Stem Cell Research

The Science and Ethics of Stem Cell Research

This unit, which was designed by teachers in conjunction with scientists, ethicists, and curriculum developers, explores the scientific and ethical issues involved in stem cell research. The unit begins with an exploration of planaria as a model organism for stem cell research. Next, students identify stages in the development of human embryos and compare the types and potency of stem cells. Students learn about a variety of techniques used for obtaining stem cells and the scientific and ethical implications of those techniques. While exploring the ethics of stem cell research, students will develop an awareness of the many shades of gray that exist among positions of stakeholders in the debate. Students will be provided an opportunity to become familiar with policies and regulations for stem cell research that are currently in place in the United States, the issues regarding private and public funding, and the implications for treatment of disease and advancement of scientific knowledge.

The unit culminates with students developing a position on embryonic stem cell research through the use of a Decision-Making Framework. Two culminating assessments are offered: In the individual assessment, students write a letter to the President or the President’s Bioethics Committee describing their position and recommendations; In the group assessment, students develop a proposal for NIH funding to research treatment for a chosen disease using either embryonic or 'adult' stem cells.

The complete Stem Cell Curriculum is now available free for download from the Lessons page.  

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    Complete Lesson Plans
  • Overview PDF icon Overview.pdf

    Overall Unit Plan

    Correlation to National Science Standards

  • Planaria Laboratory Activity - Teacher Overview PDF icon Planaria_Teacher.pdf

    Students use planaria as a model organism for understanding stem cells concepts, including stem cell potency.

  • Planaria Laboratory Activity - Student Research Project PDF icon Planaria_Student.pdf
  • Planaria Intro Powerpoint Office presentation icon PlanariaPP.ppt
  • Lesson One - Stem Cell Development PDF icon LESSON_1.pdf

    Students model early embryonic development using Play-Dough.  In addition, they observe prepared slides of early sea star/sea urchin development.  Students associate cells from different embryonic stages with their potency.

  • Lesson One: Play-Dough Development Powerpoint Office presentation icon Lesson1PP.ppt
  • Lesson Two - Techniques for Obtaining Stem Cells PDF icon LESSON_2.pdf

    Students learn about IVF (in vitro fertilization), SCNT (somatic cell nuclear transfer), cord blood, bone marrow transplantation, and iPS (induced pluripotent stem cell) techniques.  Short articles about the technique and background descriptions are provided.  Students consider the implication of using cells from various sources.

  • Lesson Three - One Family's Dilemma PDF icon LESSON_3.pdf

    A case study example is used to introduce bioethical principles:  A family must decide what to do with excess IVF fertilized eggs.  Students identify the bioethical principle given priority in their own solution to the dilemma posed.

  • Lesson Four - Shades of Gray PDF icon LESSON_4.pdf

    Students develop an awareness of the many "shades of gray" that exist among the stakeholders in the embryonic stem cell debate.  Students take the perspective of an assigned stakeholder, predicting their position based on a biography.  Later, the actual perspective of the stakeholder is revealed.

  • Lesson Four: Shades of Gray Stakeholder Powerpoint Office presentation icon Lesson4PP.ppt
  • Lesson Five - Ethics and Policy PDF icon LESSON_5.pdf

    This lesson provides students with the opportunity to consider how underlying ethical considerations influence the direction of public policy.  Students become familiar with the policies and regulations for stem cell research in the United States, issues regarding public/private funding, and the implications for treatment of disease/advancing scientific knowledge.  Using a "Socratic Seminar" approach to examine documents related to the embryonic stem cell debate, students develop an understanding of the social contexts in which research occurs.

    Supporting Materials
  • Cover Art PDF icon COVER_ART.pdf
  • Binder Spines PDF icon STEM_CELL_SPINES.pdf
  • Assessments PDF icon Assessments.pdf

    Students complete a Decision-Making Framework to consider the larger moral and ethical issues behind the use of in vitro fertilized  embryos in developing stem cell lines.  The framework serves as a basis for the final assessments.

    Option 1--Individual Assessment

    A Letter to the President's Bioethics Commission

    Option 2--Group Assessment

    A Grant Application for NIH funding to research treatment for a disease using either "adult" or embryonic stem cells.

  • Appendix PDF icon Appendix.pdf

    Classroom Discussion of Ethics

    Ethics Discussion Evaluation Rubric

    Additional Teacher Background

    Selected Stem Cell Resources


Other Stem Cell Resources

Selected Online Resources for Stem Cells
A wide variety of helpful links and resources, including animations and videos.

National Academies of Science Resource Book on Stem Cells
(contains links to downloadable images)
The mission of Stem Cell Resources is to provide timely, reliable, high-quality and scientifically credible stem cell information for the educational community worldwide. is a division of Bioscience Network (BSN), a publisher of online science education materials.



Powerpoints from Research Scientists

2005 Ethics in the Science Classroom Presentation by D. Inman, PhD, University of Washington 

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