Pandem-Sim: Saving the World with Biology

Project Website


The Center for Educational Technologies (CET) at Wheeling Jesuit University proposes to create an educational simulation called Pandem-Sim during which classrooms of high school students act as CDC and NIH teams to investigate possible epidemics including a mysterious new H5N1-derived flu strain that has adapted to infect humans. Student pathology teams order tests of (virtual) tissues and blood from patients to characterize this strain and to determine the type of antiviral vaccination that needs to be produced. Epidemic Intelligence Service field teams interview patients searching for Patient Zero and investigate the disease trajectory. Other public health teams prepare flu emergency bulletins to inform the public how to minimize the risk of becoming infected and passing it to others. Students issue Flu Emergency Alerts to advise governments on possible travel and other restrictions. This sim takes place during a live 90-minute videoconference led by a CET educator the Chief Epidemiologist who provides guidance and requests analyses from students. The live simulation culminates a three-week curriculum supplement that expands upon the National Science Education Standards and the emerging Common Core Science Standards to provide enhanced infectious disease content and associated biologic concepts for classrooms of students in grades 9 to 12. The project goals are to (1) improve science education (2) increase science literacy (3) promote career awareness especially among underrepresented and underserved youth (4) investigate if Pandem-Sim and an iPad app cause gains in relevant awareness knowledge and career interest and (5) to be widely used. Existing infectious disease material from prior NIH SEPA and CDC programs will be incorporated into the curriculum and new activities such as problem-based learning and career components will be developed. For the growing number of schools using iPads we will create enhanced activities that take advantage of iPad affordances to make interactions more lively and realistic. As examples students will use Google Maps to track the occurrences of flu cases view videos of patient interviews match images of microscope slides of new flu tissue samples with known flu strains run stochastic models of epidemic spread and complete auto-corrected embedded self-tests to allow students to track their own understanding. For schools not using iPads a website will provide most of these activities. Professional development will be offered by video-conferences and online resources to prepare teachers to understand the content as well as the iPad and live sim tools. Pandem-Sim’s Advisory Board includes three epidemiology medical specialists and an experienced teacher. The evaluation will involve 3000 students in 120 classrooms in multiple states. The CET conducts nearly 800 live sims a year which many teachers and districts build into their teaching strategies to meet 21st century learning goals. Because schools pay for each live sim Pandem-Sim will be sustained beyond the period of grant funding.