Monday, March 7, 2011

Germs: Creating an Understanding to Build Healthier Schools

“Hand washing is the single most important thing you can do to prevent the spread of germs and to stay healthy.”
~NEA Health Information Network

Germs seem to spread in a classroom like wildfire. Once on student gets sick, it’s only a matter of time before there are more and more empty desks in the class and the pile of make-up work to hand out and grade is on the verge of toppling over. As a teacher trying to avoid these germs, it is worth your time to help your students learn about simple ways to stay healthy. According to a pediatrician I talked to today, flu season is hitting a little late this year, so now is the ideal time to teach kids about staying healthy. Washing your hands is a basic skill that is often thought of as a skill that students should bring with them from home. Everyone knows how and why we wash our hands, right? Not always. Students and teachers who understand how germs are spread and how washing hands can prevent this spread are much more likely to take the time to wash their hands throughout the day.

Joann’s Picks this week include lessons and activities to teach students about germs, microbes, and bacteria. Throughout the week, our Facebook and Twitter pages will also be featuring daily ideas for implementing the study of germs into your class. If you don’t already follow us on one of our social networking sites, I recommend that you do, so you won’t miss out on any of the great ideas we highlight every day.

I read an NEA forum where teachers were sharing simple ideas they had used in the classroom to teach their students about germs, and I thought a couple of them were really neat. These activities would be a wonderful addition to some of the lessons Joann suggested in her column this week as well as the many other resources you can find when you search The Gateway. Both of these activities will help students see how easily germs are transferred from an affected person’s hands to all the surfaces they touch throughout the day. They are simple enough to use with classrooms as young as kindergarten and would work well as a visual introduction all the way up through a high school health class.

Activity 1: Who’s Sick?
Supplies: 1 baggie with 2 tablespoons of flour per student, 1 teaspoon of baking soda (to “infect” one plastic baggie) , plastic spoons (at least 1 per 2 students), vinegar

Sometimes people can be carrying germs before they even feel sick. You can infect the people around you with a cold or the flu without even feeling sick yourself. To demonstrate this, pass out a baggie with 2 tablespoons of flour to each student. (Before you pass them out, add 1 teaspoon of baking soda to one of the bags and mix well.) Don’t tell the students what is in the bags, but tell them one of the bags has pretend “flu germs” in it. Instruct each student to find a partner. They will give that partner a plastic spoonful of their powder. Their partner will mix up the powder in their bag and give their partner a spoonful of the powder back. The students will pair up at least four times following the same procedure. To see how many of the students have the “flu germs” in their bags now, add a little vinegar to each bag. If their bag has baking soda (or “flu germs”), it will react to the vinegar and bubble. You can discuss how germs are spread, how many people ended up with the germs at the end of the activity, and how they could have prevented spreading the germs. Depending on the math skills of your students, you might decide to use the activity for computing percentages and proportions as well.

Activity 2: Glitter Germs

Germs can easily spread from one person to another, especially in a small space like a classroom. You might be surprised by some of the places they end up!

Ask for 3 volunteers to have pretend “germs” on their hands. Put glitter on these three students’ hands. (Remember: a little glitter goes a long way!) The 3 volunteers will then shake hands with 2 people each. Class can then run normally for a while. Soon, you will see traces of glitter on all different surfaces of your classroom and the students’ clothes and bodies. There are “glitter germs” everywhere! After you notice plenty of glitter transfer, you can begin a discussion about the movement of these germs and why it is important for us to wash our hands.

In your discussions, the question may come up of which places are the “germiest” at school. You can use this article and online diagram in “Where Germs Lurk” from the NEA Today Magazine to help them understand. This is also a great starter for students to do some research of their own (either online or library research or maybe even a scientific collection for older students.) Can there really be more bacteria on a school cafeteria tray than on a school toilet seat? Will I ever be able to drink out of a water fountain again? Yuck!

A good discussion starter about germs and washing hands is a music video from Sid The Science Kid called “Journey of the Germ.” It’s a really good visual representation of how a germ travels from person to person. “Just Wash Your Hands” is a song and music video from Bill Nye The Science Guy. It’s a catchy tune that might be best for the primary grades, but older students might get a kick out of it too. I know Weird Al did a parody about germs, too. You can find plenty of other fun examples if you search YouTube.

On the subject of YouTube, many of you have said that YouTube is blocked at your schools, making it unavailable as a tool for sharing educational videos with your students. You can find lots of great videos on TeacherTube, too, but this site may be blocked in many schools as well. A wonderful kindergarten teacher I know suggested downloading this browser extension that lets you easily download YouTube videos to your computer from home so you can use them in class, even if YouTube is blocked. He tested it with both Windows and Macintosh, and it seems promising.

If you are trying to implement some type of germ education in other disciplines, there are plenty of things you can do. In English and social studies, students could write poems, persuasive letters, or research papers about germs or the spread of a particular illness in history. Older students could create a presentation, video, song, or brochure to teach younger students about the importance of washing your hands. In math, students could look up figures and statistics about germs and bacteria and use these to calculate percentages, probabilities, and more. There are probably many other ways you can bring this topic into what you are currently studying so that you can continue to keep your classroom a healthy environment to you and your students.

Good luck getting the word out about staying healthy and preventing the spread of germs. I hope you and your students stay healthy through the flu season. Don’t forget to wash your hands!

~Peggy's Corner - 3/3/2011~

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