Create a Stem Cell Line

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Teacher's Guide

Recommended Grade Levels: 10 - 12 and up 

Tips for using the site with students

  1. Before using this activity in class (or at home), go through the activity once to make sure it works correctly on your computer(s). If the activity does not load after clicking the 'start' button, you may be asked to download the free Flash Player from Please click yes, as this allows you to view the Edheads Stem Cell Line activity. If you are using school computers, you might need to contact your tech support team to download the Flash Player.

  2. If you are using an iPad or other iDevice, our games will not play without downloading an app or browser. We recommend the Puffin Academy browser, that is a moderated site limited to educational content for teachers and families to use. The Puffin Academy browser is FREE and can be found here.

  3. Your computer(s) will need to have some sort of sound output. Either speakers or headphones will work well. The majority of this activity has voice audio. We highly recommend headphones or ear buds in a classroom setting. Students with hearing impairments can read the text at the bottom of the screen. If you are having difficulty hearing, check the audio settings on your computer.

  4. We strongly recommend that students use a real mouse, as the touch pads on laptop computers are more difficult to use for this activity and slow students down significantly.

  5. We recommend that students print the Key to Identifying Stem Cell Types before beginning the activity and use it to take notes during the activity. Teachers can use this document as an assessment tool or simply as proof the activity was completed.

  6. We also recommend teachers cover the definitions of ‘stem cell’ and ‘precursor cell’ prior to beginning the activity. These terms and definitions are located in our stem cell glossary here.

  7. Students in the target grade-range will take approximately 15-20 minutes to complete the entire activity.

  8. Students in our test audiences were very interested in how the bone marrow sample was collected. This was a bit off topic for the activity, but we do recommend they be allowed to explore this if time allows. For a quick image of how bone marrow samples are collected, see:

  9. There are five sections to this activity. In the third section, ‘Select a Cell,’ students are asked to select one of three types of cells harvested in the bone marrow sample. If students skip this section, they can continue with the activity. However, when they get to the last section, ‘Identification,’ their culture dishes will be empty because they never chose a cell to culture. If you run into this problem, send them back to the ‘Select a Cell’ section to choose a cell. The same problem of empty culture dishes might result if a student chooses a cell that dies (it was not a stem cell) in the ‘Select a Cell’ section, but continues on with the activity instead of going back to select a different cell to culture. The game does route them back to select again, but in test audiences, students were skipping this and moving ahead without selecting a second cell.


Answers to Keys in the Activity

There are three possible cells to choose to culture.  One dies and is not a stem cell.  If a student chooses this option, they are routed back to choose one of the other two cell types.  The second type of cell that students might choose is a mesenchymal stem cell and the third type is a hematopoietic stem cell.  You will only be able to tell which type of cell they have by looking at the Key to Identifying Stem Cell Types printout after it is filled out and the first three tests are completed in the activity.  The answers to the two keys are below:

Students will not be able to tell what type of cell they have when they first culture it.  This is true of real stem cell biologists, as well.  They have to culture the cell to determine if it is a stem cell.  Students will not be able to copy each other’s work without going through the first three tests of the key, as there are two different stem cells they could have chosen.

Assessment and discussion 
For an assessment tool, teachers may want to have students put their names on the Key to Identifying Stem Cell Types and turn them in.  These should indicate if students completed the assigned activity and which one of two stem cell types they had in the activity.  Print outs can also be used for a class discussion of what else stem cells might be used for in the future.

A quick 18 question quiz can be found here.

Answers to the quiz questions can be found here. 

A third assessment tool could be student written reports on their stem cell lines or a marketing plan for the stem cell line.  Please keep in mind that there are two different stem cell lines in the activity – mesenchymal stem cells and hematopoietic stem cells. 

A report on the stem cell line is not limited to, but might include the following information:

  • Type of stem cell
  • What types of precursor cells the stem cell will turn in to
  • Current uses of this type of stem cell (will need to be researched on the Internet)
  • Level of purity and how this is guaranteed (experimental methods)
  • How the type of stem cell was determined (experimental methods)

A marketing plan for the stem cell line might include:

  • Type of stem cell
  • Current uses and future suggested uses (will need to be researched on the Internet)
  • Why this stem cell line might be superior or preferable to other sources of stem cells (can include imaginative writing)
  • Why scientists should purchase from Edheads (or your High School name) Biotech Research Center instead of other sources (can include imaginative writing and statistics)

After students use the site, additional in class discussion questions (which can also act as assessment tools) can be asked:

  • What types of human error might possibly create the results seen on the Keys to Identifying Stem Cell Types?  Answer:  Improper temperature, humidity, pH or other settings on the incubator could skew results.  Also, someone might have accidentally used the wrong culture media, might not have gotten cells into the dish to begin with, or may have contaminated the dish in some way that prevented normal growth.

  • What else might cause the results seen on the Keys to Identifying Stem Cell Types?  Answer:  You can lead a horse to water….  Seriously, cells sometimes just don’t grow in the time frames given.  As mentioned in the activity, this type of cell culture (to change stem cells into precursor cells) is not really efficient and there are no guarantees – sometimes they just don’t change and grow.  Future scientists (or even your students) may determine a more efficient, effective way of doing this, but at the moment, we have to live with the results of this process.

