Designing the Super Explore

Milton Huling and Jackie Speake Dwyer
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Data , Experiment/Lab Activity , Instructor Guide/Manual , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



“Designing the Super Explore” is one of several life science lessons in the NSTA Press book Designing Meaningful STEM Lessons. This NSTA book “introduces a conceptual framework that keeps science front and center as engineering, technology, and science applications are embedded meaningfully into science lessons and includes instructional supports throughout the book”.

The Super Explore is an engineering design challenge added to a common inheritance lesson that uses beads to represent alleles as students explore the phenomena of variation within offspring. These lessons using the 5E instructional model could be accomplished in 4-5 sessions of 50 minutes each. Students will begin the lesson by determining the probability of potential human traits. Then in a *StEMTified version, they will attempt to use bioengineering to solve a problem of the uncontrolled reproduction of harmful bacteria with a genetically engineered super-organism, a fish, that is capable of controlling this bacterial population.

*StEMTified is a process as opposed to STEM which is a thing. St is science infused with technology, E is the engineering design process,  M is mathematical practices with habits of mind, and T is technology as a product or solution to a problem.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

Available for purchase - The right to view, keep, and/or download material upon payment of a one-time fee.

Performance Expectations

MS-LS3-2 Develop and use a model to describe why asexual reproduction results in offspring with identical genetic information and sexual reproduction results in offspring with genetic variation.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on using models such as Punnett squares, diagrams, and simulations to describe the cause and effect relationship of gene transmission from parent(s) to offspring and resulting genetic variation.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
During the “Engaged” part of the lesson, students explore human inherited traits to answer the question, “Why don’t children look exactly like their same-sex parent?” The activity presented in the “Explore” Section provides a hands-on exploration of the phenomenon of variation within offspring. Charts, simulations using beads as alleles, and Punnett Squares are used to model the variation seen with sexual reproduction. The lesson provides the teacher with common misconceptions and “Prior Knowledge” needed for student understanding since it relies heavily on genetic terms, such as genotype, phenotype, alleles, homozygous, etc. The “Explain” section has a list of higher-order thinking questions to elicit student explanations of the models of the bead/allele simulation using scientific terminology and as a formative assessment of student understanding.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Students use charts, simulations, and Punnett Squares to model the phenomenon. Questions provided a check for understanding and any student misconceptions. The “Explore” section questions provide the teacher with the necessary information to check if students are ready to move on to the StEMTified “Elaborate” portion using bioengineering of a “Super-Organism”.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The Engage section of this lesson uses human traits to answer one of the questions: “Why don’t children look exactly like their same-sex parent?” The models developed are then used in the Elaborate section to develop a “super fish” that can control harmful bacteria. The jump from human traits to bioengineering bacteria is very simplified and students may need to be introduced to this technique by using a short video or article on this method. Even though this is not a necessary component for the lesson it will help to avoid misconceptions. One helpful resource that could be utilized is:

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The models created using the simulation with Punnett Squares in the first part of the lesson answers the question, “Why don’t children look exactly like their same-sex parent?” by determining genotypes and phenotypes. The “cause” is one allele from each parent affecting the variation in the children. The discussion questions listed under the “Explain” section emphasize this cause and effect thinking and that a Punnett square can be used to predict the probability of offspring inheriting certain traits. This is further put into practice while they attempt to create a bioengineered fish that can control a harmful bacterial population. In order to provide more exposure to the phenomenon, students could experience other hands-on activities that explore genetic variation such as a Human Genetic Wheel (, and Dragon Genetics (

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson introduces the concept of sexual reproduction resulting in a variety of traits and then applying this to bioengineering using the phenomena of variation of offspring or how children are not exactly like their parents. In the Engage section, students begin with models of the inheritance of human traits. From here they are encouraged to ask questions and justify their explanation of the phenomenon. In the Elaborate section, the students apply their model as they bioengineer an organism that can control the population of harmful bacteria. Using the three-dimensions, students build an understanding of the resulting variety within organisms that reproduce sexually and apply this to bioengineering. The three dimensions are used in concert with each other throughout the lesson as students model the phenomenon using the cause and effect relationships in sexual reproduction and its application to bioengineering.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson does have some instructional supports including several questions that guide students to sense-making of the phenomenon. The phenomenon is relatable, and it is built on accurate science. The lesson identifies and builds upon previous knowledge, identifying supports for teachers. The lesson could also include more personal reflections if students were to bring in their own family pictures at the beginning of the Engage section. However, the teacher needs to know the makeup of the class as to whether this would be sensitive in nature for adopted students. An alternative is to have pictures of teachers and their families for students to use. These lessons do not include opportunities for differentiation. In order to make this lesson more accessible to a more diverse student population, a teacher could create scaffolds for English language learners, students with special needs, and other diverse learners. These scaffolds could include articles at different reading levels that include the genetic vocabulary necessary for understanding the concepts of inheritance, since understanding the concept is so dependent on the vocabulary. Also, the techniques associated with bioengineering are briefly mentioned leading to possible misconceptions. To avoid any misconceptions the topic could be further explored through videos and/or articles.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson elicits evidence that students are using the three dimensions to make sense of the phenomena, “Why don’t children look exactly like their same-sex parent?” Formative assessment questions are provided throughout the lesson to evaluate student sense-making and are used in the “Explain” section to inform of student progress before beginning the “Elaborate” section. There are no sample students responses for the discussion questions or rubrics for the summative assessment. Without any differentiation, the vocabulary and concepts may be inaccessible for some students without additional scaffolding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: NA