Purpose: Students will work in groups to develop action plans with the goal of preventing the spread of a new virus, such as coronavirus.
Procedural overview: After reading the Science News article “Why bat viruses are so dangerous,” students will receive a briefing on a new outbreak of a zoonotic disease. Imagining they are officers at the World Health Organization, students will identify and establish committees that will develop action plans to prevent the spread of the virus. Students will need to make changes to their action plans as new information becomes available and will need to incorporate feedback from other committees.
Approximate class time: 1 to 2 class periods
Collaborating to Stop an Epidemic student worksheet
A projector (optional)
Copies of a hypothetical briefing (optional)
Directions for teachers:
After students read the Science News article “ Why bat viruses are so dangerous,” introduce them to the idea of a zoonotic disease, one that can be transferred to humans from other animals. Though it doesn’t happen often, zoonotic viruses have caused outbreaks that spread globally.
Tell students that they will be acting as officers of the World Health Organization who have just been notified of a new outbreak of a zoonotic disease. It will be up to the class to develop committees and action plans to prevent the spread of the disease. Students will present those action plans to you, the teacher, who will be playing the role of the head of the WHO.
Provide the briefing below and go over it together as a class. You can adapt the details and the amount of information to match the needs of your classroom. You may want to connect the activity to a recent outbreak of a zoonotic disease, such as the novel coronavirus that spread from Wuhan, China, beginning in December 2019.
Situation: A novel coronavirus is sickening people in China.
-The virus was not previously known before the start of the outbreak in Wuhan, China, in December 2019.
-The disease affects the upper respiratory tract and causes flu-like symptoms.
-People with immune system illnesses, breathing issues (asthma) and the elderly are more likely to suffer severe symptoms.
-Source of the virus is currently unknown.
-The virus can be transmitted between people through respiratory droplets (coughing, sneezing).
-Disinfectant cleaners (bleach, Lysol) are able to kill the virus.
-It is unknown how long the virus can live on surfaces.
-Lab tests are currently required to confirm the virus and rule out another virus like the flu or a cold.
If you want additional resources for the discussion or to provide resources for student groups, check out the links below.
To help students get started, answer the following questions (1–3) as a class.
1. What information do you already know about this disease and what other information do you want to find out?
2. Who would be affected by the global outbreak of this disease? (Encourage students to consider not only individuals who get sick, but also professions, industries and other government and international bodies. Consider the immediate health consequences as well as social, cultural, economic and financial consequences of a disease outbreak.)
3. How do various people, countries and international organizations work together to ensure world health?
Explain that in order to build the action plan, students will need to form various committees that specialize in different aspects of preventing the spread of a virus (such as scientific research, health care response, quarantine and/or border control, international collaboration, emergency funding, public communication, etc.). Lead students in brainstorming and determining the committees they will form.
Once students have identified and agreed on committees, have them divide themselves into groups (one per committee) or assign them to groups.
Students will now work in small groups to develop their action plans. To support collaboration, consider having students use a whiteboard, a Google doc or some other platform that will allow members of each group to work on aspects of the plan simultaneously and to give one another immediate feedback.
Encourage students to identify knowledge gaps as they work and incorporate the steps required to fill those gaps into their action plans. Once or twice as students work, you can provide the committees with “Breaking Updates.” These updates will give students some new information about the virus that will have to be incorporated into their action plans.
Example “Breaking Updates” include:
-We now know that the disease can be spread before symptoms are shown.
-Outbreaks have now been reported on additional continents.
-It was discovered that antiviral medications can be beneficial within the first 72 hours of symptoms appearing.
-The virus is not only affecting the elderly more seriously but also spreading more rapidly in this population.
Students should answer the following questions (4–12) in their groups:
4. What committees has your class identified?
5. What committee are you on?
6. What are some general responsibilities of your committee?
7. What are some concerns that this committee will need to think about?
8. What questions does the committee need to answer?
9. What goals does the committee need to achieve?
10. How do the committee goals help serve the general purpose of preventing further spread of the disease?
11. What are five immediate steps that need to be taken to answer the questions and meet the goals?
12. What two steps would need to be taken in the future (within the next five years)?
Presentations and revisions
Allow each committee time to present its action plan to you and the other committees to receive feedback. As students present, they should keep in mind that each committee is looking at the problem from a different viewpoint and can help improve the plans by bringing up issues the original groups might not have considered.
Give students time to answer the following questions (13–16) and revise their plans according to the feedback. To encourage further collaboration, have students send representatives to other committees to discuss any changes to their action plans.
13. How could you incorporate feedback from different committees into your portion of the action plan? Provide examples from at least two different committees.
14. What do you think is the most crucial part of your action plan to help prevent the spread of the disease? Be sure to support your claim with a well-reasoned and detailed response.
15. Why is it important to collaborate and seek feedback from other committees working toward the same overall goal?
16. How can your committee combine resources and expertise with other committees to most effectively reach the overall goal?
While students are working in their groups to answer these final questions, walk around and help facilitate the conversations. Use this time to formatively assess group progress. You should hear students discussing their action plan and how it aligns with the overall goal of preventing the spread of the disease.
Some questions to ask students to check for understanding include: “How does your plan fit in with the other committees’ plans?” “Are you considering the information through more than one viewpoint?” and “How can you improve goal X to make it more clear and effective?”