Lesson Plan for the Human Disease Project

In the spring of 2001, Curtis Schneider was selected as a Master Teacher for NTTI (National Teacher Training Institute) sponsored by KTEH public television. Check out their resources for many more "Internet Ready" lesson plans. He presented the Human Disease Project and wrote this lesson plan with student objectives aligned to the National Science Standards. If you are planning on presenting the HDP in the classroom, you should find this web page useful! Teachers, please feel free to copy and paste any of the information on this website for your classroom use.


Curtis R. Schneider


Curt's Human Disease Website, an Internet Project


Middle School, grades 6 - 9


9 Weeks is optimum, but can be done in less time


Students chose a disease specific to humans. They research their disease topic using carefully selected web resources. Students write a research paper that includes web-based information, an interview, bibliography, human body diagrams and graphs related to disease statistics.



Life Science, Biology, English or Language Arts.


Students will be able to

  1. Identify the factors that cause a particular disease as well as treatments and cures
  2. Conduct research using the Internet and print materials regarding a disease topic
  3. Write an integrated 3 page report regarding the disease topic
  4. Conduct an interview with a person who has specific knowledge of a disease
  5. Integrate anatomy and physiology of the body using artistically pleasing and anatomically correct diagrams
  6. Integrate mathematics concepts by graphing current disease statistics
  7. Create a proper bibliography for t h eir report
  8. Understand how contagious diseases spread rapidly


National Standards:

Life Science

As a result of their doing the Human Disease Project, all students should develop understanding of

  • Structure and function in living systems
  • The human organism has systems for digestion, respiration, reproduction, circulation, excretion, movement, control, and coordination, and for protection from disease. These systems interact with one another.
  • Disease is a breakdown in structures or functions of an organism. Some diseases are the result of intrinsic failures of the system. Others are the result of damage by infection by other organisms

As a result of doing the Human Disease Project, all students should develop understanding of

  • Personal health
  • Students often have the vocabulary for many aspects of health, but they often do not understand the science related to the terminology. Developing a scientific understanding of health is a focus of this standard. Healthy behaviors and other aspects of health education are introduced in other parts of school programs.

State Standards:  The Human Disease Project brings about an understanding of the following State Standards:

Cell Biology

  1. All living organisms are composed of cells, from just one tomany trillions, whose details usually are visible only through a microscope.
    1. Cells function similarly in all living organisms.

Structure and Function in Living Systems

  1. The anatomy and physiology of plants and animals illustrate the complementary nature of structure and function.
    1. Plants and animals have levels of organization for structure and function, including cells, tissues, organs, organ systems, and the whole organism.
    2. Organ systems function because of the contributions of individual organs, tissues and cells.The failu re of any par t can affect the entire system

Investigation and Experimentation

7.  Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations.





1) Curt's Human Disease Website at .  This website utilizes carefully chosen Internet links is the beginning point of student research.  To use this website with your class, it is helpful to have a computer lab or several computers available.  Platform (PC or Mac) is not an issue.


2)  Video:  The Immune System, National Geographic, 1999.





For the Class:  Computer lab or access to computers


Monitor and VCR for the film, The Immune System, National Geographic, 1999.


Student handouts, one per student.


Teacher handout


Envelopes, one for each student in the class

10 small squares of blue and pink paper in each envelope

One special envelope marked on the inside with an ?X?.




Bookmark Curt's Human Disease Website on computers in your computer lab or classroom.


Review all resources on the website.  Make hard copies of all student handouts prior to assigning the project.


Read and review the document for teachers entitled "Teacher Instructions for the Human Disease Project"


For the activity:

Place 10 squares of each color of paper, pink and blue, in envelopes for each person in your class.  Place an "X" on the inside flap of one envelope.  The student that gets this envelope will have a contagious disease.


 Preview the film, The Immune System.  Chose the portions of the film you would like to use.  Get a VCR and TV ready in your classroom for video on the Immune System.


Part I.  G etting to Know Disease

Begin with discussion to ascertain what your students know ahead of time about disease.  Good questions to ask are:

  1. What causes disease?  What are the mechanisms by which diseases spread?
  2. What is the difference between contagious diseases (those you get from others) and non-contagious diseases (like cancer)?  Name several types of each.
  3. Do students know of anyone who has a condition or disease?  What is the disease or condition? Ho w did they get it?  Is there any cure for it or medicine to treat it?


Part II.  How do contagious diseases spread?

