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Disease & Epidemics: Architects of History
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Throughout human history disease has been linked to biological, social, political and economic forces. Epidemics have influenced history by where they occur, how they develop, and the impact they have on civilizations. People though, have learned to heal themselves and to cope with the aftermath of illnesses.

Today, biomedical researchers are in the forefront of the battle to understand diseases and to find cures. In this unit, students explore disease and its relationship with our history and literature. They investigate issues that range from early biological warfare and historical disease treatments - to observing today’s race for the cure against current emerging and re-emerging diseases.

Diseases and epidemics mark history in their appearance, evolution, impact and treatment. They are inextricably intertwined with agricultural and industrial revolutions. Students explore the movement of people, trade and diseases during the medieval period and then apply their understanding to current issues of movement and change in the world and disease.

This unit addresses the education standards for 10th grade.

Diagram of the learning cycle

Major Project
This unit approaches diseases and epidemics from a biological and social perspective. Students take a lesson from history and from the biology book as they address a current issue in disease management. Student study topics that form a basic understandings of what is a disease, how the body deals with disease, how diseases are exacerbated or combated.

The management of disease, use and misuse of antibiotics and vaccinations, and the development of new treatments, are all topics of discussion for participating students as they partner with public health and health care professionals in raising the awareness within their community of a disease and treatment of disease issue.
Students address one current issue relating to disease and disease management within their community. They provide a public service message that is checked in advance by local public health officials for accuracy.

Diseases & Epidemics Icon

Researchers in Epidemiology,
Communicable Diseases, Nursing


Careers in Public Health


Week - Connection Science Social Studies Language Arts Math
Week 1
Science lays the groundwork for this unit’s area of inquiry by making sure that students not only know why they need to use aseptic techniques when doing lab work, but are able to do so proficiently.
Introduction to Aseptic Techniques
(Part of an Access Excellence Lesson)
Students explore the need for aseptic techniques in the classroom.
On the Microbe Trail: Bacteria and Aseptic Technique
(Part of an Access Excellence Lesson)
Why they need to use aseptic techniques.
Laboratory Procedures Poster and Rubric
Students produce poster.
Week 2
While science looks at how diseases present themselves through physical symptoms and the biological mechanisms involved in their spreading, math examines probability models that quantify and illustrate the transmission of disease.
Use questions to navigate and analyze information about the presentation of a disease.
    Who Gave it to You?
Model the spread of disease through population.
Disease Hits Home
Explore routes of transmission
What’s that Brown Fuzzy Stuff on My Plum? (Diseases are the Pits)
Laboratory exercise using Koch’s Postulates to explore Germ Theory.
Week 3
Students use the tools of modern science to see how diseases are identified and how the immune system functions while in social studies they travel back to Medieval times when neither sickness nor resistance to it was understood in order to examine how these factors made humanity highly susceptible to epidemics. Through language arts the students explore the devastation to the human spirit such virulent diseases create. Math looks at how not everyone exposed to a disease becomes sick or dies.
Mystery Spot
(Access Excellence)
Students explore the information to figure out a disease.
When Diseases become Epidemic! What has happened here? What does Math have to do with getting sick?
Susceptible -
Infected -
Recovered models for epidemics.
Reasons Diseases become Epidemic
Major Project: Public Health Visitor   The Human & Animal Connection! “Ode to a Nightingale"
Food Forensics: A Case of Mistaken Identity
(An Access Excellence Lesson)
An introduction to the immune system via food allergies. A lab.
Social, Political and Economic Factors that affect Disease Day by Day
Samuel Pepys
The Black Death Epidemic of the 14th Century Today’s Epidemic
Read poetry written by some of the youngest victims of the pandemic of our time.
Week 4
As students in science continue to study the immune system both social studies and language arts classes will be used to examine how the Medieval way of life and the ways trade took place in those times presented the ideal conditions for certain epidemics to happen. Math illuminates the mechanisms by which the presence of illness in a population can explode into an epidemic.
Food Forensics: A Case of Mistaken Identity
The Middle Ages in Europe Today’s Epidemic
Who Makes an Epidemic?
Calculate the number ofsusceptible people needed for an epidemic to occur.
Launching A Defense: Understanding the Human Immune System
Students explore the complexity of the immune system via a webquest.
Making Connections: Trade and disease today The Importance of Trade
Trade routes of the Medieval World
Tracing the Shared Paths of Disease and Trade in the Medieval World
Week 5
While social studies classes explore how trade and exploration actually improve humanity’s chances for survival, science classes look deeper into the immune system’s ability to respond to disease. In language arts students pull together these two ways of understanding the physical world, specifically disease, from the historian’s perspective and from the scientist’s viewpoint.
Does the Chicken have Anthrax
I am a Pathogen! Adaptive Immunity
Why Explore? Not Just One Vector
Multiple sources of visual and written information.
Waterborne Diseases
Explaining the immune system response.
Why Trade? The Positive & Negative Effects of Trade Science Happens in a Social Context
How does a scientist view disease and how does a historian see its impact on society
Where in the World did this come from?
Week 6
Science continues to develop an understanding of the immune system by delving into the world of bacteria and establishing how to classify these organisms as pathogenic and non-pathogenic. At the same time social studies brings the discussion of trade up to date by looking at modern times and the current modes of transportation for both goods and pathogens. In language arts students will choose a time and epidemic of interest to them and read a novel that deals with the various repercussions on society of a widespread disease outbreak.
What’s Living in My Mouth?
Discover that bacteria lives inside the mouth & while it can be beneficial it can also cause disease.
Where in the World did this come from?
Disease & Culture through Literary Time -
Using literature to review impact of disease.
Catch a bug Time to Read
The effects of disease on the community as described in literature.
Routes of Entry
Students classify organisms as pathogenic and non pathogenic.
Week 7
Students will gain a greater understanding of how pathogens affect the human body and the impact of antibiotics on the immune system’s response. Math will calculate the absorption rate of antibiotics. The concept of vaccination is also introduced in science. Social studies classes examine smallpox, a disease that devastated populations until a vaccine for it was developed. Some intriguing occurrences in medical history are then explored. Students will share what they have learned about the impact of disease on the human spirit and society as revealed through literature in both oral presentations and a formal paper in language arts.
Routes of Entry
Devastating Diseases

