Authors: Rachel Hughes & Kirstin A. Bittel

Time: 2 days
Preparation Time:  
Materials: Case studies (5)
Question cards
Questions and Answer cards (17 per disease)

Student groups are presented with a variety of case studies, each describing the symptoms of a disease. The students must figure out through questioning the root cause of the disease. As students develop their questioning skills, they develop an understanding of disease transmission and origin. The purpose of this lesson is to engage students in the root causes of disease and to describe how different diseases disrupt homeostasis.

Students will be able to:

i. Use questions to navigate and analyze information about the presentation of a disease during a class discussion.
ii. Document and share their analysis of information in a class discussion in order to describe a variety of disease origins.
iii. Connect a definition of homeostasis to the impact of disease on the body.

National Science Education Standard:
Content Standard A – Science as Inquiry
Formulate and revise scientific explanations and models using logic and evidence.
Communicate and defend a scientific argument

Content Standard F- Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
Personal and community health
The severity of disease symptoms is dependent on many factors…

Teacher Background
See general teacher background for unit
Definition of homeostasis: Homeostasis is the maintenance of equilibrium in a biological system.

Related and Resource Websites




Day One

1. Tell students they will be taking on the role of a medic in an undisclosed location. Their task is to determine the origin of the ailment affecting a given individual. To begin with, student groups will be provided with only the symptoms of their given individual. Their task is then to formulate a series of questions whose answers will aid in the determination of the origin of the ailment.

2. Distribute case studies to student groups. Allow groups 5-10 minutes to read their case studies and begin formulating questions.

3. Once students have had time to formulate some initial questions, have a representative from each group stand and describe their case. Once all groups have described their case students may begin to ask you questions. You may choose to do this in a number of ways:

i. You can rotate around the room moving from group to group and responding to one or two questions.
ii. You can have the groups take turns to ask you questions while the other groups listen.

How strictly you respond to the questions also depends upon if you want to focus on students’ questioning skills. Students must be careful not to ask merely yes and no questions. When student groups ask a question concerning other people being affected by this disease you provide them with the corresponding general answer card. They must then ask more specifically about gender, ethnicity, age, and relationships among affected individuals to receive more detailed cards. An answer list is provided so you can give students the answers to their questions. (For example if Student Group A asks “Is anyone else in the area affected?” give them card #1 which has that question on the front and the answer on the reverse.) If students ask a question that is not on the Question and Answer sheet provided simply tell students “I’ll get back to you on that.” Have students write the question on the front of an index card. If the question is relevant, use the teacher background to answer the question on the reverse. If the question is irrelevant, make up a plausible answer.

4. Continue on in this manner until class time has been exhausted or until groups have asked all questions and analyzed all the answers.

5. Tell the groups that tomorrow they will have a few minutes to prepare a presentation for the class. In that presentation they must 1) describe the symptoms of the disease and 2) share the observations and inferences that led to their conclusions about the origins of the ailment. You may need to explain what an inference is to the students.

Day Two

1. As students enter the room, have them begin setting up a 5 column chart to use during the presentations. The chart should include the following headings: Group Number, Symptoms Noted, Observations, Inferences/Disease Origin, and Evaluation of Inferences.

2. Invite groups to present their findings to the entire class.

3. As groups present, the others should take notes in their charts.

4. Once all groups have presented, ask them to stop and think about whether the inferences made by the presenting group were valid. Would they have made the same inferences? If not why not?

5. Review the definition of homeostasis and then ask them how their disease disturbs homeostasis. Have students respond to this question in a written format before talking as a class about this.

Embedded Assessment

1. Assess whether students can generate quality questions during a class discussion.

2. Are students able to make inferences about disease origins based upon their observations as demonstrated in a chart?

3. Assess ability to use what may be a new term, homeostasis, to the introductory material on disease in a written format.


In their science notebooks, have students write a reflective conclusion. What did they learn? What new questions do they have? How does the exercise connect to “real life?”

Embedded Assessment



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: November 10, 2009
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