Down with the Sickness

For many people, diseases and history are not two topics that go together; diseases are a scientific topic while history is, you know, the study of dead people. But if you examine the human experience throughout the centuries, you see that diseases have affected societies in a variety of ways. Since many of these historical diseases have been eradicated or cured with vaccines, the social effects of have been forgotten. But now we are seeing a reemergence of these diseases for a variety of reasons. Because of this connection, my sophomore students investigated disees and their effects as part of their project based learning of the Industrial Revolution. Unlike prior projects, this knowledge was not kept within the confines of the classroom; the final projects were donated to Valley Children’s Hospital in hopes of spreading awareness about historical diseases.

The project was launched in November with a PearDeck where students viewed of several news reports of recent outbreaks:

Students then examined the general effects diseases have had in history with help of John Green's Disease! Crash Course, the emergence of new diseases during the urbanization of the Industrial Revolution, and the arguments for and against the use of vaccines with the help of Calling the Shots by PBS. Eventually, they were able to discuss why California recently changed its vaccination laws and the spread of flesh-eating bacteria in Syria due to ISIS.

From there, students selected a disease from a list to investigate its general information, including symptoms, treatments, and outbreaks, and then wrote about the effects that one outbreak had on society. During this process, Patricia Regonini, the IRB coordinator from Valley Children’s Hospital, came to Minarets to discuss infectious diseases, prevention, and public health policies with the students. They prepared questions and were given the opportunity to act as epidemiologists as they did a case study of the Legionnaires Disease outbreak in 1976.

With all of this information, students then created their final project, an infographic displaying information that they believed would be relevant to the visitors, children, and workers at Valley Children’s Hospital. This was my first experience using infographics in the classroom so I naturally did some research. Most of my inspiration came from Caitlin Tucker's process when using infographics in her classroom, including analyzing other infographics for inspiration, creating storyboards using Google Draw, and allowing students to choose which website to use.

Students worked diligently in December to craft their projects that would be both informative and kid-appropriate. Several drafts and peer reviews were completed until the final product was presented to the class. Below are the exemplars from all three periods, which were donated to Valley Children's Hospital in January:

Created by Weylon Obernolte

Created by Ryan McDougald

Created by Shane Hogg

Created by Courtney Briskin

Created by Quinn Fenton

Created by Jonah Baird

Created by Anatasia Tsyboulia

Created by Benjamin Bellasario

Created by Julie Castleman

As I reflect on this project months later, there were many things that I loved, especially the high student engagement due to having an authentic audience. Yet, there are many things that I would do differently. For example, there were so many interesting areas that I wanted to discuss with students and I feel that this dragged the project on for too long; students were engaged at the beginning and the end of the project, but lost interest in the middle as things became, in my mind, more scattered. To fix this for next year, I plan to cut out of the essay and some of the side assignments as well as incorporate more of Valley Children's Hospital; maybe have a big ceremony and/or visit the hospital before flu season starts?

**Update: A quote from the very thoughtful thank you letter I received from Valley Children's Hospital. See full letter here**


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