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Stem cells: lessons learned. (Science).

From Parkinson's and Alzheimer's diseases to spinal cord injuries and strokes, the potential benefits of stem cell research--as well as the accompanying bioethical controversy--have gotten a lot of attention lately. While the topic is not likely to be part of any curriculum standards, as a current event it's being introduced in many middle and high school classrooms.

The National Science Teacher's Association doesn't have a specific position on whether stem cell research should be taught, but it does have a statement that stresses the importance of "focusing on real-world problems which have science and technology components from the students' perspectives." NSTA spokeswoman Cindy Workosky says that some teachers introduce real-world problems through regular "news of the day" discussions.

Anne Tweed, a biology teacher at Eaglecrest High School in Aurora, Colo., dedicates every other Friday in her classes to "science in the news." Students bring in articles of interest with summaries and questions. The first unit of the school year, What is Life?, brought up the question of whether stem cells qualify as living material, and then of whether research on human cells is ethical. The topic came up when a student brought in a Time magazine cover story.

After a discussion, students organized a debate. This format is effective when covering controversial issues, Tweed says. "If it's an emotional issue, the only way to really understand it is to take the emotion out of it." The debate ended with consensus that if stem cells are going to be discarded anyway, why wouldn't we want to use them (if regulated) to benefit mankind? But stem cell issues will be raised in Tweed's classroom again. "This is something that there will obviously be developments on throughout the year."

Teachers won't easily find ready-made lesson plans on stem cells. Here are two lessons available from The New York Times Learning Network and

* A New You!, for grades 6-12: (enter "stem cells" in Lesson Plan Search)

* Stem Cell Research, for grades 9-12:
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Author:Ezarik, Melissa
Publication:District Administration
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Nov 1, 2001
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