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medicine & healthcare: activity ideas

Activity Ideas | Related Resources

  1. X Marks the Spot

    Grade Level: 3-5
    Subjects: Science & Technology; Math

    This activity is a way to demonstrate how quickly and easily germs can be spread during cold and flu season.

    Begin with a discussion on what causes colds or flu. Discuss bacteria and viruses as microorganisms that can cause illness. Explain to students that colds and the flu are caused by viruses, and tehse viruses can be all around us: in the air we breathe, on the objects we touch. These viruses can be easily transferred as we share the air and touch many of the same objects: doorknobs, pencil sharpeners, light switches, faucets, etc. In fact, germs can even be transferred by people who do not seem to be sick themselves! Discuss sneezing and coughing as ways that germs can be expelled into the air, and the importance of covering one's mouth when coughing or sneezing.

    Tell the students that this activity will demonstrate just how quickly and easily germs can be spread. Explain that each student will be given a small, folded piece of paper. All will be blank, except one, which will be marked with an "X." Whoever gets the "X" is carrying the virus. Under no condition should the "infected" person reveal themselves!

    Once the papers have been distributed, instruct students to move around the room and to shake hands with 3 other students. (Remind students that when someone extends their hand it is a common courtesy to shake it). Have students stop, and then again, shake hands with 3 different students. Discuss shaking hands as a metaphor for any activity requiring close proximity or the sharing of an object. (e.g. talking, playing basketball).

    Have students return to their seats and ask whoever had the "X" to please stand. Then, while that person remains standing, ask the 6 students who shook that student's hand to please stand. Now, ask everyone who shook one of these students' hands to please stand. There should be 16 students standing, all of whom now have "flu germs" on their hands. Should any neglect to wash their hands before putting something they touch into their mouths, they could expect to be experiencing flu symptoms shortly! Integrate math by asking students to draw the pattern and asking them to extend the pattern beyond the initial 16 students. What if each of them shook hands with 3 others? etc.

    Online Resources

    Stalking the Mysterious Microbe
    American Microbiology Society's Web site for kids.

    Digital Learning Center for Microbial Ecology: Microbe Zoo
    Explores importance of microbes in the environment, in food processing, etc.

    Epidemic! A Fred Friendly Seminar
    See the essay on microbes and infectious diseases.

    NOVA: "Bioterror" - Making Vaccines
    Try the interactive game explaining different types of vaccines.

    Print Resources

    Common Colds (My Health) by Alvin Silverstein, Virginia Silverstein, and Laura Silverstein Nunn
    It 'Snot Just Tissues : Factoids, Activities, and Sniff! : Brainteasers for the Sick Reader by the editors of Planet Dexter and Jack Keely
    Purple Death: The Mysterious Flu of 1918 by David Getz and Peter McCarty

    More Recommended Resources

  2. The Placebo Effect

    Grade Level: 6-8
    Subjects: Health & Fitness; Science & Technology; Math

    Research has shown that patients who believe that they have been given medication, but who instead have received a placebo, can still experience the positive--or negative--predicted effects of the medication. In this lesson students themselves will research what is now known as the "placebo effect" by helping to design and carry out a double-blind experiment to test the effectiveness of caffeine on memory.

    Introduce the concept of the "placebo effect" at the WhyFiles Web site for kids. Inform students that they will be designing and participating in an experiment to test whether caffeine, found in most soft drinks and in other foods and beverages, can improve memory. At the same time, they will be researching the "placebo effect."

    Discuss caffeine as a well-known stimulant of the central nervous system. Point to various research linking caffeine with improved memory. Relevant articles may be found at the BBC News site and at NewsWise.

    Ask students to define the term "control group." Why are control groups so important in scientific research?. What would happen if researchers just gave everyone a particular medicine or treatment? Introduce the concept of a "double blind" experiment, where neither the researchers nor the subjects know whom has received the real treatment(s). Discuss the importance of random selection in choosing subjects for an experiment.

    Have students brainstorm ways to randomly divide the class into three groups: researchers, subjects, and a control group. (e.g. choose marked slips of paper from bag). Have students brainstorm ways to design a double blind experiment. (Suggestion: one group of students removes labels from caffeinated and "caffeine free" soda bottles and marks one bottle with an "A" and the other with a "Z." A second group, not knowing which bottle contains which soda, pours soda into numbered cups and records which cup numbers were filled from "A" and which from "Z". When subjects are called for "testing", they pick a numbered cup of their choice. The researcher, upon administering the follow-up memory test, will record the cup number on the subject's test. Only by comparing the cup number to both lists can the contents of the cup be determined.)