Literacy Circles

Take Your Medicine 1
Calculate the amount of a specific antibiotic remaining in a body.
Describe the Perfect Pathogen
Describe how the attributes of a pathogen affect the body.
Medical Misconceptions: What do you know?
The Historical
Medical Community: Contributions and Innovations

Book Review
Five paragraph theme paper on how literary elements are used to portray the impact of the disease.


Week 8
While in science students reviews historical documents to study vaccines, social studies looks to the future of medical breakthroughs and the essential component of informed consent. Math analyzes the absorption of medication by the body. Language arts surveys the realm of public service announcements and what constitutes an effective one.
Take Your Medicine 2
Introduction to Antibiotics
How do antibiotics work?

The Historical
Medical Community: Contributions and Innovations


Reaching Your Audience
How do you tailor your message to a specific audience?

Exploring Vaccines
Historical background to one vaccine.
What am I?
It’s a Matter of Consent: Considering a Patient's Rights
A Pox no longer upon us
Historical documents mean students use qualitative observations toward understanding immunization.
Medical Research and your Future What Messages are Out there?
Students analyze public service announcements.
Week 9
Science classes examine serious diseases that plague us today as well as the rise of superbugs from improper use of antibiotics. Students in social studies look at the effectiveness of posters used in public health campaigns in the past while they continue to explore the possiblities of future medical research. Language arts classes concentrate on compiling information to create a public service announcement for current ills.

A Pox no longer upon us

Medical Research and your Future continued.. The Facts and the Figures
Students gather information to create a public service message.
Deadly Disease Among Us
Protecting the Herd
Superbugs and Antibiotic Resistance
Students run a bacterial growth experiments using antibiotics and analyze the results.
Timeline of Medical Innovations and Breakthroughs
A Poster is Worth a Thousand Words
Can Diseases be Prevented?
Week 10
Students ask whether disease can be prevented in all their classes. In science they look at creating an accurate public service announcement. In social studies they examine all the factors in society that must be addressed to change human behavior. And, in language arts they take what they have learned from science and social studies and combine it with week nine’s research to create a bookmark of substantial and accurate scientific information about a current public health issue that will captivate the public and encourage behavioral changes.
Developing a Public Health Service Message Can Diseases be Prevented?
A Little Reminder to Take with You
Students make a bookmark with information about a public health issue that becomes part of a bigger health issue.
Let’s Put the Information in Infomercial: Designing a PSA
Taking it to the Community

PULSE is a project of the Community Outreach and Education Program of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center and is funded by:

NIH/NCRR award #16260-01A1
The Community Outreach and Education Program is part of the Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center: an NIEHS Award


Supported by NIEHS grant # ES06694

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Last update: September 30, 2008
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