My left-field lesson - Spread of living dead

16th May 2014 at 01:00
Zombie invasions add bite to lessons on epidemics and infection

How would you fare in a zombie apocalypse? I asked that very question after my appointment as head boy at Doon Academy in Ayrshire.

I'd had a light-bulb moment. After hearing about the popularity of science fairs across the globe, I wondered why they weren't common in Scotland. I wanted to host one in my school to inspire the next generation of scientists.

I wrote a pitch to my headteacher and the local authority. They thought it was a spectacular idea. With the support of our school's scientists, Mr Gooding and Mr Brown, Doon Academy's science fair - the first ever in our part of Scotland - was held for 300 students from six secondary schools, with guest appearances from the living dead.

Learning about hand washing and the difference between bacterial and viral infections sounds quite boring, doesn't it? Not when getting the answer wrong could seal humanity's fate.

The fair's main event was a lecture from Doctor Smith, head of the Zombie Institute for Theoretical Studies. Basically, it was about zombies eating people and smashing things up. He showed how a zombie-like disease could spread. It was pretty frightening. Students learned how to defend themselves against zombies and, along the way, picked up information about genetics, microbiology and pharmaceuticals.

They were asked whether they should respond to the zombie menace with a public health campaign, or just go out and kill them. Most said the latter. But some people weren't zombies, they were just sick, so those students were charged with crimes against humanity.

Other special guests included rats, scorpions, spiders and a five-foot iguana. One speaker, the Animal Man, allowed students to get up close and personal with some of nature's more daunting representatives. He taught us about evolution, biodiversity and ecosystems.

And our local Scottish Dark Sky Observatory brought a 6m-high inflatable planetarium. Students felt as if they were really sitting under the stars.

The feedback was incredibly positive and my school has decided to run a science fair every year. "You know you're making good progress with the new curriculum when students are taking charge and learning experiences are rich and challenging," says headteacher John MacKenzie.

But the zombie menace hasn't gone away: we had a zombie disco at the school and we all dressed up. I was a crazy scientist. I think the appeal of zombies is escapism - it's an exciting perspective on science.

I now take first years for science lessons twice a week. I'm going to study anatomy at the University of Glasgow, but I think that teaching is something I might go into. You get to know the students and having to explain something improves your own understanding. I'm surprised at how clever young children are. They can talk to you in detail about things like climate change, even aged 11 or 12.

At the end of each lesson, they get to ask me anything they want about science. Guess what often comes up? That's right. Zombies.

Frazer Buchanan is an S6 student at Doon Academy in Ayrshire

10 ways to teach infection

1. Prevent a pandemic

What would happen during an outbreak of avian flu? In this engaging quiz, students must make important decisions to stop the spread.

2. Living with HIV

These extensive resources from charity ActionAid explore the lives of people around the world coping with HIV and Aids.

3. Countering cholera

BBC Class Clips brings you an informative dramatisation of Manchester's cholera outbreak in 1832.

4. Investigating influenza

This detailed PowerPoint presentation explains the microbiology behind influenza pandemics.

5. Valuing vaccination

Explain vaccinations to younger children with these simple but incredibly useful worksheets from e-Bug.

6. Disrupting diseases

Simple and to the point, this lesson introduces different methods to prevent the spread of disease.

7. Detailing the Black Death

Roland Rat (not the 1980s television personality, unfortunately, but a rat called Roland) is your students' guide to the terror of the plague.

8. Treating the flu

What is influenza? How serious is it? How do we treat it? This informative magazine feature from the Wellcome Trust explores these questions and much more.

9. A helping hand

Discover how infections spread and how washing your hands can stop nasty bugs in their tracks.

10. Spanish flu facts

Pupils investigate the spread of Spanish flu and the way it shaped history using these primary sources and excellent resources from the University of Oxford.

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