    Have the student researchers administer a baseline word recall memory test. Three lists of ten words should be read and the results averaged. (Instead of writing their names on their tests, students should use randomly assigned numbers that are different than those on the cups.) It may be best to end the lesson here for the day, and begin the next lesson with the actual pouring of the soda, labeling of the cups, and taking of the "medicine." Fifteen minutes after consumption, the follow-up tests of three new word lists can be given.

    At this point students should be asked whether they believe they received a caffeine drink, or a placebo, and why. Have them record this info on their test. Results can be tallied by the teacher, or by students, and graphed according to percentage of improvement across the three groups: caffeine and control.

    At last, the results can be discussed, and the truth about who received caffeine, and who received a placebo revealed!! There may or may not have been a "placebo effect" but either way it can be discussed. What other factors might have influenced the test results?

    Finally, the limitations of such an experiment should be discussed, along with the research showing the harmful effects of caffeine. Also, research on other memory-improving techniques can be shared.

    Online Resources

    WhyFiles: The Placebo Effect
    BBC News: Caffeine and Memory
    NewsWise: Java Jolt
    Scientific American Frontiers: The Wonder Pill
    Scientific American Frontiers: Healing Touch
    University of Washington: Caffeine (Neuroscience for Kids)

    More Recommended Resources

  3. Power of One

    Grade Level: 6-8
    Subjects: Health & Fitness; Social Studies; Reading & Language Arts; Science & Technology

    Explore medical breakthroughs resulting from the needs or ambitions of individuals. The study of individual contributions to medicine and science is easily an interdisciplinary topic and one which encourages students to imagine the impact each of their own lives can have on humanity.

    Ask student to fill in one side of a white index card with myths and facts (real or imagined) associated with HIV/AIDS. Post and discuss. On green index cards, have students list facts they have about HIV/AIDS. Post and discuss.

    Ask students to research people who had a great impact in medicine and health care: possibilities include Clara Barton, Margaret Sanger, Mary Mahoney, Susan La Flesche Picotte, Susie King Taylor, Albert Schweitzer, and Dorothea Dix. Place each name in a sealed envelope along with the poster grading rubric, and give an envelope to each student. Explain and parameters of the assignment (pictures, short bio, contribution). Prepare an excellent sample poster, and compare it to the rubric for the class. Then allow students to open envelopes and proceed with research. Alert your media specialist to have books and sites ready ahead of time.

    Completed projects may be presented orally in class (provide a presentation rubric) or used as a small setting for a living museum. Either way, the assignment needs to be discussed as part of the process of living and growing, choosing to be healthy or careless, choosing to make a positive or negative impact on those around us. Consider the body of work of these pioneers in the health field. Where were we? Where are we now? Where can we go from here? Tie the concluding discussion into the opening Ryan White activity.

    Online Resources

    A Science Odyssey: Doctor over Time
    Children's Hospital: Teaching Guides about Ryan White and Medical Pioneers

    Print Resources

    1,000 Inventions and Discoveries by Roger Francis Bridgman and Peter Dennis
    Lives of Extraordinary Women: Rulers, Rebels (And What the Neighbors Thought) by Kathleen Krull and Kathryn Hewitt

    More Recommended Resources

  4. One Little Pill, One Big Controversy

    Grade Level: 9-12
    Subjects: Health & Fitness; Social Studies

    Contraception is a controversial topic in public life--in religion, in social programs like welfare reform, and especially in America's public schools. For example, the Bush administration recently proposed federal grants for Abstinence Only health education progrms in schools. Contraception was not to be mentioned, and only information with a "no sex" message would be permitted in the classroom. However, the controversy around contraception is hardly new: the topic of birth control has a fascinating history and this activity allows students to research this age-old debate.

    Put students in groups that could choose one of the following research topics:

    • History of contraceptives
    • The roles of Emma Goldman, Margaret Sanger, and/or Katharine McCormick in the development of contraception
    • Impact of the Pill on society in the '60s and '70
    • Contraception in school health education programs

    The groups should begin at the American Experience Web site listed below. Encourage each group to organize their material and present it to the class in a creative format. This is a great topic for discussion that interests secondary students. Science education can be related to the discussion; for example, in June, 2002, new forms of hormonal birth control methods were introduced. How do they work? Other areas that could be addressed are the importance of abstinence and/or condoms to prevent HIV and other STD's.

    Once the historical information has been presented, students could write and deliver persuasive speeches that are based on newly acquired information on this timely topic. Students should also research their state and local regulations pertaining to school health curriculum, and evaluate whether they think these regulations are appropriate.

