Barbara Ryan - Fighting infection

About a year before developing the fighting infection collection of resources, I was asked if I’d like to watch a scientist teach a series of lessons (over about 6 weeks) on the immune system to a year 5/6 class in a Waikato school. Although I have a background in primary teaching and am well aware of the capabilities of young students, I was still amazed at what these students learned and were able to freely converse about – using scientific terminology.

Dr Liz Carpenter cleverly introduced these 9 and 10 year-olds to concepts around immunology, and I knew I wanted to develop these ideas into a collection of resources that could be shared with many teachers, especially primary – though it’s also useful for secondary, and the science ideas will be familiar to science teachers.

Liz was more than happy for me to use her ideas, and it ended up that she developed some of the student activities. Liz has some great ideas for teaching about cells, and her PowerPoint slideshow on immune cells using a castle analogy was well received by the younger students. Liz also created and added a card game on immune response.

The classroom teacher, Tracey Hopkins, followed up Liz’s lessons with drama and literacy activities to consolidate the learning. Some of this work features in the activity, Drama with microbes.

New Zealand research

It didn’t take long to track down immunologists at the Malaghan Institute of Medical Research to find out about the latest research in immunology. Scientists at the Institute are focused on finding cures for diseases, including the infectious diseases featured in our resources. They do this through harnessing the immune system – the body’s own natural defence against disease. Research articles in this context showcase work carried out by Professor Graham Le Gros, Dr Joanna Kirman, Dr Bridget Stocker and Dr Mattie Timmer. Find out what hookworms have to do with our immune system and asthma! Are New Zealand children vitamin D deficient? Have you heard of scientists making molecules – to spur our immune systems into action?

Teaching the science ideas and concepts

It’s never easy for primary teachers without science backgrounds to teach science ideas and concepts that are new to them. I’m hoping that, through our articles and some of Liz’s teaching ideas, some of the ideas around immunology (the immune system and its response) will become clear.

Some of the science in the context includes ideas and concepts around cells, microorganisms, the body’s first and second line of defence (immune system), infection, and vaccines and therapies.

Liz began her teaching (in the year 5/6 classroom) by introducing cells. She used the analogy of a school to help students understand what a cell is and how it functions. After cells, she introduced immune cells – an exciting bunch of cells that do amazing things. For this, she used the analogy of a castle (as the immune system) using a PowerPoint slideshow to explain the ideas (see the student activity The wars within). Students were introduced to microorganisms at this point too – to understand the enemy (and that many microorganisms are in fact harmless or even beneficial). Liz also talked about infection and the class carried out a practical experiment to show how diseases are easily spread (see the activity Spreading diseases).

In addition to these ideas and activities, I have included science ideas and concepts on vaccines and therapies and a student activity (Ethical dilemmas) encouraging discussion around ethical issues. There is also a student activity related to the research (Exploring medical research), a fun activity on making snot and a look at rongoā – a Māori approach to fighting infection.

    Published 9 November 2010