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Flu Transmission Simulation

By Edwin P. Christmann and Marie Ellis

Posted on 2020-04-03

Body aches, chills, nausea, and fever are some of the worst red flags when it comes to flu season. As with most flu bugs, the symptoms last for a few days and generally start to subside as the virus runs it course. However, when a virus lingers and refuses to go away, a global pandemic can occur, meaning that it is prevalent over a whole country or the world.


Undoubtedly, all are aware of the prevalence of COVID-19 and how it has had an unprecedented impact on the infrastructure and operations of schools, businesses, and virtually all social interactions throughout the world. COVID-19, otherwise known as the Coronavirus, slowly began to take control of China and parts of Italy and has now found its way all over the globe.

For updated information on its spread, Johns Hopkins University offers a map, showing updated statistics.

Justifiably, most people are concerned and are looking for answers on how viruses spread and can by better contained. More specifically, school aged children are looking for explanations and Stem Simulations provides a nice simulator to help teachers simulate the transmission of a flu virus. It is now available for free and is user friendly for teachers who now find themselves working from home.

Image 1: Stem Simulations

What are Stem Simulations?

Stem Simulations is an educational platform that offers a plethora of simulations for classroom teachers to use in their day to day lessons.  Simulations range from erosion control, DNA fingerprinting, and map coloring to water rockets, car crashes, and gram staining.  With over 100 simulations available for classroom use, teachers are able to seamlessly integrate technology into their day to day lessons and units.  These simulations can be used for students in grades 4-12 with the intent that they will be challeknged to use inquiry methods in virtual worlds.  It is also worth noting that the software places students in scenario-based environments where they will be asked to contextualize their prior knoweldge in order to successfully complete the simulation.  Additionally, all of the Stem Simulations are aligned with state and national standards, making lesson and unit planning more efficient for teachers of all grade levels.  Check out the video link below or scan the QR code to see a simulation on bacteria in action!

Video 1:

It is also worth noting that Stem Simulations provides training to individuals and school districts through face-to-face workshops, embedded coaching opportunities, available through bi-weekly or monthly video conferencing for a small group of teachers. Check out this website below to explore all of their training options!

Website Link 1:

Despite the fact that Stem Simulations is currently offering free simulations for individuals and school districts to use during this difficult time, typically there is a fee to use the service after the period of a free trial has expired  According to the pricing listed on the website, a teacher can have full access to the simulations for up to 30 students for $169. 

it is our assessment that STEM SIMS is a worthwhile investment to expand your students’ critical thinking abilities.  Given this opportunity for free access, take advantage of this window of time to access the free simulator and experience STEM and see how beneficial these simulators can be for your students; especially if remote learning is being implemented in your school district. 

Flu Simulation Example 

Students should have the opportunity to experience just how quickly a virus can spread in order to make sure they do their part in terms of stopping the virus, such as COVID-19, from spreading. Follow the steps below in order to experience this simulation!

Step 1:

First, go directly to the website ( and search for the flu simulation in the search bar at the top right of the screen.  Once you have searched for the flu simulation, click on the first simulation at the top. 

Step 2:

The challenge tab will give you and your students a brief overview of what the simulation is about in a way that hooks everyone involved.  Stem also provides a brochure about the simulation that you can download and print for your students.  This particular brochure has a pre-test and a flu symptom matching activity to complete prior to the simulation. 

Step 3:

Toggle to the background tab in order to gather more detailed information about what the flu is and how the prevention of the flu can take place.  This tab is an excellent resource for material that your students should be familiar with prior to working through the simulation. 

Step 4:

Click on the methods tool, and perhaps the most useful!  This page gives you a video to watch on how the simulation works along with a series of seven independent lessons that can extend the simulation into a mini-unit.  Each lesson provides a myriad of materials for you to use before you and your students work through the simulation.

Step 5:

You are finally to the fun part!  The simulation tab is the space where you and your students will explore the simulation and gather the data necessary to understanding how humans can proactively stop the spread of the flu virus.  It is also true that the simulation will produce graphs for you and the students to analyze in terms of factors that can stop the spread of a virus (hand washing, masks, hand sanitizer, and antibiotics) compared to using nothing at all and what that will do to a community. 

Step 6:

Once the simulation is complete and the data has been gathered, the assessment tab offers a series of eight objective, multiple choice questions that your students can submit digitally.  This assessment ensures that the students thoroughly understood the simulation and can apply their knoweldge to real world experiences, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Video 2: Flu Simulation Walkthrough Example

Image 2: Stem Simulations Background Information Tab Example

Final Thoughts

With the current climate of our world, this simulation is the perfect tool for you and your students to explore what the flu is and how the spread can be prevented.  Although the simulation outlined above is more specifically for the common flu, the data gathered can be applied to the COVID-19 outbreak.  The simulation ultimately reveals that using hand sanitizer, antibiotics, masks, hand washing, and quarantine methods can significantly reduce the spread of a flu virus.  Use this simulation for your students to grow in their understanding in terms of how they can keep themselves, their family, and their school communities safe. 

About the Authors  

Edwin P. Christmann is a professor and chairman of the secondary education department and graduate coordinator of the mathematics and science teaching program at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.  Marie Ellis is a graduate student at Slippery Rock University in Slippery Rock, Pennsylvania.

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