|The new classroom tool will teach students how viruses spread|
Photo Courtesy of Virginia Bioinformatics Institute:
Kristy Collins, a K-12 program specialist and Kids’ Tech University director at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, is shown with the Virus Tracker in a Box game, recently implemented with help from Franklin County educators.
Monday, February 24, 2014
By STACEY HAIRSTON - Staff Writer
Researchers at the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech have teamed up with a couple of local teachers to create a new classroom tool that will help students understand how diseases are transmitted over distance and time.
Franklin County High School biology teacher Amy Chattin and Benjamin Franklin Middle School science teacher Melissa Talley were recruited by Kristy Collins, a K-12 program specialist and Kids' Tech University director at the institute, to help with the idea of a virtual virus tracker game for use in middle and high school classrooms.
"We were asked to develop the curriculum around the game idea and to provide a testing venue and ideas to improve the game for students and teachers," said Chattin.
The development and testing process took about three months, resulting in the Virus Tracker in a Box (VTIB) program.
VTIB allows students to use bar-coded wristbands to follow the path of a virus in real-time, from initial infection to school-wide "epidemic." The game allows students to become part of a virus-spreading exercise in which bar-coded wristbands represent infections with a particular virus.
The first person to be infected, "patient zero," can choose how many other people to infect by giving away wristbands.
People receiving the next round of bands choose how many others to infect, and so on, until all the bands are dispersed.
"We tested the game last winter during the FCHS February back-to-school night," said Chattin. "I had some of my AP biology students going all over campus, simulating the spread of a disease by "verbal" contact."
Those who wished to participate then had to return to a central point where students asked them a couple of questions.
"We simulated how fast the 'virus' spread during that two-hour time period, the rate of infection and who most likely was infected," Chattin said. "The kids really enjoyed it."
Each game kit includes a scanner to enter the bar codes into a database that displays the resulting "transmission tree," as well as other statistics about the virtual epidemic.
Each participant can find his or her place in the tree and trace the path backwards to find "patient zero."
The game kits are free and include the software, scanners, barcodes, instruction manual and suggested curriculum materials. The teacher must have access to the internet during the game.
In addition to the game, the VTIB package includes:
•a crash course in biology that show how viruses can take over genetic codes, potentially changing DNA;
•an exercise allowing students to create their own models of viruses; and
•an exercise on epidemiology and the retrovirus HIV.
The game incorporates technology into curriculum and allows students to "develop questions and scenarios much like epidemiologists do for the Centers for Disease Control or the health department," Chattin said.
"The use of graphs and statistical analysis really illustrates to students how science works," she added.
Teachers can acquire VTIB via an online form at the VTIB website at vtib.vbi.vt.edu. The materials, along with a tailored curriculum packet, will be shipped as they become available.
"The opportunity for our students and staff to participate in nationally recognized research studies enhances the educational experience for everyone," said Keith Pennington, director of curriculum and instruction for Franklin County schools. "Our relationship with Virginia Tech is very strong. We value the research they are doing and welcome the opportunity to contribute to potentially world-changing discoveries."
"This type of opportunity is not something we can simulate for our students," Pennington added. "Real world research opportunities can now be part of the curriculum."