Objectives for Teaching Bioethics

Teaching bioethics is probably best understood as a process of imparting a set of skills that will enable students to engage ethical questions for themselves.  In their essay "Ethics in the Science Classroom," Theodore Goldfarb and Michael Pritchard suggest several objectives for teaching ethics (see "Selected Links" below for a link to this essay).   They conclude that it is appropriate to teach for the following objectives, at both the high school and college levels:

Notice that this list does not include resolving bioethical issues once and for all or resolving ethical disagreement among your students.  What is important, rather, is that students learn how to identify ethical issues and to discuss them productively with others.  The resources on this page are here to help you design a  bioethics lesson that works for your class.  Please contact us with any suggestions you have for how to improve these resources.

Field Trip to Ames or Visits to You

If you haven't planned a field trip for your class or extension group this spring, consider bringing them to the Biotechnology Outreach Education Center (BOEC) in Ames. Its laboratories are stocked with all the equipment needed to do DNA fingerprinting, DNA transformation, plasmid isolation and analysis, or any of the other experiments offered by the center. Computer stations for bioinformatics and wireless Internet activities also are available. Mike Zeller, the center's coordinator, can help you select from activities suitable for elementary-aged students through adults.

If a field trip to Iowa State is not possible, educators can request that Zeller help them do biotechnology activities at their own school or extension site. At no charge, Zeller will transport the experiments and the most mobile equipment to the educator's own classroom for one or two days. He asks that educators plan for one whole day of activities. Some options for the day could be to do one activity multiple times or select several different activities for specific classes.

Learning how to incorporate bioethics into your classroom requires some deep thinking.

But it also can be fun, as educators who attended a bioethics workshop at Iowa State discovered.

In addition to laboratory experiences, educators and students visiting the BOEC can do activities related to the social and ethical issues raised by scientific advancements. Led by bioethics outreach coordinator Kristen Hessler, students talk about basic ethical concepts and reasoning and how to construct good ethical arguments. Students apply what they've learned by working through an activity that focuses on a particular bioethics topic, such as pet cloning, stem cell research, or agricultural applications of biotechnology.

There are no laboratory material fees or other charges for field trips requested by K-12 or extension educators, but they need to provide transportation and meals for their group. Some classes spend the whole day at the BOEC, and some spend part of the day and visit other Iowa State facilities around campus.

On-Site Workshops for Educators
If ten or more educators anywhere in Iowa want biotechnology laboratory or bioethics training, Zeller or Hessler will schedule a workshop and deliver it to the educators at their school or extension office. A complete laboratory workshop instructed by Zeller usually takes five three-hour sessions. The sessions are often scheduled for one night each week, for five weeks.

For educators who want bioethics training, Hessler can schedule a single three-hour session. She covers issues such as how including bioethics in their courses can help educators teach science and engage students and how using ethical arguments can help them manage classroom discussions of controversial topics. Educators review some basic ethical concepts and principles and apply them by working through a bioethics activity they can use with their classes.

For More Information
Iowa educators who want to schedule a class field trip to the BOEC in Ames or who would like Mike Zeller to visit their classroom can contact him by phone toll-free at 800-643-9504 or by e-mail at

To schedule bioethics training at the BOEC or in their home community, Iowa educators can contact Kristen Hessler by phone toll-free at the same number or by e-mail at


Case Studies--Ideas for introducing real-life ethics situations to students, and letting them develop responses from multiple viewpoints.

Selected Links--Links related to teaching bioethics in life-science classrooms.

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Office of Biotechnology homepage Search the Office of Biotechnology homepage

Published by: Office of Biotechnology, Bioethics Outreach
Ames, Iowa 50011-3260, (515) 294-9818,
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Last Update 12/30/04