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Project Information

The High School Bioethics Curriculum Project (HSBCP) is a project of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics in Washington, DC. An initial three and a half year pilot project was funded by a grant from The Greenwall Foundation (New York) and by an anonymous bequest to Georgetown University (1999-2002). During this period of time, Project staff wrote cases and curriculum materials and developed and led teacher professional education workshops in bioethics. An extension grant was provided by The Greenwall Foundation to write an ethics manual, develop additional assessment strategies, and to update the cases, as well as to capture some of the workshop sessions in print. This is the work that is currently underway.

The goal of the Project is to provide high school teachers with the necessary materials, training, and resources to incorporate bioethics cases, issues and discussions into their existing courses, whether these courses be in the social sciences, sciences, or humanities. The interdisciplinary nature of bioethics lends itself readily to inclusion in each of these disciplinary areas, and this approach permits teachers to confidently weave new resources from HSBCP into a subject area in which they already have expertise. Recently, the Project staff have also assisted the increasing number of teachers who are able to develop a free-standing bioethics course to enrich their high schools' curriculum. Our efforts to prepare high school teachers to include bioethics in their classrooms take three main forms: curriculum development, workshop training, and ongoing resource identification and teaching support through the Project website and discussion forum and the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (the library arm of the Kennedy Institute of Ethics). Each of these three aspects of the program is important to the project's success.

Curriculum Resources

The HSBCP curriculum now includes four curriculum units covering the topics of: Babies Born at Risk (neonatal ethics), Organ Transplantation, Research Involving Human Subjects, and Eugenics. Each unit in the curriculum contains 5 to 8 individual cases focusing on different aspects of the particular topic. In addition, each case is accompanied by suggested discussion questions, research activities, and written assessment questions. Supporting documents and articles are included with the case, and other resources for further information or research are identified. Topics for teacher preparation and student learning aims are clearly outlined. The units can be used in their entirety or one or a handful of cases can be sprinkled throughout an existing curriculum. The material may be used by an individual teacher within one course, or may be used by two or more teachers simultaneously in different classes, or may be team-taught so that different disciplinary perspectives are brought to bear on the subject matter. It is possible to use these cases with students at all learning levels. Two additional units are planned to address ethical issues regarding animals and an exploration of understandings of health and disease. At present, sample cases from each of the curriculum units are available on the Project website, but the curriculum resources are only distributed within a workshop setting. The current materials is scheduled for review and updating and written front-matter about the case study method, ethical theory and bioethics, and assessment tools and techniques will be added. Previously this information was distributed through the workshops and symposia only.


Curriculum materials developed through the project are used as a basis for workshop discussions and lesson planning. Teachers learn how to use the curriculum cases in a range of courses, including biology, philosophy, health, religion, mathematics, chemistry, law, social studies, civics, American history, world history, and ethics. Bioethicists from the Kennedy Institute of Ethics present lectures on the ethical issues associated with various cases in bioethics and discuss some of the fundamentals of bioethics with the teachers. Workshop leaders, including several experienced high school teachers ("lead teachers"), demonstrate approaches for teaching students decision-making skills and strategies appropriate for identifying, analyzing, and resolving dilemmas. Teachers work both with teachers in their own fields and across disciplines to develop additional classroom activities and discussion questions. In addition, reference librarians from the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature (part of the Kennedy Institute), share their special expertise with regard to research resources for identifying teaching materials in bioethics and offer special sessions on fiction and non-fiction books and popular and education audiovisual materials appropriate for use in teaching bioethics at the high school level. Librarians also orient the teachers to bioethics materials in the library, help them research topics of special interest, and demonstrate how the teachers and their students may use the free reference services throughout the year.

Four different workshop models have been tested during the years of the pilot project. Our first, small, three-day workshop in July 1999 drew teachers from many states and disciplinary areas, but mainly from private and religiously- affiliated high schools. Thirteen teachers attended the workshop. In July 2000, the workshop attendance was expanded (27 teachers attended) and teachers came from across the country and a wide-variety of educational settings (public and private, religiously-affiliated and non-sectarian, urban and suburban and rural, large and small, single-sex and coed). Again, teachers from many different subject areas participated. Attendees at that summer conference also included a resource specialist and a teacher working with students with learning differences. These persons helped us to further our efforts to explore effective ways to reach teachers within schools and to test the curriculum and case-study approach as appropriate for students of all abilities.

In November 2001, a one-day High School Bioethics Symposium and Teacher Roundtable was held for 40 teachers from Washington, DC Metropolitan area schools. A handful of teachers from other states also attended. The Symposium tested a more compact offering of the curriculum training and also drew mainly science, especially biology, teachers. Small group leaders provided overviews of the scientific, medical, and ethical issues associated with six different topic areas: Animals in Research and Education, Death and Dying, Eugenics, Futility and Baby K, Neonatal Issues, and Organ Transplantation. LeRoy Walters, Ph.D. provided a concluding session on the ethical and public policy issues associated with stem cell research.

