard and memorized lines could get the part, as well. That was a lot of work for me to organize it, create a play, etc.

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Messages I wanted to send the kids:

I end the week long simulation with an essay reflection of what they learned. I give them topics asking if they think this is the right thing to do in the future, to comparing their "Outsiders" unit they do in language arts to this experience, to thinking about how hard work pays off versus natural talent... Lots of fun, but I am glad when the week is over.

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What I'm looking for are some ideas to improve this. Scenarios I can run for a class of 30+ kids that involve a lot of group work, incidents that 3 distinct groups of people can do (miners, programmers, Leaders). I didn't explain all the steps, so if you have questions, let me know.

What do you think?

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