Teaching Through Trade Books
In light of the coronavirus pandemic, it is likely that children have many questions associated with COVID-19. While the news stations are reporting current events, it is possible to help students understand this and other diseases as they relate to their daily lives. The youngest students are asked to consider ways that germs are spread and what actions they can take to help reduce the spread of a virus. Older students dive into the idea that microbes are present everywhere and that some microbes may be harmful to our health. I also share recommendations specifically associated with stopping the spread of COVID-19 to help students understand the basis behind the recommendations.
Sick Simon has a cold but decides he is going to go to school anyway. In his travels through the week, he sneezes and coughs on everything and everyone. After germs name him their hero, he learns about ways to prevent spreading them further.
This book explains what a microbe is and where they are found, which includes everywhere on Earth. These tiny creatures do a variety of different things—both good and bad. While some microbes cause illnesses, others are necessary parts of natural processes on Earth that help us live.
Students use a model to observe what happens as a disease is transmitted through a healthy population and how they can help stop the spread of a disease.
Engage the students by asking them to brainstorm all of the ways that they have been asked to stay healthy in the last few months and also when they may have had a cold or flu. Encourage students to describe their experiences and provide a supportive environment for doing so. Show them the cover of the book Sick Simon and ask them to make observations about both Simon, the one with mucus dripping from his nose, and the other children in the picture. Also, ask them what might be hiding behind the different letters on the cover (germs). After they make observations, engage them in a brief discussion about why the other students may be reacting the way they are and running away from Sick Simon. Read the story to the students and discuss the following pages:
There are multiple different options to help explore the idea of spreading germs for this age level. Do each as a full class activity and help to scaffold student learning.
Exploration #1: To assist in illustrating how one person who is sick can infect others and how diseases spread through a population, there are many different COVID-19 modeling apps available. The Spread of Disease Simulation (see Internet Resources) allows the teacher to run the entire simulation automatically or to do so in a step-by-step format allowing students to discuss what is happening after each trial. Ask students to use their Stop the Spread Student Data Sheet (see NSTA Connections) to record the information they obtain from the simulation in order to allow for tracking. Discuss that different colors of the faces (Figure 1; orange is someone who could catch the disease; green is someone who caught it or is infected; and blue is someone who recovered from the disease). Students do not need to worry about tracking blue faces.
Ask the students to help you count the number of “sick or infected” people and record that number. Move the bar for speed all the way to the right. Using the option for Step Simulation, click it once and ask the students to make observations about what happened, record the number for each type of dot (healthy or sick) and also to make observations about where the newly infected dots are located. Repeat this action 10–12 times as the students track the number of faces. Once students see that as people move around and that an infected person needs to come in contact with a healthy person to infect them, complete the simulation by clicking through until you begin to see recovered people. Discuss with the students what they notice about the people who have recovered from the disease (it happens slower and there is no need to be near someone as it is an individual recovery. In other words, you can’t catch being recovered.). Continue to click through steps of the simulations until you notice the reemergence of infected people.
Exploration #2: Helping students connect the idea that touching things is one way to spread germs like Simon found out in the story, ask them what might happen if the people who knew they were sick washed their hands more often? Have them participate in a simulation related to washing germs from their hands. Safety note: Remind students that while they are doing this activity (and in general during the pandemic) to not touch their face or eyes. Place newspaper down on the floor and tables. Hang up the What Happens to Germs When chart (see NSTA Connection) for each table or group of students that shows the five different trials that will be done—dry paint, hands with only water, hands with soap and water, wet hands after washing, and finally washed and dried hands. Ask students to hold their hands out and place a small amount of dry tempera paint in the center of each hand. Ask them to rub their hands together and observe what happens. Ask them to then touch the chart in the proper place by placing their hand flat against it. Have students then try and rinse the powder off of their hands with only water and repeat the trial of placing their hand in the correct spot on the paper. Repeat this process by allowing students to use soap to try and wash it off, washing their hands but not drying the hands, and finally washed and dried hands. After trying all ways, ask the students to discuss their observations and connect it to why we need to use soap and water to wash our hands and then also dry them.
Exploration #3: The first two explorations focused on how diseases are transmitted and how washing your hands can help prevent the spread of germs, the last exploration allows an opportunity for students to use sensemaking to connect the first two. First share the Journey of a Germ Video (see Internet Resources) and engage the students in a discussion about how this story is similar to the book Sick Simon. At the end of the story, it shares that the girl washed her hands and that the germ wasn’t spread any further. Pose the question “Do you think it matters how we wash our hands?” to the students and ask them to connect it to the second exploration activity. Then share the Scrub Club Video (see Internet Resources). Ask the students to connect the four characters to the hand washing activity and consider how the action helps.