  1. Explain to the class that some diseases are spread by contact, such as colds and flu?s for instance.  This activity simulates how diseases can spread.
  2. Pass out an envelope to each student, letting your students know that one person will receive an envelope with a special marking.   That one person is a n infected individual.  No one else begins the activity infected.
  3.  No one should divulge if they are infected or not.  They are to keep it a secret.
  4. The person who gets the specially marked envelope with an "X" on the inside flap is infected.
  5. Students simulate contact with a handshake.   After shaking hands, they pass a square of paper.  Blue paper squar es simulate no infection, and pink squares simulate infection. 
  6. Students pass blue squares until they shake hands with someone who is infected and passes them a pink square.  After receiving a pink square, students must then pass pink squares from that point on.  The infected student passes pink with their first handshake.
  7. After a few minutes have passed, tell students to sit down.  Four handshakes is optimum for a class of 30.
  8. Ask the first infected individual to please stand.
  9. Ask all infected individuals to please stand.
  10. Ask students to hypothesize what would happen if they were allowed to shake hands one more time.
  11.   Discuss how contagious diseases can rapidly spread.  Exponential growth is possible when one person infects one other person, those two persons infect two other persons, those four infect four other persons, etc.
  12.   Contra st contagious diseases and how they spread with non-contagi ous dis eases.  While they don't occur by the same mechanism, they ca n be widespread in the human population.  Heart disease is still the number one killer in the United States.

  Engage students in a conversation about the Human Disease Project.  Get them thinking about which disease they would like to do their report on.





















Part III.  Show video on the immune system.  Make sure to       preview the video first.  Choose a section or section(s) that best illustrate the ways disease spread. 


  1. Cue up the videotape entitled "The Immune System"  Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION by asking them how the first segment of the tape relates to your conversation regarding disease.  Make sure you follow the recommendations for showing video in your classes as illustrated on the "Video Utilization Strategies" handout.  Select segments of the video that supports your lesson.  Stop the video where necessary for conversation.  Keep the lights on in the room.  Concentrate on pertinent vocabulary terms and their meaning.  You can get a lot of mileage out of this short video presentation.

Cue to beginning of video

FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION:  What parts of the environment contain microorganisms that can cause disease?


FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION:   How is a newborn baby prepared to fight disease right when it is born?



FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION:  What does the skin do and how does it protect us?



FOCUS FOR MEIDA INTERACTION:  After listening to th e next section, write an operational definition for phagocyte and macrophage.


FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION:  Describe what happens when a splinter punctures your skin?  How is your immune system mobilized?



It would be very appropriate to play this section of the video twice.  This section Is quite complicated.

FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION:  What Is a virus?  Why are viruses not considered alive?









Part IV. Teachers should fully read the document "How To Teach the Human Disease Project".  It is a step-by-step, week-by-week breakdown for teaching this project.


Student handouts and signing up for diseases

  1. Pass out the Student Grade Option Form if you decide to use it.  Explain the three levels of involvement.  For a "C" grade, students do a three-page report and no oral report or interview.  For a "B" grade, students add either the oral or the interview.  For an "A" grade, students add both the oral and the interview.  Make sure you get these back signed by parents.
  2. Pass out and review the entire Human Disease Project Student Handout.  This explains all of the parts of the project.   Share this information with students.

Part V.  Using the website

  1. Review ahead of time all of the important guidelines for using the Internet.  See Guidel ines handout.
  2. Take the students to the computer lab and log on to Curt?s Human Disease Website at
  3. Discuss how the website is structured and how to use it.  Show students how to get to their part of the website.  If there is no web page for the disease a student has chosen, direct them to an appropriate search engine such as Google (http://www.google.com)
  4.  Allow students to take notes on the information they find.  Always record the name of the website for the bibliography.



Part VI.  Help students understand all of the parts of the project and when each part is due.  They will need a considerable amount of help to be successful.  It may be helpful to have parts of the project turned in as ?rough drafts?.  This helps keep kids on track and informs the teacher who may need extra help.











Students produce and hand in a multi p age report on the disease topic of their choice.


The main event:  Oral reports.  Help students organize a 3 to 5 minute oral presentation.   Encourage students to make video taped presentations of their oral reports, using charts and graphs or other realia during their presentations.  Students may wish to present a short skit or play with one student playing the part of a doctor.  Encourage variation and creativity for students imparting their disease knowledge to the class.  Skits can also be presented on video.


English/Language Arts:  Have your English/Language Arts teacher show students how to write a proper bibliography.  Consult "Citing Internet Resources" on Curt's Human Disease website.

Art:  The art instructor can help with realistic illustrations of the human body. 

Math:  Math teachers can review statistics and graphing.  All reports include a hand done bar, pie or line graph.

Social Studies:  Disease has played a major role in demographics.  Case in po int is the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages.  Encourage social studies teachers to develop a lesson on the role and importance of disease throughout history.



Interviews:  A major part of the Human Disease Project is interviewing a member of the community or family regarding the disease topic the student is doing their report on.  Make sure students understand they do not need to interview people that have the disease.  Encourage interviews with health care profession als (doctors, nurses, information providers at health organizations, family members , etc)  Interviews can be done over the Internet by email, by mail, over the phone or in person.


Guest Speakers:  I offer 50 extra credit points for any student that can procure a guest speaker for their classmates.  You will be amazed at the fascinating variety of speakers you will get.  This takes up a lot of time, but it is truly worth it. 



Student Handout for the Human Disease Project which contains all of the directions for students to successfully complete the Project< o:p>


"How To Conduct An Interview"


"Student Option Form"


Copyright Curtis R. Schneider, 2007. All rights reserved.