The Right Tool for the Job: Diagnosis Spectrum

Author: Sarah Kenyon

Time: 1 class period
45 minutes: getting the appropriate episode or segment cued up, having a TV/video player available
Materials: TV/Video
House MD or other appropriate video segment


This apply lesson uses a scenario from a television series (House MD is a good one!) and has students (individually) determine the most appropriate detection method to get information about the condition. They then will participate in an “expert” discussion and then observe what was decided. They will close by comparing, in writing, what they thought would be the outcome to what actually happened. Students must have completed the previous lessons in this learning cycle or some other manner of introduction to imaging to be able to successfully participate.

Students will:
1. Students will watch a section of a medical TV show (i.e. House MD) and individually make a written recommendation of appropriate imaging techniques to be used and explain why they chose these techniques.

2. Participate in a discussion, revealing their recommendations, as a group of “experts” and come to a group consensus as to what course to take. If there is not a consensus, there must be a list of questions generated that would allow a consensus to form.

3. Make a written comparison of their recommendations with that of the show.

National Science Standards
Content Standard A: Scientific Inquiry
Identify questions that guide scientific inquiry
Content Standard B: Physical Science
Structure and properties of matter
Content Standard E: Science and Technology
Communicate the problem, process, and solution
Content Standard F: Science in personal and social perspectives
Personal and community health
Natural and human-induced hazards
Science & Technology in local, national and global challenges

Teacher Background
Teacher Background: EM, waves, Photoelectric effect supplement
Teacher must also have access to some form of medical drama from TV or from film. We find that House MD uses many of the medical imaging techniques described in this learning cycle and often addresses problems that result from their use (i.e. hasty use of an MRI without checking for metal pins, inability to use MRI because of a metal jaw replacement, use of outdated, but nevertheless useful, ultrasound techniques where other techniques are now used, etc.). Small sections of the show can be used, and there are often cases where the students will be right and the show will go in another direction. It is a good opportunity for a variety of “good” answers to exist. Some of the recommended episodes are: “Nuns”, ”Swimmer, etc.
Caution!!! Some episodes contain material that may be questionable for students. Please preview carefully!
This should be a fun activity for students to pull together what they have learned thus far in an interesting manner. Teachers should have little to no vocal part in this lesson other than to keep it on track.




1) As students enter the room, pass back their homework from the Detection Detective lesson.

2) Tell students that they will be using these worksheets to help them be a technician in an important medical case.

3) Play the segment of the video and have them take notes about what is happening.

4) Give the students an opportunity to voice questions that the segment brought up, and have them discuss these questions as a group.

5) Play the segment one more time.

6) Students must then use their worksheets to help them write a recommendation for imaging methods to help with diagnosis. They may decide on more than one method, but must back up their decision with reasons why that method would be helpful to determine what is wrong with the patient. Creativity is encouraged where physical principles leave off.

7) Students must also identify questions that they have regarding their recommendations. Do they need more information? How would they get this information?

8) As a group, students will decide what the next step should be for the patient and why. The teacher (or an interested student) will act as a secretary, writing ideas on the board. This should take no more than 15 minutes. Begin by having students identify the physical principles they considered in making their recommendation and why. **this is a very important part!**

9) If a consensus is reached, and especially if not, have students generate further questions they would like the answers to. These can be either for the patients or general questions about techniques/methods and should also be recorded on the board.

10) Students will then watch what the doctors did in the ensuing segment.

11) As a group, students will spend 5-10 minutes discussing how their recommendation(s) compared with those in the television series and reasons why it may have been different. Encourage students to think outside the box- are some methods more expensive? Are there mitigating factors that were not considered in the classroom? Do they think that they are right or that the doctors on the show are right?

12) Have students close by writing a response to the activity in their science notebooks.

Some of the writing can be assigned as homework, as also can be the more detailed descriptions. You can also give the students a second segment of the show and have them identify all the imaging techniques/physical principles they see used.

There are ample opportunities to extend this activity, either by adding new segments, or following the diagnosis of one patient. Use your discretion to maximize the time use.


Embedded Assessment
Students will be assessed via both their participation in discussion and their science notebooks for completeness and thoroughness. They should logically back up their recommendations, and thoughtfully compare and contrast their recommendation with that of the class consensus AND that of the show. Exchange of ideas and logical use of facts to back up recommendations is important. Attention to the physical principles involved is also encouraged as a point-garnering opportunity.


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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