    Online Resources

    American Experience: "The Pill"

    More Recommended Resources

  5. Pandemic Changes in History

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subjects: Health & Fitness; Social Studies

    Flu and influenza are common illnesses experienced by many. Even so, influenza pandemics can change a culture and make an imprint on history. Often the origin of influenza pandemics takes months, and sometimes years, to determine. Sometimes the cause is never identified. Students can explore how some of the world's most famous pandemic outbreaks such as the 1918 influenza outbreak in the United States, the Hong Kong flu, the Asian Flu of 1957, the 1976 Swine Flu, and the 1997 Avian Flu have changed history.

    Compare how each country dealt with the outbreak, how the outbreak affected the populations, and the various modes of treatment and causes of disease. After compiling their research, students may write a newspaper article reporting on a famous epidemic through the eyes of someone who may have lived through the time of crisis. Students can also write a position paper as an expert preparing for a panel discussion on the prevention of future epidemic outbreaks.

    Online Resources

    American Experience: "Influenza 1918"
    Online NewsHour: The Hong Kong Flu
    A Science Odyssey: Worldwide flu pandemic strikes 1918 - 1919
    ZOOM: Cold Facts About the Flu
    NPR: Morning Edition: Flu Epidemic (January 06, 2000)
    CDC: Pandemic Influenza

    Print Resources

    Flu: The Story of the Great Influenza Pandemic of 1918 and the Search for the Virus That Caused It by Gina Bari Kolata
    Purple Death: The Mysterious Flu of 1918 by David Getz and Peter McCarty

    More Recommended Resources

  6. Chronic Illness and Disease: the Visible and the Invisible

    Grade Level: 3-5; 6-8
    Subject: Reading & Language Arts; The Arts; Health & Fitness

    What is chronic illness and disease? What would it be like to live with a chronic illness? Is it true some students in our school have chronic illness and we don't even know it? Have students read the perspectives of people living with chronic illness by exploring the Band-Aids and Blackboards website. Have students select a chronicle from the real story section where kids tell their personal stories of coping and enduring daily life with a chronic illness. Some stories are followed up with an email address. Have students respond via email to some of the story entrants. Students can compare and share the things they have in common with someone with chronic illness. Have students write an informational narrative about how to be a friend to someone with a chronic illness. Also create a Venn diagram comparing and contrasting chronic illness with communicable illness.

    Hospital stays can be frightening for most, but children who endure chronic illness often spend long periods of time in hospital settings. Today, children's hospitals meet the needs of the whole child, nut just their physical needs, but their emotional, spiritual and mental needs as well. Investigate the ways a Child Life Therapist, Recreational Therapist and Art Therapist aid children in the coping and the healing process through the use of game play, arts and crafts and pet therapy. How do these activities transcend into our daily lives and aid in day-to-day stress release?

    Have students plan and draw a hospital playroom and include all of the activities they think are important for children to experience in the hospital. Include all of the special arrangements needed to accommodate hospital beds and IV machines. Invite a local recreational therapist to come and speak about his or her profession to the class.

    Online Resources

    Children's Hospital
    Scientific American Frontiers: "Growing Up Different"
    Band-Aids and Blackboards
    CDC: Kids Quest, National Center for Birth Defects and Developmental Disabilities

    More Recommended Resources

  7. X-Rays and Ultrasound

    Grade Level: 6-8; 9-12
    Subject: Science & Technology; Health & Fitness

    X-ray and ultrasound machines allow physicians an opportunity to see inside the human body. How do they really work? Group students in pairs, and have them visit the Marshall Brain's How Stuff Works" website. Each partner will choose to read either "How X-Rays Work" or "How Ultrasound Works." Have students teach the information learned to his or her partner. Students can create designs and pictures to aid teaching.

    Have students draw pictures of what an X-ray and an ultrasound picture would look like. Indicate incidents where a physician would order an X-ray and an ultrasound. Compare and contrast the differences of the machines, including their workings and uses.

    X-rays and ultrasounds are inventions that aid in the care of many people everyday. Have students search for other healthcare inventions that have made a difference in healthcare and write questions for an interview with the inventor; the student's partner may answer the questions. Students might also create designs on paper for a new health care invention.

    Online Resources

    How Stuff Works: X-Rays
    How Stuff Works: Ultrasound
    NOVA: "Einstein's Big Idea"
    Scientific American Frontiers: "Affairs of the Heart"

    More Recommended Resources

Published: February 2003