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How Does Temperature Affect the Rate at Which People Become Infected With Mosquito-Borne Diseases?

Climate Change Disciplinary Core Ideas Is Lesson Plan Life Science NGSS Phenomena Science and Engineering Practices Three-Dimensional Learning Middle School Grades 6-8

Sensemaking Checklist

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What Is Sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates that students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.

Summary

Middle school students investigate human impacts on Earth systems to answer this driving question: How does temperature affect the rate at which people become infected with mosquito-borne diseases? Students are introduced to the connection between the rate of infection of mosquito-borne diseases and air temperature in the Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito Menace film. Students generate questions and use model data as evidence to construct an explanation of how increases in global temperature could shift infection rates of mosquito-borne diseases. Using their explanation and information provided in the film, students consider the effect of this shift on humans. 

View the How does temperature affect the rate at which people become infected with mosquito-borne diseases? NGSS Table to see the elements of the three dimensions targeted in this lesson.

Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito Menace

Materials and Teacher Preparation

Materials
Teacher Materials

*Note that the infographics could not be embedded in NSTA documents because of copyright, but they do allow for individual, educational use.

Student Materials

Teacher Preparation
We recommend using this lesson after a unit that addresses the factors that influence climate. Students should have prior understanding of the following ideas:

  • ESS2.D—Weather and Climate;
  • Weather and climate are influenced by interactions involving sunlight, the ocean, the atmosphere, ice, landforms, and living things. These interactions vary with latitude, altitude, and local and regional geography, all of which can affect oceanic and atmospheric flow patterns. (MS-ESS2-6); and
  • Regions closer to the equator have more warm months because the sun strikes at a similar angle throughout the year.

Experience the Phenomenon

Ask students to consider which animal is the deadliest animal on Earth. Direct students to discuss their ideas with a partner. After a few minutes, ask students to share their ideas with the whole class. 

Students = Generate ideas with a partner about the world's deadliest animal. 

Teacher = Walk around the room to listen to student conversations to gain insight on student ideas and background knowledge.

As students discuss the animals they chose, encourage them to share why they think their animal is the most deadly. Record student ideas to facilitate the discussion and validate their ideas. Students' answers will vary, and disagreement will be likely. 

After some discussion, direct students’ attention to the World’s Deadliest Animals infographic from GatesNotes (https://www.gatesnotes.com/health/most-lethal-animal-mosquito-week), and give them one or two minutes to gather the information presented. (Note: Students are viewing the infographic only, not reading the accompanying article.)

Next, ask pairs or small groups to discuss the following questions:

  • Did any of the animals on the list surprise you? Why?
  • What questions do you have about the information provided on the infographic?

Students = Discuss the information presented on the infographic, using the teacher-provided prompts to guide the conversation.

Teacher = Walk around the room to gain insight into student thinking. 

Bring students back together to facilitate a whole-group discussion. Ask them if they were surprised by any of the information on the infographic. After groups have shared, direct students’ attention back to the world’s deadliest animal: mosquitoes. Invite students to share their questions or group members’ questions about mosquitoes. 

Common questions about mosquitoes could include these:

  • How can mosquitoes kill so many people?
  • Can’t people protect themselves from mosquitoes by using repellant?
  • Where does this happen? 
  • Do West Nile virus and Zika virus kill thousands of people?
  • Do all mosquitoes carry disease? 

Record students’ questions. Post the list in a space that all students in the room can easily see. The questions will be referenced later in the lesson.

Additional Guidance 1—Students may be surprised that mosquitoes are animals. Consider taking additional time during the discussion to review characteristics of animals and plants to allow students to reason that mosquitoes, and all insects, are part of the animal kingdom. 

Additional Guidance 2—If students need more information about mosquitoes, they can consult Mosquitoes in the United States, a resource from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (https://www.cdc.gov/mosquitoes/about/mosquitoes-in-the-us.html)

Point out that many of the students’ questions are about how mosquitoes can kill people. Tell students that they will watch a short clip from a film that will help them answer some of those questions. Play the introduction to the film, Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito Menace (from the beginning to 0:38). 

After viewing the clip, ask for volunteers to summarize the information from the film about why mosquitoes are so deadly. 

Expected Student Response—Mosquitoes infect people with diseases such as Malaria and Zika virus.

Next, ask students to consider a statement from the scientist in the film: “The rate at which people become infected with these mosquito-borne diseases depends really strongly on temperature.”

Ask students if this statement or anything else from the film raises any questions to add to the class list. New questions may include these:

  • Do mosquitoes only live in places where the temperature is just right? 
  • Are there different kinds of mosquitoes?
  • Can all mosquitoes carry disease?
  • Can it ever be too hot for mosquitoes to live?
  • What does climate change have to do with mosquitoes?
  • Can mosquitoes survive in the winter (when it gets really cold out)? 
  • What does climate change have to do with mosquitoes?
  • Could climate change make mosquitoes more deadly?

