The goal of this integrated thematic unit (ITU) is to provide a culturally relevant cross-disciplinary learning experience related to epidemiology, the study of the distribution and determinants of health-related states or events (including disease), and the application of this study to the control of diseases and other health problems. While epidemiology is the underlying academic focus of this ITU, we decided to use the theme of a zombie pandemic (apocalypse) as a means of captivating students’ imagination while providing an extreme example of a disease condition. By couching this ITU in the zombie obsession that has fueled the popularity of the TV series, The Walking Dead and the movie Warm Bodies, we aim to appeal to student interest, both in terms of the biological and sociological implications of a pandemic as well as the metaphorical lessons related to human behavior. Through this ITU, we aim to educate students regarding health concerns such as disease prevention and access to health care, at the level of the school community as well as on a national scale.
The academic subject areas that will participate in this ITU are Biology, Social Studies, and Spanish. The science behind the spread of disease will be investigated in Biology and students will extend their learning by exploring the history of protective medical gear and the artistic elements of 14th century plague doctor masks. In Social Studies, students will dig deeper into the role that outbreaks have played in history, how epidemics have shaped cultural geography, health conditions in the developing world, and issues related to access to health care. In Spanish, students will learn about epidemics that have struck Spanish-speaking countries, specific vocabulary used to talk about disease, health and/or medicine, how to express emotion in an apocalyptic survival scenario, and how to debate the pros/cons of vaccination. The culminating service learning activity will be a student-run public health campaign on campus. This project incorporates elements of cooperative learning, technology and art as well as challenges the students to consider how they might promote social justice and equity related to health and disease prevention.
Through active participation in this ITU, students will understand the issues surrounding health concerns such as disease prevention and access to health care and learn what they can do at their own school to promote social justice and equity in this area. By studying a phenomenon such as a zombie apocalypse, students will learn the science of disease spread as well as the social implications of an outbreak scenario, including concepts of otherness and social differences.