Teacher Note: While the story gives the impression that immediately after Simon kissed his family, his parents and sister were infected (and his dog), it is important to discuss with the students that they do not really show signs of being infected or catching the germ that quickly.
Ask students to reflect back on the three explorations and engage them in a discussion around the following questions. Tell students that they should use information they gathered from listening to the story, observations they made during the activities, or from the information shared in the video to support their answers.
One thing that occurs during a pandemic is the sharing of information via the news media. Scientists need to communicate the information they have to everyone in a way where it can be understood. Ask students to look at the poster provided titled “Wash Your Hands” (see NSTA Connection) and discuss why they may have seen this poster in bathrooms even before the outbreak of COVID-19. Have the students describe why this poster may be posted and then why washing their hands would help stop the spread of germs. A poster such as this is a simplistic way to communicate important information to others; however, it does not include the reason why it is important. Ask the students to generate a list of ways to prevent spreading the germs that Sick Simon learned in the book. Once a list is generated, ask students to choose one of the ways to prevent spreading germs and develop a poster on the Important Information to Know student sheet (see NSTA Connection) that incorporates a phrase such as “Wash Your Hands” and picture or illustration of what people should do and also a sentence as to WHY it is important to do this. Ask the students to explain their poster to the class. If students are back in school, work with them to develop a letter that could be sent with copies of these posters to the different classes in the school or principal asking them to be posted in prominent places.
This particular activity is connected to the disciplinary core idea related to making decisions that impact the Earth and other living things. At first students are engaged in a discussion about what they may already know about how germs or a disease is transferred from person to person. By using a story that they can relate to, they are then asked to explore how germs are transmitted through a population, strategies for stopping the transmission of germs, and why washing hands with soap and water is necessary. Finally, they are asked to transfer their understanding to the development of a poster that not only explains what they should do but also the reason why.
Share the cover of Tiny Creatures: The World of Microbes with the class. Ask them if they have ever heard of the word microbe. Explain that microbes are organisms too small to be seen with the naked eye. Read the story to the students, stopping to discuss the following pages:
To extend the student’s understanding, add the additional nonfiction supplemental reading titled “What are Microbes? (see NSTA Connection), which connects the idea of microbes specifically to viruses and COVID-19.
Ask the students to first watch the short video titled COVID-19 from the WHO (see Internet Resources) on how we can help prevent the spread of the coronavirus. Hang the Seven Steps to Prevent the Spread of the Virus poster (see NSTA Connection), which highlights the seven ways mentioned in the video for students to refer to as they engage in the explorations. The following explorations help demonstrate why different strategies help to slow the spread of the disease to other people.
Exploration #1: Why should we cover a sneeze or cough? Place a 12-foot length piece of white bulletin board paper on the ground and draw a line at the end to indicate where the students will stand. Ask the students to predict how far the coronavirus that could be in droplets from a sneeze could travel and record with marks on the paper with their name. Explain to them that they are going to simulate a sneeze or cough but not actually do so. Ask them to record on the Stopping the Spread Student Data Sheet (see NSTA Connection) why a spray bottle could represent a sneeze or cough and their prediction. Hand the students a spray bottle that is filled with colored water. Ask them to hold the bottle straight out in front of them and quickly pull the trigger on the bottle twice to represent a sneeze or cough. Allow the mist to settle on the paper. The colored water in the spray will fall to the ground and make small droplet marks on the paper which would represent the distance a sneeze or cough could possibly travel. Ask students to measure the furthest drop. How did their prediction compare with the actual distance? Research is showing that a sneeze or cough might spread droplets anywhere from 6–12 feet. Ask the students which of the strategies that they saw in the video might help prevent droplets from a sneeze or cough from spreading. Students will likely respond with covering your cough with a tissue. Prompt them to connect it to why they should avoid crowded places as well.
Returning to their student data sheet, ask them to record how the use of a tissue or sneezing into your elbow would help and what they think will happen. Repeat this activity with a different spray bottle filled with a different colored water for comparison purposes. On this attempt, have another student hold a tissue in front of the spray bottle to observe what happens. Measure the furthest distance again. Ask the students to return to the sheet and answer the questions associated with why social distancing is important and staying at least six feet away from other people.
