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Carmel Academy’s Eighth Grade Engineering Students Debate Ethics Behind Bioengineering

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Not everything is black and white. That’s exactly what Carmel Academy’s eighth grade engineering students learned during a recent unit surrounding the ethical issues associated with bioengineering.

The students, who are taking a yearlong course designed to introduce them to the major fields of engineering, debated two hot-button issues: whether genetically modified foods are safe and require clearer labeling; and whether the scientific advances associated with genetically modified animals and cloning outweigh the ethical issues.

“The topics are both very timely, as well as controversial. There are answers on both sides and we wanted to give the students the opportunity to research and explore those issues so they could form and defend their own opinions,” said Carmel Academy Middle School General Studies Teacher Darren Bahar, who co-teaches the class with Carmel Academy Middle School Mathematics Teacher Jeff Maldonado.

“The students were not only required to research and prepare their own debate arguments, but also had to research and understand the other side of the debate. So they were truly able to formulate a full picture of the issues surrounding these scientific advances,” Maldonado said.

The debate teams comprised two teams of four, and each team member was responsible for some part of the debate presentation, whether it was opening or closing arguments, answering questions or posing arguments. The teams were given several questions to help guide their preparations, but they also were encouraged to dig deeper, Maldonado said. Each team was given a mystery question, so they really had to become experts on the topics.

The bioengineering unit, which also included a lab in which the students built a medical prosthetic device, is just one of the numerous engineering fields the class has delved into this year including mechanical, materials, aerospace and computer engineering. Hands-on labs and experiments, visiting engineering experts and experiential field trips have helped give the students real-life engineering applications, Bahar said.

Carmel Academy’s engineering students were not alone in their exploration of the ethics behind bioengineering and the related field of biotechnology. The school’s eighth-grade honors biology students also tackled the topic as part of their cells and genetics unit. They learned about research on the frontiers of science, including the techniques of CRISPR, a new genetic-engineering technique that will radically change the way diseases are treated. The students discussed the ethical issues surrounding this technology and created surveys to ascertain and analyze the opinions of others.

By Julie Lapin

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