Lesson Plan: Medical Scene Investigators (MSI) Lesson Plan

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All or individually three videos will be used to follow an investigative pattern similar to the popular television show "CSI" (Crime Scene Investigators) with the title of the project being "MSI" (Medical Scene Investigators).

1. Introduce the film's central thesis (see descriptions below). Prior to viewing the film ask students discussion questions pertaining to individual medical conditions revealed in the videos (HIV/AIDS, autism, asthma and cancer).

2. It would be interesting to watch the video using the discussion questions and then discuss again after student presentations.


Students will:
1. Investigate the physical, psychological and societal implications of the various medical problems.

2. Use technology to research and present findings to classmates.

3. Explore controversial health issues that have potential for lifelong implications.

4. Increase their knowledge base concerning HIV/AIDS, Autism and Environmental Hazards.

5. Use creativity in planning and presenting their investigative results.

6. Demonstrate individual responsibility in contributing to team investigation.

7. Compare and contrast viewpoints that may differ from their own.


Health Standards MCREL

1. Knows the availability and effective use of health services, products, and information

2. Knows environmental and external factors that affect individual and community health

4. Understands the relationship of family health to individual health

5. Knows how to maintain and promote personal health

6. Knows essential concepts about the prevention and control of disease

Technology Standards

1. Knows the characteristics and uses of computer hardware and operating systems

2. Knows the characteristics and uses of computer software programs

3. Understands the relationships among science, technology, society, and the individual.

4. Understands the nature and uses of different forms of technology

Materials Needed

1. VCR, monitor and videotapes of one (or all) of the 2002 POV films: The Smith Family, Fenceline: A Company Town Divided and/or Refrigerator Mothers

2. Computers with Internet access

3. Note taking materials


1. Students work as teams of investigators examining facts surrounding the medical issues addressed in each or all three of the videos: HIV/AIDS, Autism and environmental health. Teams will be required to submit factual information, using video clips and information obtained from at least three of the recommended web sites.

2. Allow class time to view the film(s).

3. Discuss with students some of the societal and emotional issues that surfaced in conjunction with the medical concerns.

4. Students also should identify coping mechanisms they witnessed throughout the film.

5. Each investigative team is given a rubric as a guide for their project. The rubric will also be used to divide responsibilities among the investigative team.

6. Teams are required to present the information to the class. They must submit factual information, use video clips that support their information, develop a vocabulary concerning their investigative topic and develop either a power point, web page, virtual field trip, brochure or newsletter about their topic as part of their presentation.

7. Each team must also design an activity involving their classmates as part of their presentation. At the conclusion of each presentation, classmates will have an opportunity to ask questions of each investigative team.

8. If time permits, discuss how attitudes and answers to pre-film discussions questions may have been altered.


The Smith Family is the story of Steve and Kim Smith and their two sons. They struggle to remain a family once Steve confesses to infidelities with men as they find they are both HIV +. The Smith Family is a searing account of one Mormon family's struggle to preserve family and faith, while redefining forgiveness in the face of daunting tragedy. The Smith Family effectively explores the physical, social and emotional aspects of HIV/AIDS.

Refrigerator Mothers explores the traumatic legacy of blame, guilt and self-doubt suffered by a generation of women with autistic children, who were branded "refrigerator mothers. " Autism is one of today's fastest growing disorders, affecting one in 500 people. It is now known to be a neurological condition, but from the 1950's through the 1970's, the medical establishment mistakenly believed it had found the root cause of autism. They attributed the cause to emotionally cold mothers with poor parenting skills. Refrigerator Mothers is an effective tool for exploring autism. It is also indicative of the emotional damage that occurs as science evolves and proves that medicine is still not an exact science.

Fenceline: A Company Town Divided is the story of Norco, Louisiana. The film explores the different perceptions and experiences between Norco's black and white communities. Norco's black community lives next to a Shell Oil refinery. The black community believes that Shell is responsible for the high incidence of cancer, respiratory problems and resulting fatalities. Their neighborhood has been dubbed "Cancer Alley". The white community residents, further from the refinery, are largely Shell employees and see no problems. Shell sees no problem and continues to report different environmental data than scientists studying the area. Fenceline explores environmental issues and social responsibilities. The film also highlights a small underprivileged community struggling to fight a large corporation and win. Through research, students have an opportunity to explore not only issues addressed in the film, but also the status of the Norco community problems today.

Discussion Questions

The Smith Family

1. How is HIV transmitted?

2. Is HIV primarily a gay disease?

3. How would you feel if you contracted HIV from your spouse?

4. Would it matter to you that your spouse contracted HIV through a homosexual encounter?

5. As a child in this family, how would you feel?

6. If your Church was a major focus in your family life, how could you reconcile their beliefs with a homosexual viewpoint?

7. Describe the progression of HIV as it progresses from HIV to AIDS and eventual death.

Refrigerator Mothers

1. Can anyone explain autism?

2. What causes autism?

3. How is autism treated?

4. As a parent of an autistic child, would you feel prepared to rear that child? Why or why not?

5. How would you feel if doctors told you that your child's autism was a result of your cold behavior and lack of good parenting skills?

Fenceline: A Company Town Divided

1. What are carcinogens?

2. Can you give examples of specific carcinogens?

3. What is asthma? Is it serious?

4. What do you think is a possible cause for an increase in asthma cases?

5. What is the EPA? What is their role?

6. What, if any, responsibility do companies polluting air have to people living in the vicinity of their facilities?

7. How would feel about your property adjoining one of these companies?

8. Would your opinion be different if those companies emitting chemicals into the air or water employed you or your family members?

9. How can citizens take a pro-active approach toward solving problems existing in their communities?


Autism links ("Refrigerator Mothers")



Includes an enormous amount of information including treatments, interviews, issues and other autism resource links.

HIV links ("The Smith Family")


University of California at San Francisco offers an abundance of updated information concerning treatment, prevention and policy


Psychological impact of HIV/Aids on families, friends, partners


Center for Disease Control HIV/AIDS prevention divisions offers information about treatment, prevention, statistics, causes and transmission


Features HIV/AIDS information on more than 550 topics including an "ask the experts" section and HIV and Women and HIV.

Environmental links - "Fenceline: A Company Town Divided"


Environmental diseases from A-Z


Specific about air pollutants at Norco in Louisiana


Refinery reform organization with a link to NORCO LA Toxic Tour With many links to refinery reform and the Toxic Two-Step

1. Develop a timeline about the particular problems addressed by each team and/or develop a community action plan for problems surfacing throughout their investigations.

2. Invite guest speakers including a doctor, environmental specialist, a psychologist or psychiatrist to speak to the class. Team members should have questions prepared for the guests. Sharing each of the speaking days will be a friend or relative of a person experiencing each of the medical conditions addressed in the videos.

Assessment Suggestion: Rubric


CriteriaMember ResponsiblePts. PossibleScore
3 sources in addition to videos5
Accurate medical research15
Used pertinent video clips to support research10
Comparison & contrast of opposing viewpoints10
Social implications of medical conditions identified and explained10
Class Involvement activity5
Creative Presentation of Investigative findings10
Coping Mechanisms explained5
Activism Opportunities explored10