Exploration #2: How often do we touch our face? Well, we don’t want to think about that or even encourage it at the moment. Discuss with students the recommendation in the video to wash your hands often and not touch your face. The key point is that one of the reasons to wash your hands often is due to the ability to transfer germs from your hands to your face, nose, or mouth when we touch that area. This particular exploration asks students to consider just how often they touch their face by having them watch a video and count the number of times that someone touches their face. The video is Kids Try 100 Years of Cookies with Cookie Monster (see Internet Resources). Using the video, assign each student one of the characters in the video to watch carefully. Ask them to count the number of times that the child or cookie monster himself touches his face, places his hands near or in their mouth, or moves their hair by keeping a tally sheet. After watching the video, engage the students in a discussion about the number of times either the children or Cookie Monster touched their face and if they think that they knew they were doing it or if it was not something that they were thinking about.
Exploration #3: Why does handwashing help to stop the spread of the virus? Repeat the activity from the K–2 lesson with the tempera paint to help demonstrate why soap and water is important when we wash our hands.
Ask the students to discuss each of the following points and use their evidence from the explorations to support their answers.
After discussing why the recommended steps help to prevent the spread of the virus, pose the question “Do you think we kill all germs on our hands when we wash them?” This extension allows students to recognize that germs on their hands are small and just because they may “look” clean does not mean they are germ-free. Tell the students that because a microbe is too small to be seen with the naked eye, just because hands look clean and free of microbes does not mean they are. In an effort to NOT create an environment where microbes can grow, the students are going to watch a short video titled “See How Quickly Flu Germs Spread in a Classroom” (see Internet Resources). Before playing the video, ask students to brainstorm a list of places that they could spread germs through touch. Allow the students to generate this list collaboratively as a class. Play the video from:33 sec to the end of the clip. The video is a clip of a Good Morning America investigation where some students had GloGerm applied to their hands and without telling others went about the normal day in the classroom and then investigated just where the “germs” ended up. At the end of the clip, ask the students to refer to their list and add to it if there were other locations that they had not thought about. After examining the list, ask them why the discussion of how the flu virus may spread in a classroom is similar to how COVID-19 spreads as well.
Students are asked to demonstrate a deeper understanding about germs being microbes and that they are not visible to the naked eye. As students participate in the explorations, they are connecting the recommendations about preventing the spread of the coronavirus to reasons why the recommendations can help. Finally, students take the understanding of microbes one step further and draw a conclusion about how different soaps help to kill microbes that they cannot see on their hands.
Christine Anne Royce (email@example.com) is a professor at Shippensburg University in Shippensburg, Pennsylvania, and retiring president of NSTA.
K-ESS3 EARTH AND HUMAN ACTIVITY
K-ESS3-3. Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment.
Science and Engineering Practices
Developing and Using Models
Students observe and discuss a disease transmission simulation to determine what happens as more people are infected.
Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information
Students create a poster as a way to inform the public about ways to prevent spreading germs.
Disciplinary Core Idea: ESS3.C Human Impacts on Earth Systems
Things that people do to live comfortably can affect the world around them. But they can make choices that reduce their impacts on the land, water, air, and other living things.
Students describe ways that germs can be stopped from spreading and why each way can help.
Crosscutting Concept: Cause and Effect
Students identify ways that germs are spread when someone is sick
Although there is no specific performance expectation for this activity, students are engaging in the Scientific and Engineering Practices and the Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect.
Science and Engineering Practice
Engaging in Argument from Evidence
Students participate in a series of simulations that examine how to prevent a virus from spreading
Cause and Effect
Students investigate how different strategies prevent the spread and transmission of microbes (germs) to others. Students discuss places that are commonly touched in a classroom that could help spread the flu or a cold.
This section provides the Common Core for English Language Arts standards addressed in this column to allow for cross-curricular planning and integration. The Standards state that students should be able to do the following at grade level.
Reading Standards for Informational Texts K–5 – Key Ideas and Details
Writing Standards K–5 – Research to Build and Present Knowledge
Writing Standards K–5 – Text Types and Purposes
Speaking and Listening Standards K–5 – Presentation of Knowledge and Ideas
Vocabulary Acquisition and Use is one of the standards for language. This particular standard is across grade levels: “Determine or clarify the meaning of unknown and multiple-meaning words and phrases based on grade [appropriate] reading and content.” Furthermore, the Common Core for ELA provide a standard related to the Range of Text Types for K–5 where it indicates that students in K–5 should apply the Reading standards to a wide range of texts to include informational science books.
National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and Council of Chief State School Officers (NGAC and CCSSO). 2010. Common Core State Standards. Washington, DC: NGAC and CCSSO.
NGSS Lead States. 2013. Next generation science standards: For states, by states. Washington, DC: National Academies Press.
Royce C.A. 2011. Disease detectives. Science and Children 48 (6): 18–20.