Acknowledge students' questions by adding them to the class list. Tell students that they will begin investigating these questions by looking at a map that shows where two mosquito species are currently able to spread disease.

Investigate the Phenomenon

Direct students to Figures 1A and 1B in the Mosquitoes Student Reference Sheet and provide a brief overview of the map. 

  • Each map shows one species of mosquito (Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus).
  • The colors represent the number of months mosquitoes in that location can possibly transmit diseases to humans.

Ask students to discuss patterns that they notice with a partner. Ask them to focus on the United States and South America and to consider how temperature might be connected to the mosquito distributions.

Students might notice the following:

  • For both mosquitoes, the northernmost parts of the United States are gray and dark blue (0–3 months of transmission)
  • For both mosquitoes, the middle of the United States is blue (1–5 months of transmission).
  • For both mosquitoes, Florida has some yellow (6–7 months of transmission) and red (8–12 months of transmission).
  • Areas that have more cold months (such as Maine) have fewer months of transmission than areas with fewer cold months (such as Florida).
  • For both mosquitoes, South America has more red areas (8–12 months of transmission) than the United States does.
  • The red areas in both the United States and South America are closer to the equator than the blue areas. Areas closer to the equator have more warm months.

Ask students to return to the statement from the film (see below) and write an initial explanation using evidence from Figures 1A and 1B. 
 
“The rate at which people become infected with these mosquito-borne diseases depends really strongly on temperature.”
 
Expected Student Response—Answers will vary, and students do not need to have a complete understanding at this time. Students should note this pattern: Areas that have more warm months also have more months when mosquitoes can transmit disease.

Ask for volunteers to share their explanations. Point out that several students mentioned the connection between temperature and how deadly the mosquitoes are (how many months they can transmit disease). 
 
Tell students that now they will consider how rising global temperatures due to climate change could affect how deadly the mosquitoes are. Project the What Are the RCPs? infographic. Give students a few minutes alone, then with a partner, to notice which pathway is closest to our current greenhouse gas emissions and the effect this will have on temperature. Ask for volunteers to share with the class.

  • RCPs are a prediction of the concentration of greenhouse gases in the air.
  • Students should note that the infographic states that current emissions are tracking close to the RCP8.5 pathway.
  • The RCP8.5 pathway predicts an average increase of global temperature of 3.7 °C (relative to 1986–2005).
  • This is a larger increase than any of the other RCPs.
  • 3.7 may not seem like a big increase, but a 2 °C increase in temperature is recognized by climate scientists as the threshold at which climate change becomes dangerous.

Ask students to think about how a 3.7 °C increase in average global temperature could affect the number of months a mosquito could transmit disease in different areas. Tell students to work with a partner to develop a prediction based on the evidence they have evaluated so far. 
 
Students might share the following predictions. Validate and record all ideas in a common space.

  • The increase in temperature will make mosquitoes more deadly. There will be more places where mosquitoes can transmit diseases for several months of the year.
  • Climate change will make mosquitoes more deadly in some places, but not in others. 
  • Not sure; need more information about the temperatures at which each species of mosquito can survive and transmit disease.

Tell students that scientists have developed mosquito prediction models. These models are based on a computer simulation that uses current data to figure out what may happen in the future. 

Direct students to Figure 2B in the Mosquitoes Student Reference Sheet, and provide a brief overview. You could also project an animated version of the maps found in the NPR chart Where Disease-Carrying Mosquitoes Will Go in the Future.

  • The top map shows the current months of possible disease transmission for Ae. aegypti and Ae. albopictus.
  • The middle map shows a prediction of months of possible disease transmission in 2050 for RCP8.5.
  • The bottom map is a prediction of months of possible disease transmission in 2080 for RCP8.5

Ask students to discuss patterns that they notice with a partner. Ask them to focus on the United States and South America and to consider how climate change and temperature might affect the mosquito distributions. Ask them to also record questions they have about the maps.

Students might notice the following:

  • For both species, more of the United States becomes blue over time. Some areas that currently have 0 months of disease transmission are predicted to have between 1–3 months of transmission in the future. 
  • Students might make a connection to temperature. The temperature is predicted to increase. Places that might have been too cold before might be warmer, and therefore increase the number of places the mosquitoes spread disease in the future.
  • For both species, the amount of red in South America decreases over time. The mosquitoes transmit diseases for fewer months and therefore become less deadly.
  • A difference exists in how much the red in South America decreases in the two species. Ae. aegypti gets slightly more red in 2050 and less red in 2080. Ae. albopictus is dramatically less red in 2050 and has barely any red at all in 2080. Maybe the two species have different temperatures that they prefer.

Questions students may have include these:

  • Why do mosquitoes become more deadly (able to spread disease for more months) in parts of the United States and less deadly in parts of South America over time?
  • Is there a temperature that is too hot for mosquitoes? Is it the same temperature for all species?
  • Will mosquitoes be more or less deadly in the future? Does it depend on where you live?

Tell students that the film Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito Menace discusses work that scientists are doing to determine how climate change will affect the threat posed by the world’s deadliest animal: mosquitoes. Show the film.

