Immersed in the the world of outbreak response

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Brilliant students, top-notch mentors, and a fascinating subject matter. This project had it all!

The task? Design a lesson that familiarizes high school students with public health emergency preparedness and response.

As a former emergency planner, I have a real soft spot for this field. So much can be learned from the exercise design cycle: have a plan, test the plan, decide how it went, make changes, repeat. Allowing the students to design their own exercises was a natural way for this Honors Medical Interventions class to immerse themselves in the drama of a widespread infectious disease outbreak.

 Throughout this lesson, which spanned three months, students identified the roles and responsibilities of key players in a coordinated, multijurisdictional outbreak response. They displayed their understanding of those concepts by fulfilling player roles in a student-designed preparedness table-top exercise (aka, a TTX).

Peer to peer design

This lesson was unique in that it catered to two different groups of students simultaneously. Eight students who were members of their local Community Emergency Response Team (I told you they were brilliant) had the responsibility of exercise design and facilitation. By engaging in small group activities with a subject-matter expert and conducting independent research they successfully

  1. designed and led a scenario-based preparedness exercise,
  2. facilitated an After Action Meeting with players (i.e., classmates), and
  3. created an After Action Report. 

Variation in Instructional Strategy

Over the course of this lesson the students participated in a range of instructional activities that kept them engaged, motivated, and in collaboration. The students analyzed a popular outbreak-related film, participated in an in-person lecture with a leading expert in biohazard threat reduction, interviewed experts from across the country, and role-played in response to a preparedness scenario engineered by their peers. 

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Accessibility to experts 

Students learned more about the roles and responsibilities of key players (e.g., first responders, the media, federal and state government entities) by interviewing real-world subject matter experts from local and federal government organizations and the community. They used the information they gathered to respond realistically to workshop contingencies. 


The instructional stars don't align for every project like they did for this one. Even if you aren't blessed with industry-leading mentors, highly motivated learners and an exciting topic, immersive learning can still take place. Using merely one of the strategies listed above will add depth to your problem-based learning project. (...but when the stars are aligned....boy, is it magic!)

Workshopping Resilience

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