Among the many challenges confronting science teachers is the perception that science is detached from the out-of-school lives and interests of students. The challenge is to excite students and hold their attention to learning increasingly complex material that may seem irrelevant to them.
Scientific topics of current high interest—those that are in the news for their potential to cure serious diseases and repair debilitating injury, for example—offer opportunities to enlist and hold more students’ interest in biology. Such topics must be presented in ways that support learning the discipline and meet course requirements and state standards. Stem cell research is an exciting topic that can offer a pathway to understanding cell biology, development, reproduction and related subjects and is tied directly to life concerns of students, their families and society at large.
Evolution, reproductive biology, genetic manipulation—arguably, there are more intrinsic ethical challenges in modern biology than in any other science. Because modern biology focuses on understanding the nature of life, this subject area necessarily asks students to explore topics where science may conflict with their religious or ethical beliefs. Science teachers and public educators (e.g., museum educators) are challenged to deal with such controversial topics in ways that inform and stimulate students’ thinking. Stem cell research is among the most controversial of these topics. Whether they intend to teach their students and the public about stem cells, teachers and educators are likely to be confronted with growing demands to address the topic.
This symposium built upon a national initiative that was being organized by the Biotechnology Institute in collaboration with the Teacher Advisory Council (TAC) of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Research Council. The TAC is a group of distinguished master teachers who help the National Academy’s improve its work in education by offering the “wisdom of practice” in designing studies and preparing reports and other resources that have some influence on teachers and teaching.
Unlike most workshops or symposia where teachers participate primarily as recipients of information from others, the events of this initiative were designed to actively engage teachers in planning prior to the symposium and in discussions during the event that help research scientists, college and university faculty (especially those science faculty who prepare future teachers) and other participants at the symposium better understand the needs of teachers and their students. This active involvement by teachers both empowers teachers and results in the development of more effective resources to assist them in helping students learn about controversial yet highly engaging topics such as stem cells.
The Chicago Symposium was a one-day regional forum designed to: 1) Examine the major issues related to teaching controversial science, and stem cell biology in particular, and begin a discussion among all participants to identify resources and methods for developing and implementing curriculum in schools and public education forums, e.g., museums; 2) Learn about the current state of stem cell research and its potential applications; and 3) Gain an understanding about the ethical and societal considerations related to stem cell research and an understanding of where controversy emanates.
Presentations and panel discussions led by experts in their fields and by teachers who have been involved with teaching these subjects provided the opportunity to engage teachers, educators, policy makers, scientists, social scientists, life sciences industry leaders and members of the public in thoughtful discussion through an educated, collaborative and interdisciplinary approach.
For the teachers and educators, the outcomes of the forum included a general understanding of the science and the societal issues of stem cells and specific information about how best to engage their students and the public through programming and curriculum. For the scientists and social scientists, the forums offered insights into the challenges that teachers and educators face in developing broad interest in their science classes and the issues they might face in teaching this controversial topic.
For the sponsoring partners, the forum was an opportunity to showcase our regional strength on the elements that contribute to strong science education and to serve as a diverse set of resources for teachers and educators.
The Chicagoland Stem Cell Science Education Symposium was produced through collegial cooperation of sponsoring partners, who included:
- Baxter Healthcare
- Biotechnology Institute
- Chicago Biomedical Consortium
- Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST)
- iBIO Institute
- IL DCEO
- Northwestern University
- Center for Bioethics, Science, and Society
- Center for Biotechnology, Kellogg School of Management
- Center for Genetic Medicine (CGM)
- Office for Research Development (ORD)
- Office of STEM Education Partnerships (OSEP), School of Education and Social Policy
- University of Chicago
- University of Illinois at Chicago
The Biotechnology Institute, the Chicago Council on Science and Technology and Northwestern University’s Office for Research Development led the event’s organization. The event took place at the Allen Center of the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University’s Evanston campus.
Allen Center, Kellogg School of Management