The Covid Classroom: Getting the Message Out

By Chrissy Dilley, High School Science Teacher and Curriculum Coordinator

When I first designed the Advanced Topics in Biology course four years ago I knew I wanted to create something that helped students see the connections between the topics in a textbook and the world of learned and lived science around them. This first began with a deep dive into the ethical, ecological and evolutionary impacts of CRISPR. That summer you could not open the New York Times without seeing a CRISPR-related headline. Students created a mock town hall to educate their peers about this new BioTechnology and wrote mock research proposals read by alums and parents who work in the medical and genetics fields.

Fast forward to 2020. Nary a moment went by that SARS CoV-2, aka the Coronavirus, did not creep into our minds. As aspects of public health became politicized, the public was asked to call upon their own understanding of science to determine what was safe, how the preventative measures protected us and how the vaccine could protect them and others. Never has a teachable moment presented itself so clearly.

This course has been teaching about bacterial infections and antibiotic resistance for a few years.  This year we needed to include viruses and more about our immune systems for students to be able to decipher the messages they were receiving about preventative behaviors and to learn about how the body responds not only to the illness but also to the vaccine. Grounding the science in their world has been a priority of this class from day one, so I asked students to complete a K/W/L chart on the first day of this unit. A K/W/L chart is a space for students to identify what they Know going into a unit or lesson, what they Want to know and to then later reflect on what they learned after a reading or discussion. We spent almost an hour just collecting and sorting through what we knew, or thought we knew and what more we still needed to understand. An eagerness to learn developed and students came to the following class sharing research they had done to try to address some of our questions. It became clear to them that understanding what was happening in the body during an infection was important and they again called upon their own experiences with infections, including Covid-19, to unpack the biochemistry involved in a systemic immune response.  

As we decided on topics to explore one thing became obvious, other people needed to know what we knew. Nearly everyone had a story to share about a neighbor, the kids they babysit, their grandparents, not knowing why to wear a mask or the importance of soap and long handwashing.  But the biggest news was around the vaccine. Headlines about the vaccine RNA incorporating itself into people’s genomes were based on a full misunderstanding of the science. So an outreach project was developed to allow students to identify a target audience and the messages or education this group would need to make an educated health decision.  


by Evelyn W. ’21

A coloring book for our youngest learners was produced, following Cleo the Covid Cat. Cleo learned about the importance of mask wearing, asymptomatic spreading and even covid variants!

Brochures were made for travel safety, proper hand washing, hotel expectations and for retirement communities highlighted the importance of getting vaccinated to our oldest community members.
by Isabella P. ’21

Podcasts and PSA commercials aimed at parents and  teens used humor and experts to espouse the importance of sticking to the “ rules” to keep those around us safe.

The cycle of creating a thirst for knowledge is at the heart of this course and it is why I love teaching it. Science by nature is a discipline that asks questions and searches for answers. The questions we ask keep changing and so does this course. But I hope that I do not need to facilitate the learning of another pandemic before I retire.