Introduction to Stem Cells


Justine Davies

Bronxville High School, Westchester

Summer Research Program for Science Teachers

August 2012



Subject: Living Environment (Biology)

Grade Level: 9 & 10

Unit: Genetics

AIM: What are stem cells and why are they valued in research? What are different types of stem cells? What are some ethical concerns regarding stem cell research?

Time Required: One hour long period or two shorter periods.

Learning Targets:


·         Identify examples (sources) of stem cells.

·         Identify possible ethical issues or concerns of using stem cells.

·         Explain why stem cells are considered highly valuable for research and identify examples of possible uses of stem cells in research.

·         Distinguish between types of stem cells.


·         TV or Projector

·         DVD or digital download of My Sister’s Keeper

·         Copies of My Sister’s Keeper by Jodi Picoult, or excerpt from the text

·         Chart Paper or White Board

·         Worksheet: “Examples of Stem Cells”

Vocabulary: pleuripotent, multipotent, stem cell, embryonic stem cell, adult stem cell

Prior Knowledge: Students have already learned about IVF. If this is not the case, the teacher will have to incorporate this into the lesson plan or do a lesson first on IVF technology.

Previous Night’s Homework:  Students are assigned a short excerpt from the book, My Sister's Keeper, which includes three points of view (mother, healthy daughter, sickly daughter.)



            Show a short clip from My Sister’s Keeper that highlights the moment of tension or dilemma, such as the scene where Anna asks a lawyer to represent her in a case where she sues her parents for the rights to her body. After the clip have students answer the following:

“Based on the movie or your reading from last night, answer the following:

1)      What disease did Kate have? Can you think of other diseases where body parts or tissues are needed to keep someone alive?

2)      How do think Anna feels about being created so that her tissues can be harvested to save her sister? Why does she feel this way? How would you feel in her situation?

3)      Do you believe parents should have medical rights over their children’s bodies? Why or why not?

4)      What biotechnology did we learn about in class was used to create Anna? What are some possible ethical concerns about using this technology?”

Discussion of Do Now

After allowing students adequate time to thoughtfully answer all the questions in complete sentences (up to 10 minutes), go through the questions as a class and call on students to share answers.


Introduce the AIM

            Explain to students that although the kidney donation may have been what pushed Anna to the edge, Anna had already “donated” many other tissues to her sister to keep her alive. One of the tissues they would have harvested from Anna was her bone marrow, and her umbilical cord at birth. There are special cells in these materials, stem cells, that were used to keep her sister alive. Explain that in today’s lesson we will be learning about stem cells and types of stem cells. Tell students that by the end of today’s lesson they will be able to explain why stem cells are so valuable for research, but also identify possible ethical issues of stem cell research. (Teacher may want to have objectives written on the board or projected as part of a PowerPoint.)

Reading Worksheet

            Explain to students that they will learn about stem cells first by reading about examples of stem cells. Pass out the “Stem Cell Worksheet.” Give students 10 minutes of silent reading time, during which they will be reading about 7 examples of types of stem cells and working to create their own definitions of stem cells, and organize stem cells into groups. After 10 minutes, give students an additional 5 minutes to share their definition with a partner and make any changes they feel necessary. They should also determine with their partner groupings of stem cells and develop a rationale to defend their choices.

Class Discussion

            Have groups share their definitions and see if the class can come to an agreement on what is a stem cell. Ask students to share out how they grouped their stem cells. Use chart paper or white board to put some examples up for class discussion. Ask students to explain why they made the groups they chose.


            In student notebooks have students copy definitions of the terms multipotent, pleuripotent, adult stem cells, embryonic stem cells. After explaining the terms and copying notes, ask students to apply these vocabulary terms to the examples discussed. Have them write the words next to the correct examples on their worksheets.

Class Discussion and/or Exit Task

            Time permitting the following questions could be posed as writing tasks, used for class discussion, or as an exit-task for students to complete:

1) Which stem cells were harvested in My Sister's Keeper?

2) What are some ethical issues you see in conducting research with stem cells? Does it matter what type of stem cell you use or how they are harvested?




New York State Standards

1.1c Science provides knowledge, but values are also essential to making effective and ethical decisions about the application of scientific knowledge.

2.1k The many body cells in an individual can be very different from one another, even though they are all descended from a single cell and thus have essentially identical genetic instructions. This is because different parts of these instructions are used in different types of cells, and are influenced by the cell's environment and past history.


National Science Standards

Life Science Content Standard B: As a result of their activities in grades 9-12, all students should develop understanding of