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March 13, 2002 1 min read
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Teaching Epidemic

Teachers at a Ventura, Calif., high school turned students into scientists last week when they brought a fictional epidemic to life.

The interdisciplinary project at Foothill Technology High School began with a bang on March 4, when 10th graders at the school were bombarded with phony news reports about a deadly viral outbreak in five U.S. cities, as well as images of panicked residents.

Like many other schools, Foothill is looking for ways to bring real-world lessons into the classroom. Each year, teachers at the 2-year-old technology magnet school engage students in an “all-inclusive action project,” biology teacher Wendi Butler said.

This year, with the threat of bioterrorism on many Americans’ minds, teachers at the 600-student school decided to incorporate health-science issues into the 10-week program. Ms. Butler came up with the idea after attending a career day at a local hospital.

After announcing their “outbreak” last week, school officials divided the sophomores into “presidential task forces” and asked them to study infectious diseases.

Each group will create a five-minute public service announcement complete with an outline of the symptoms of a particular disease and information about how it is transmitted and how infection can be prevented. Students will also have to set up a functional Web site with the disease’s history, its social implications, and transmission data, and they must compose position papers for the president.

Finally, each group will make 15-minute presentations to a panel of health, police, and fire officials in May. They will describe the disease and argue whether the government should let it run its course, try to contain it, or eradicate it.

The project will take the students beyond anatomy, Ms. Butler said, adding they will not only study the physical and social implications of diseases, but also learn how to isolate crucial ideas and submit them in a public presentation.

—Marianne Hurst

A version of this article appeared in the March 13, 2002 edition of Education Week

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