Episode 3: Power of Germs
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This lesson is designed for students studying geography, world history,
economics, and life science in grades 6-12. Click on the list below
to jump down to a particular sub-section.
Students will be able to:
- Discuss the role that disease has played historically and in
the present day in the shaping and
developing of wealth around the world.
- Use listening and note taking skills to view the film segment
and complete the accompanying
viewing guide accurately.
- Utilize a number of primary sources to conduct research about
the role of disease in the
historical and ongoing development of the world’s nations.
- Work in pairs/small groups to complete a project and presentation
illustrating the role of
disease in the world and how germs can stall/kill a country’s
chance at wealth and power.
- Make a group presentation to teach classmates about what they
learned about the germs and
disease and impact of these things on the technological and economic
Relevant National Standards:
Geography – Human Systems
- Standard 27: Understands how European society experienced political,
economic, and cultural transformation in the age of global intercommunication between 1450
- Standard 29: Understands the economic, political, and cultural interrelations among peoples of Africa, Europe, and the Americas between 1500 and 1750.
Geography – Uses of Geography
- Standard 9: Understands the nature, distribution, and migration of human populations on Earth’s surface
- Standard 12: Understands the patterns of human settlement and their causes
Science – Life Sciences
- Standard 17: Understands how geography is used to interpret the past
Language Arts – Writing
- Standard 4: Understands the principles of heredity and related concepts
- Standard 6: Understands relationships among organisms and their physical environment
- Standard 7: Understands biological evolution and the diversity of life
Language Arts – Reading:
- Standard 4: Gathers and uses information for research purposes
Language Arts – Listening and Speaking:
- Standard 7: Uses reading skills and strategies to understand a variety of information texts.
Language Arts – Viewing:
- Standard 8: Uses listening and speaking strategies for different purposes
Standard 9: Uses viewing skills and strategies to understand and nterpret visual media.
Thinking and Reasoning:
Working With Others
- Standard 1: Understands and applies the basic principles of
presenting an argument
- Standard 5: Applies basic trouble-shooting and problem-solving
- Standard 6: Applies decision-making techniques
- Standard 1: Contributes to the overall effort of the group
- Standard 4: Displays effective interpersonal communication skills
Approximately 2 to 3 x 90-minute and 4 to 5 x 45-minute class periods
- Internet access to allow for viewing of companion website's
“The Story of…” Smallpox
and Malaria features and
- Television/VCR for viewing Guns, Germs, and Steel: Episode
- Viewing Guide handout for each student (Download
PDF here. [211k] Requires free Adobe
- Viewing Guide Answer Key for Teachers (Download
PDF here. [233k] Requires free Adobe
- Library/primary resources for conducting research
- Project Guide for each student (Download
PDF here. [213k] Requires free Adobe
- Assorted art supplies including poster board, construction paper,
markers, glue, colored pencils, re-sealable bags, etc. for construction
of games and packaging
Backgrounder for Teachers:
Teachers will need to look at the role that germs played in the historic
conquests of the world as well as how the spread of these same diseases
today is keeping many of the world’s poorest countries from
developing. The economic, social, and technological impact of the
spread of germs and disease and how this part of Diamond’s theory
remains true even today will be explored in this lesson.
Assumed Student Prior Knowledge
For this lesson, students need to understand Diamond’s theories
related to geographic luck and how this luck allows some countries
to growth and conquer while others develop at a much slower pace.
Students will need to understand the words epidemic and endemic.
Part 1: The Power of Germs
Part 2: Combating Germs Worldwide
- Create student interest in the lesson by asking students to
answers the following questions on
a piece of scratch paper.
- Most deaths in children under age 5 are due to:
Answer: A (More than 5 million each year die from
diseases such as pneumonia and diarrhea combined with malnutrition-mostly
in developing countries)
- infectious diseases and malnutrition
- premature birth/birth defects
- True or False: At least 40% of the deaths in children under
age 5 that occur worldwide
each year could be prevented by administering existing vaccines
Answer: True Of the 5 million + children under five
who die each year, 2 million deaths could be prevented by
administering existing vaccines and most of the rest would
be preventable by other means (i.e. good nutrition, hygiene,
clean water, etc.)
- List what you believe are the 5 most deadly infectious
Answer: Acute Lower Respiratory Infections/Pneumonia
(3.7 million), Tuberculosis (2.9 million), Diarrhea (2.5 million),
HIV/AIDS (2.3 million), and Malaria (1.5-2.7 million)
Source: World Health Organization “50 Facts: Global
Health Situation and Trends 1955-2025”
- Once students have answered each question, facilitate a class
discussion and provide students
with the correct answers to each question. In the discussion,
pose questions such as:
- Were you surprised by the answers to any of the questions?