In April 2002, the Project realized another goal when the Kennedy Institute and St. Joseph?s Academy in Baton Rouge, LA co-sponsored a one-day High School Bioethics Symposium and Teacher Roundtable for teachers in Southern Louisiana. Twenty-one teachers attended this regional program. Leadership and planning was done jointly by staff at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and five teachers from St. Joseph?s Academy who had attended Bioethics Workshops in 1999 and 2000. St. Joseph?s Academy and these ?Louisiana Lead Teachers? teaching the subjects of biology, physical sciences, economics, religion, and social studies now serve as organizing and teaching resources in bioethics for their local colleagues and other teachers throughout the state. Local experts in the areas of animal care and research, neonatal ethics, death and dying, organ transplantation, and genetic research gave luncheon seminars and special lectures for the teachers. HSBCP staff and lead teachers discussed bioethics in the classroom and addressed pedagogical issues and implementation questions. Using case studies from the HSBCP curriculum, each teacher developed a lesson plan for use in their classroom.

In addition to the vast resources available at the Kennedy Institute of Ethics and the National Reference Center for Bioethics Literature, workshop participants also benefit from outside expertise and educational opportunities as appropriate. During our first year's workshop, biologist and teacher Joe McInerney led a discussion on behavioral genetics focused on materials and activities in the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study (BSCS) unit "Genes and Behavior." During our second year, participants attended a lecture given by a Ms. Patricia Haberer, a historian at the Center for Advanced Holocaust Studies of the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum and walked through the exhibit halls at the Museum. In both years, the teachers took a special tour of the National Museum of Health and Medicine, Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, Walter Reed Army Medical Center and participated in a discussion of museum displays of anatomical and pathological specimens for educational purposes. During the 2001 Symposium, some small group leaders came from Georgetown University Hospital and the Washington Hospital Center.

Each of the workshop models proved to be successful. The KIE also looks forward to the possibility of sponsoring additional school-system or regionally-based workshops and to offering advanced workshops in future years.

Ongoing Resource Identification and Teaching Support

All teachers participating in HSBCP workshops or symposia receive ongoing support throughout the year as they use the curriculum units and other bioethics materials in their high school classrooms. The teaching and resource support includes access to HSBCP and KIE staff members via email, mail and telephone; continuing opportunities to request bibliographic searches of the bioethics literature; and participation in a password-protected forum on the HSBCP website where workshop participants can share questions, discuss resources, and learn from one another's use of the curriculum within their classrooms. In addition, these teachers may request the use of a video resource from the HSBCP lending library to augment their students? classroom learning experiences.

Over the past year, with the support of the Greenwall Foundation, the HSBCP has been able to expand the teaching resources available on its website. These efforts have permitted us to support many more secondary school teachers interested in bioethics with general resources. In addition, we have been able to provide materials in ways that were not possible at earlier points in the Project. The website now provides an electronic request form geared to teachers needing assistance in identifying teaching resources and background materials for classroom teaching. In addition, we posted bibliographies identifying non-fiction, fiction, and commercial movies that might be used to teach bioethics to high school students. Access to a database containing educational and documentary movies is planned, as are postings from our lead teachers and others offering teaching activities or classroom ideas that effectively present bioethics issues. The website and written materials are undergoing revision in order to make the resources available online for all interested teachers. We have begun a collection of teaching resources and syllabi developed by teachers who have attended workshops or the symposium. These materials may serve as resources for other teachers working on their own lesson plans and/or course outlines (see the Syllabus Exchange Database) To make contributions to this collection, contact Laura Bishop. Finally, our small video lending library provides bioethics films and documentaries for short-term classroom use.

For further information about the High School Bioethics Curriculum Project, please call Laura Bishop, Ph.D., Research Associate and Project Director, for the Project at 202-687-3638 or contact the Kennedy Institute of Ethics at 202-687-8099, or email or LeRoy Walters, the Principal Investigator. Ruth Levy Guyer, Ph.D. (immunology) developed the original idea for a high school bioethics education project with LeRoy. Ruth directed the Project for 2 or 3 years and did the original work to develop the units and the initial workshop format. She has a background in science writing and teaching. Laura Bishop, Ph.D. (philosophy) became involved in the Project in July 1999 at the time of the first workshop and worked with Ruth for some time before assuming responsibility for the program in January of 2001. Our lead teachers, Lola Szobota, M.S., Linda Anderson, and Mary Lou Dillon were with the program from the outset. Each has extensive classroom experience. Ms. Dillon left the project in late 2000. Louisiana lead teachers......Linda, Carol, Lori, Adele, Vicki formed in 2001 and co-coordinated and hosted the first regional high school bioethics conference sponsored by KIE.)

Our mailing address is High School Bioethics Curriculum Project, Kennedy Institute of Ethics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057


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