  • Why doesn’t Paul Barillas, the Stem Cell Biologist, take his stem cell line to market himself?  Why is Carli Lanfersiek, the Commercialization Expert, involved?  Answer:  Not everyone is good at everything.  While Paul is an expert in stem cells and growing precursor cells, he may not excel at developing business plans, writing, designing marketing materials and networking.  All these skills are required to bring something to market and ensure sales.  While Carli has these business and people skills, she may lack the attention to detail and the scientific background required to work with stem cells.  Both roles are required to develop the stem cell line and bring it to market.  Both roles have to work together and cooperate fully to achieve success.

  • Edheads’ test audiences of students were generally quite confused between what they’ve heard in the press about embryonic stem cells and the adult stem cells that were used in this activity.  Teachers might want to generate a discussion of what students have heard about stem cells to further elucidate incorrect information or information that has been affected by political or religious views. 

Next Generation Science Standards

High School Life Science

HS-LS3-1 Ask questions to clarify relationships about the role of DNA and chromosomes in coding the instructions for characteristic traits passed from parents to offspring.

High School Engineering, Technology, and the Applications of Science

HS-ETS1-1 Analyze a major global challenge to specify qualitative and quantitative criteria and constraints for solutions that account for societal needs and wants.

HS-ETS1-4 Use a computer simulation to model the impact of proposed solutions to a complex real-world problem with numerous criteria and constraints on interactions within and between systems relevant to the problem.

High school ELA

RST.9-10.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; trace the text’s explanation or depiction of a complex process, phenomenon, or concept; provide an accurate summary of the text.

RST.9-10.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.

RST.9-10.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 9–10 texts and topics.

RST.9-10.7 Translate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text into visual form (e.g., a table or chart) and translate information expressed visually or mathematically (e.g., in an equation) into words.

RST.9-10.9 Compare and contrast findings presented in a text to those from other sources (including their own experiments), noting when the findings support or contradict previous explanations or accounts.

RST.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.

RST.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.

RST.11-12.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks; analyze the specific results based on explanations in the text.

RST.11-12.4 Determine the meaning of symbols, key terms, and other domain-specific words and phrases as they are used in a specific scientific or technical context relevant to grades 11–12 texts and topics.

RST.11-12.7 Integrate and evaluate multiple sources of information presented in diverse formats and media (e.g., quantitative data, video, multimedia) in order to address a question or solve a problem.

RST.11-12.9 Synthesize information from a range of sources (e.g., texts, experiments, simulations) into a coherent understanding of a process, phenomenon, or concept, resolving conflicting information when possible.

Ohio Science Standards – Benchmarks and Indicators

Science & Technology - Grade 10:

Life Sciences

Historical Perspectives and Scientific Revolutions

  1. Describe advances in life sciences that have important long-lasting effects on science and society (e.g., biological evolution, germ theory, biotechnology and discovering germs).
  2. Analyze and investigate emerging scientific issues (e.g., genetically modified food, stem cell research, genetic research and cloning).

Science and Technology

Understanding Technology

  1. Cite examples of ways that scientific inquiry is driven by the desire to understand the natural world and how technology is driven by the need to meet human needs and solve human problems.
  2. Describe examples of scientific advances and emerging technologies and how they may impact society.

Scientific Inquiry

Doing Scientific Inquiry

  1. Research and apply appropriate safety precautions when designing and conducting scientific investigations (e.g. OSHA, MSDS, eyewash, goggles and ventilation).
  2. Present scientific findings using clear language, accurate data, appropriate graphs, tables, maps and available technology.
  3. Draw conclusions from inquiries based on scientific knowledge and principles, the use of logic and evidence (data) from investigations.

Scientific Ways of Knowing

Science and Society

  1. Investigate how the knowledge, skills and interests learned in science classes apply to the careers students plan to pursue.

Life Science - Grade 11:

Characteristics and Structure of Life

  1. Describe how the maintenance of a relatively stable internal environment is required for the continuation of life, and explain how stability is challenged by changing physical, chemical and environmental conditions as well as the presence of pathogens.

Scientific Inquiry

Doing Scientific Inquiry

  1. Evaluate assumptions that have been used in reaching scientific conclusions.
  2. Design and carry out scientific inquiry (investigation), communicate and critique results through peer review.
  3. Summarize data and construct a reasonable argument based on those data and other known information.

Scientific Ways of Knowing

Science and Society

  1. Explain that the decision to develop a new technology is influenced by societal opinions and demands and by cost benefit considerations.
  2. Research the role of science and technology in careers that students plan to pursue.


National Science Standards for Grades 10-12

Science as Inquiry:

  • Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry
  • Understandings about scientific inquiry

Life Science:

  • The cell

Science and Technology

  • Understandings about science and technology

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives:

  • Science and technology in local, national, and global challenges

History and Nature of Science:

  • Science as a human endeavor
  • Nature of scientific knowledge