Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.
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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.
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.
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*Note that the infographics could not be embedded in NSTA documents because of copyright, but they do allow for individual, educational use.
We recommend using this lesson after a unit that addresses the factors that influence climate. Students should have prior understanding of the following ideas:
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:
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:
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:
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.
Direct students to Figures 1A and 1B in the Mosquitoes Student Reference Sheet and provide a brief overview of the map.
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:
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.
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.
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.
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:
Questions students may have include these:
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:
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.
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?
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.
This lesson is based on information provided in Our Beautiful Planet: Mosquito Menace. Our 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.
NSTA has created a How Could Climate Change Alter the Threat Posed by the World's Deadliest Animal? collection of materials to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library.