If so, which ones, and why?
- As a person living in the U.S., would you expect to suffer
from the infectious diseases that are the top killers worldwide?
- In an age where so much medical technology is available,
particularly in the form of medications and vaccines, why
do you think so many people are still dying from preventable
- How does it make you feel when you think about people in
developing countries dying from these types of diseases at
alarmingly high rates?
- Who should be responsible for helping to eradicate these
- Focus student attention on the content of Guns,
Germs and Steel by reminding students about the
question that started Jared Diamond’s research: Why do some
societies have so much while others have so little? Remind students
of Diamond’s theory that geography determines which societies
flourish and grow and which are conquered and lag behind in the
development of technology, power, and wealth. At the heart of
this theory is the idea that guns, germs, and steel ultimately
gave some groups advantages over others. Direct students to the
The World feature at www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/world/index.html
to review and document the statistics about disease and poverty
rates in the countries described when each portion of the map
- Distribute the Viewing Guide to students. Take
time to read over the questions before viewing Guns,
Germs and Steel: Episode Three. If there are time
limits on the amount of viewing that can take place, excerpt the
episode and view the following segments:
- Beginning of episode to 6:50 (explains European settlement
- 8:26 to 10:01 (introduction of European diseases to Africa)
- 33:50 to 40:53 (describes the effects of diseases native
to the tropics on European settlers)
- 42:39 to 48:01 (describes how malaria, to which many Africans
once had immunity, is now an endemic and the number one health
problem in Africa because of the physiological and cultural
changes the country has experienced over the last 100 years)
- 50:37 t o 52:32 (discusses how other tropical countries
have become rich and powerful by addressing the problems that
geography and germs caused and eradicating them in order to
gain wealth and power in the world)
- Once students have viewed the film, have them learn more about
Smallpox and Malaria
and how these diseases effected the development of world powers.
Have students access this information at www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/smallpox.html
and answer questions 11-12 on the Viewing Guide.
- After students have completed the Viewing Guide,
take time to discuss each question, referring back to the film
or the companion website materials as needed. Encourage students
to add to their answers so they can use this information as they
complete the projects in Part 2 of the lesson.
- Students have learned about and discussed the role of germs
in the development of nations throughout the world. Using what
they have learned from viewing the film, reading the content from
the companion website, and class discussions, have students work
in pairs or small groups to create a project related to what they
have learned about the impact germs have on the development of
a society/country. Using the Project Guide, direct students as
they complete one of the projects described and prepare to present
it to the class.
- Provide students with classroom time to conduct research and
create their projects. Monitor students frequently to ensure they
are completing the project according to the established guidelines..
- When projects are completed, provide each pair/group with class
time to present what they have learned and developed to the rest
of the class.
- When all projects have been completed, provide an area in the
classroom for students to display their work.
- Students could receive participation scores/grades for answering
and discussing the infectious
disease questions, participating in class discussion and debate,
and completion of group
research for project presentation.
- Students could receive completion or accuracy grades for their
work on the Viewing Guides.
- Students could complete peer evaluations and self evaluation
or be graded using a scoring
guide for completion of the project and the accompanying presentation.
- Have students write letters to the editor of to their congressional
representatives stating their
opinions about what should be done in the U.S. to help developing
countries fight preventable
diseases and save people, many of them children, from dying from
diseases that have been
eradicated or are easily preventable in technologically advanced
and wealthier countries.
- Conduct a classroom debate about the U.S. and groups such as
the World Health Organization
should be doing to increase awareness about diseases such as HIV/AIDS
and tuberculosis and
to fight the spread of these diseases on a global level.
Guns, Germs and Steel web site sections
The World (interactive map activity)
Variables (“The Story
of…” features content about the significance of Smallpox
and Malaria) www.pbs.org/gunsgermssteel/variables/index.htm
provides detailed information about global health trends from 1955
and projected into 2025.
Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease
provides a step-by-step look at how the body’s immune system
works to fight disease and produce antibodies
Library of Medicine
provides information about the possible agents and effects of biological
About the Author:
Lisa Prososki is an independent educational consultant who taught
middle school and high school English, social studies, reading,
and technology courses for twelve years. Prososki has worked extensively
with PBS authoring and editing many lesson plans for various PBS
programs and TeacherSource. In addition to conducting workshops
for teachers at various state and national meetings, Prososki also
works with many corporate clients creating training programs and
materials, facilitating leadership and operations workshops, and
providing instructional support for new program rollouts. Prososki
has authored one book and also serves as an editor for other writers
of instructional materials.