This Wednesday, October 2, 2013, is Stem Cell Awareness Day. It’s a day to celebrate stem cells, have discussions of what stem cell research is, and learn about potential benefits and disease treatments using stem cells. If you want to be involved locally in an event for Stem Cell Awareness Day, the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine (CIRM) has a useful webpage summarizing events that are being organized in California, as well as international events that are taking place for this special day.
I am celebrating Stem Cell Awareness Day here at All Things Stem Cell by focusing on K-12 educational efforts. It is particularly important to spread awareness of stem cells and understanding of stem cell research to K-12 students to ensure that this extremely promising avenue of research continues to be supported and funded. While it is challenging to create accessible stem cell resources for K-12, there are actually several freely available online, which are explored below.
Science Buddies, which is a non-profit leader in K-12 science and engineering education (and is the company I enjoy working for as a scientist/writer), offers multiple science fair project ideas related to stem cells (some of which I authored) for the burgeoning stem cell scientist. Here are a few:
- How Much Worm is a Worm? is a hands-on science project idea aimed at Kindergartners and 1st graders. Kids get to investigate the classic question of how a worm can regenerate after it’s been cut up. It’s a great introduction to the field of regenerative medicine, which stem cells play a vital role in.
- Attack of the Killer Cabbage Clones is a hands-on science project idea aimed at 1st and 2nd graders. While it can be difficult to study regeneration in animal models, this project is a great way to alternatively use readily-available plants (cabbages!) to explore some of the same basic concepts, primarily cloning of tissues.
- Animal Magnetism: Do Magnets Affect Regeneration in Planaria? is a hands-on science project aimed at 9th and 10th graders. Students get to use a classic model organism of regeneration, the flatworm planaria, to explore regeneration with a twist, as they try to answer the question of how magnetism affects the rate of regeneration.
- Creating a Kidney: How Stem Cells Might be Used to Bioengineer a Vital Organ is a bioinformatics (or database)-driven science project aimed at 12th graders and college students. This science project introduces students to the field of bioinformatics, and shows them how real scientists use databases to answer real questions about stem cells, specifically how a microenvironment could be developed to promote directed differentiation of stem cells into specific, desired types of kidney cells.
- Taking Short Cuts: How Direct Reprogramming Can Transform One Type of Cell Straight into Another is a another bioinformatics-based science project aimed at 12th graders and college students. In this project students can explore the cutting-edge technique of direct reprogramming as they try to figure out how they could use specific transcription factors to make one type of cell differentiate directly into a different, target cell type.
CIRM offers an entire stem cell curriculum at their Stem Cell Education Portal. Five units are available on their website. These units are primarily for high school students taking AP-related courses and early college students. Other resources are also available through the Portal.
Lastly, I recently published two biology books, and one of them, Biology Bytes: Digestible Essays on Stem Cells and Modern Medicine, serves as a broad introduction to the stem cell field, as well as other areas of modern medicine. The reader should have a general biology background, so it is most suitable for a college biology student, although a student taking related AP courses in high school would also likely find it of interest.
There’s a wide variety of other stem cell resources online that are helpful for exploring and explaining stem cell concepts to a K-12 audience, including this blog’s Visual Stem Cell Glossary. Although some stem cell concepts are truly complex and may be beyond the scope of a K-12 audience, it is never too soon to plant the seed of interest in, inquiry about, and positive support for stem cell research.