Unit Overview

In Mosa Mack’s Genetics vs. Environment unit, students are led through a progression of three inquiry lessons that focus on how both environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

Lesson Overview

Medium solveSolve: Twin Mystery + Vocabulary Mind Map
Medium makeMake: Debate: Is it Nature or Nurture?
Medium engineerEngineer: Engineer a Solution to an Environmental Issue that Impacts Genetics

Students contextualize Genetics vs. Environment vocabulary in a mind map before helping Mosa Mack solve the mystery of Jasper and Mo, twins separated at birth, who can’t seem to agree where their similarities and differences came from. By the end of The Solve,students discover that the debate of genetics vs. environment may not be as obvious as they might have thought. (75 mins)

Students engage in one of the greatest scientific debates of all time: nature vs. nurture. Drawing on a wealth of evidence, students make a case for whether environmental or genetic factors have more impact on the growth of all organisms. Through debate, they learn that it is not one or the other, but both that influence organisms. (140 mins)

After solidifying the idea that both environmental and genetic factors affect growth, students turn to the arena that they can control: environment. Students design a solution to the issue of inequitable access to nutrition for children around the globe. First, students identify a community that has the genetics for healthy growth but is in need of some crucial environmental factors. They then offer a plan to help children in that region get the nutrient or vitamin they may be lacking. (200 mins)

Next Generations Science Standards

Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms. [Clarification Statement: Examples of local environmental conditions could include availability of food, light, space, and water. Examples of genetic factors could include large breed cattle and species of grass affecting growth of organisms. Examples of evidence could include drought decreasing plant growth, fertilizer increasing plant growth, different varieties of plant seeds growing at different rates in different conditions, and fish growing larger in large ponds than they do in small ponds.] [Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include genetic mechanisms, gene regulation, or biochemical processes.]

Science & Engineering Practices

  • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information (Oral Presentation)

Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • Natural Selection

Cross Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect
  • Connections to Engineering, Technology, and Applications of Science
  • Connections to Nature of Science
  • Interdependence of Science, Engineering, and Technology
  • Science Addresses Questions About the Natural and Material World

Inquiry Scale

  • Each lesson in the unit has an Inquiry Scale that provides directions on how to implement the lesson at the level that works best for you and your students.
  • “Level 1” is the most teacher-driven, and recommended for students in 4th-5th grades. “Level 4” is the most student-driven, and recommended for students in 7th-8th grades.
  • For differentiation within the same grade or class, use different inquiry levels for different groups of students who may require additional support or an extra challenge.

Common Misconceptions

  • Students tend to think that genes are the sole determinants of traits. Emphasize to students through case studies in the Make that most traits are influenced by genes and the environment. For example, an individual may inherit susceptibility factors that increase their risk for a disease, but environment accounts for the other percent of the risk.
  • Relatedly, students initially think that there is one “gene” for every trait. Emphasize to students that most traits are controlled by more than one gene. In addition to that, most conditions are multifactorial, meaning that there are more than one genetic risk factors associated with most conditions.
  • Students assume that scientists have figured everything out about genetics; in other words, that for every trait, scientists can identify the gene that led to it. Emphasize that traits, especially psychiatric conditions and other diseases, are complex, influenced by many genes, and there is still a lot to learn about their cause.


    • Gene
    • Trait
    • Environment
    • Genetics
    • Nutrition

Content Expert Title

  • Bruce Grant, Ph.D
    Professor of Biology, Emeritus College of William & Mary


  • Powerpoints for Make and Design
  • Solve Student Handout
  • Make Student Handout
  • Design Student Handout
  • Vocabulary Mind Map

New: RocketLit Leveled Reading

* To give our users the most comprehensive science resource, Mosa Mack is piloting a partnership with RocketLit, a provider of leveled science articles.

  • How Do I Look?

    This article introduces students to the ideas of nature (what we start with) and nurture (the effect of our environment on us as we live and grow). We may start out one way, but the environment helps shape our genes into the people we will eventually become.