On Teaching Cancer

types of cancer

Cancer is one of my favorite units to teach. That may sound strange, but here’s the thing: nearly every student that I have has some kind of connection to someone who has/had some form of cancer, and everyone can relate to it. My first year teaching, I had each student choose a type of cancer an do a mini-project on it, and one student wrote “RIP Aunt _____” at the very end of his breast cancer presentation. *here’s where my heart breaks*

But nearly no one knows anything about it. And so I love teaching this unit because it is so personal.

The only hard part about it is trying to figure out where to go with it–should I talk about the types of cancer? The treatments for it? How cancer works? All of the above? This year, I’m lucky enough to have 2 days for it, so here’s my plan:

Day 1:

  1. Cell Cycle 101
    1. Notes: What is the cell cycle? What are the stages in it? What do the checkpoints in the different stages do?
  2. Cell Cycle POGIL
  3. Class Discussion: What happens when one of the checkpoints in the cell cycle mutates? What if it doesn’t work?
    1. Cancer
  4. Cancer 101
    1. Class Discussion: what they already know about cancer/what cancer actually is (abnormal growth of cells)/how we get cancer (mutations in the cell cycle)
    2. Reading from The Fault in Our Stars by John Green (p.216): “‘Some war,’ he said dismissively. ‘What an I at war with? My cancer. And what is my cancer? My cancer is me. The tumors are made of me. They’re made of me as surely as my brain and my heart are made of me. It’s a civil war, Hazel Grace, with a predetermined winner.”
  5. Mini-research activity: Students will go online and find the answers to the following questions:
    1. What causes cancer?
    2. What are the most common types of cancer?
    3. What are the most lethal (deadly) cancers nowadays? for men? for women?
    4. Find one novel research technique that we’re using to treat cancer (can’t be chemotherapy!)
  6. Homework: Read pgs. 128-129 in the textbook and answer the following questions
    1. What causes a normal cell to be converted to a cancer cell?
    2. What is the difference between a benign tumor and a malignant tumor?
    3. When do you have cancer?
    4. What is metastasis?
    5. What are the 3 ways that we currently treat cancer? Give an example of each.

Day 2:

  1. Starter: Look up and define “metastasis,” and “apoptosis.”
  2. Review Homework in a Class Discussion:
    1. what is cancer? how does it work? how are we currently treating it?
  3. evolution and cancer
    1. first students will do the WebQuest on the hallmarks of cancer
    2. secondly, they will do the simulation in which they are the cells and they acquire mutations over their “lifetimes” and then they see how the mutations build up over time to develop into a cancerous cell

Just as a side note, I’m really excited about this Evolution and Cancer activity. I’m hoping they get to see that a cell can have many mutations over its lifetime, and only when it has certain mutations or when it has too many does it become cancerous.

We’ll see how this goes!


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