Students = Write down information that might answer their questions and help explain why mosquitoes may become more or less deadly in different areas over time. 

Teacher = After the film has ended, move around the room and encourage students to record any new questions that arise from listening to what their partner said. 

Listen for students who point out the following ideas:

  • Each mosquito species has a specific range of temperatures in which they can survive and transmit disease. This range has both a minimum temperature and a maximum temperature. 
  • Some areas that were too cold for mosquitoes to spread disease might become the right temperature for mosquitoes to spread disease for more months out of the year because of climate change. That is why we see the increase in blue areas in the northern part of the United States over time.
  • Some areas that are currently the right temperature might become too hot for mosquitoes to spread disease for many months because of climate change. That is why we see the decrease in red areas in South America over time. 

What Did We Figure Out? (Making Sense)

Now that students know more about mosquitoes and the diseases they can carry, return to one of the questions raised earlier, “How could climate change alter the threat posed by the world’s deadliest animal (mosquitoes)?” Ask students to consider how the shift in the geographic distribution of mosquito populations could affect the number of people infected with mosquito-borne diseases. 

Ask students to work individually or in groups to explain the relationship among climate change, the shift in mosquito populations, and the populations’ ability to spread disease. Tell students they will need to use evidence from the film and prediction models to support their explanation. Encourage them to include scientific reasoning that links their evidence to the explanation.  

Sample Student Response
Each mosquito species has a specific temperature range in which it can survive and spread disease. Currently, the places on Earth that have the most months when temperatures fall within those ranges are located near the equator. 


As the temperature of Earth increases, the number of months that mosquitoes can spread disease north of the equator will increase. This can be seen in the maps in both 2050 and 2080. The northern parts of the United States, Europe, and Asia currently have zero or 1 month during the year when mosquitoes can spread disease, but the number of months is predicted to increase in 2050 and 2080 because of temperature increases.
 

A shift is also occurring in parts of South America and Africa that are close to the equator. You can see in the map that as the temperature increases, some of the areas that were red are no longer red. I think this means that those places will get too hot for the mosquitoes, and less disease will be spread. It seems like climate change will make mosquitoes more deadly in some places and less deadly in others.
 

S = Work individually or in small groups to use evidence from the data sets to develop an explanation of the cause-and-effect relationship between climate change and the geographic distribution of different mosquito populations.

T = Walk around the classroom to monitor students as they develop their explanations. As students work, encourage them to include several pieces of evidence in their explanation. Remind students to include reasoning that links the evidence to their claim.

Unanswered Questions

To wrap up the lesson, ask students if they have ideas about how we might be able to stop or slow down the shift in the geographic distribution of the mosquito populations. Give students some time to discuss their ideas in small groups before engaging them in a whole-group discussion about their ideas. Students' ideas here will vary, but will likely include ideas about stopping the temperature from increasing by reducing the effects of climate change. Use these questions and ideas to motivate the next Our Beautiful Planet lesson, such as How can growing seaweed help mussels?

Dr. Erin Mordecai

Meet Erin Mordecai

Erin Mordecai is an associate professor in Biology at Stanford University, where her research focuses on environmental drivers of infectious disease dynamics and their impacts on hosts. Mordecai’s work integrates empirical data with mathematical models, following two main themes: (i) the impact of the environment on vector-borne disease transmission in humans, and (ii) the impact of pathogens in plants and wildlife. The Mordecai Laboratory at Stanford University focuses on the consequences of environmental change for human and wildlife health. Her team uses diverse research approaches to understand impacts of climate and land use on vector-borne disease, including dengue, chikungunya, Zika, malaria, yellow fever, and leishmaniasis in the Americas, Southeast Asia, and Africa. Capitalizing on and contributing to the vibrant, interdisciplinary, and solutions-oriented research environment at Stanford, Mordecai is a Senior Fellow in the Woods Institute for the Environment, a Leading Interdisciplinary Collaborations (LInC) Fellow, an Ecological Society of America Early Career Fellow, a Faculty Fellow in the Center for Innovation in Global Health and the King Center for Global Development, and a member of Bio-X, an interdisciplinary biosciences institute at Stanford.

About the Our Beautiful Planet Film Series

This lesson is based on information provided in Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito MenaceOur Beautiful Planet is a fascinating new series highlighting the work that climate scientists around the country are doing to solve some of the world’s most pressing issues. These dedicated scientists are seeking to better understand and plan for the realities of our changing climate. Using cutting-edge technology and innovative problem solving, their answers are sometimes found in rather surprising and unexpected places. This series transports the viewer to some of the most important field work being done today, taking the science out of the classroom and into the world. These compelling stories will not only teach viewers crucial scientific principles, but will also inspire them to use science to examine the issues their own communities face in this changing world and climate. Through these films, the producers hope scientists and citizens alike can come together to safeguard our environment and to protect our beautiful planet. Productions by Kikim Media. Support provided by Kennebunkport Climate Initiative.

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