Updated: Jan 24
What's going on everyone?
If you are like me, then you are currently teaching remotely from home. You are also trying to find fun and engaging ways for our students to learn while stuck at home. So I've spent a considerable amount of time scouring the Internet for interesting articles and videos that I can throw up in my Google Classroom. My students have also asked to learn more about COVID-19 and diseases in general. My mind kept going back to Pandemic II. It's an old web browser based game that you would find on websites from my childhood like Newgrounds and AddictingGames. I decided to assign it as an optional lesson for my students who may be interested. You can find the lesson plan here.
Pandemic II is an online game where your goal is to create a disease that kills as many people as possible. You choose between a Virus, Bacteria, or Parasite and do your best to make sure the disease spreads as far and wide as it can. You want to create a pandemic. This game will get students thinking about different types of diseases, various symptoms of diseases, how diseases can spread, and how we can go about stopping the spread of the diseases. It allows students to interact with possible consequences if communities are not properly vaccinated, or prepare to fend off a pandemic. It is also free to play in any web browser.
I decided to make this lesson optional because of how relevant it is to the current COVID-19 pandemic. I did not want to force any student to play a game so closely related to something that may be drastically affecting their lives beyond just learning from home. I also believe that some students would have a good time with it as it does help them visualize how diseases like the Coronavirus spread. The aim of the lesson is for students to answer the question; how can both natural and human made factors lead to the spread, or suppression, of a disease? Let's take a look at how three different students approached the game.
The player gets to choose between using a virus, bacteria, or a parasite at the beginning of the game. All three of the students chose virus, most likely because of the Coronavirus. The student states that they added as many symptoms as possible in order to spread the disease across all of humanity. Symptoms like vomiting, for example, help make the disease more contagious. The student also notes that the airports and shipyards helped the disease spread from the disease's origin, China, to other countries. They also stacked up on various forms of resistance to make finding a cure more difficult. In the end, however, they were not able to exterminate humanity. The countries in the game stopped the infection by closing borders, halting travel, and even closing schools. The student then reflected about how humans are a major factor in the spread of a disease, but that natural factors like animals and the climate can contribute as well.
This student provided less information, but was more direct and to the point in their responses. They originally made the disease resistant to moisture since there was flooding in the area. Their rationale for their chosen transmission methods could have been stronger as they just mention that they wanted the virus to be more lethal, but with no explanation of how. In the end, this student was also not able to kill off humanity. They state that part of the reason for this was that, "at the beginning of the game I didn't understand that I should make the disease less visible so more people get infected. Therefore I had high visibility and the government managed to contain the virus by taking the appropriate actions." The student finished off by saying that, "humans can lead to the spread or suppression of disease depending on how aware they are of the crisis and more importantly how they will cooperate to overcome the crisis." I think the student is being very reflective of our current situation with COVID-19 being that everyone has been asked to stay home as much as possible in order to limit any further spreading of the virus.
This student decided to go with symptoms that would be the most deadly, hence their decisions to choose fever, vomiting, and sneezing. They also noticed that many boats were leaving from their infected country which helped spread the disease. They even hypothesized that the people who needed to go to the hospital were spreading the disease there. The disease started in South Africa so this student started off by making it heat resistant because they believed South Africa to have a warm climate. They eventually made it cold resistant as well because the disease had spread to Russia. The forms of transmission chosen were waterborne, airborne, and Insect because they felt it would help the disease spread to Indonesia. Once South Africa was hit heavily by the disease, other countries began to close their airports and cease all travel between countries. Like the other two students, this student was not unable to eliminate all of humanity.
A different student from the three above even reached out to me to ask if they were doing something wrong because they could not kill everyone in the world, even after several attempts. It's actually incredibly difficult to do this and I have never accomplished it myself. One of the messages of the game is that even though a pandemic could spread easily across the world, the human race will most likely always find a way to eventually stop its spread.
Obviously I am a huge advocate of using games as an educational tool, but I did decide to make this one an optional assignment. I teach in NYC where the COVID-19 pandemic is particularly having a big effect and I didn't want to force anyone to interact with something that could potentially make them feel uncomfortable. The students who did play it, however, seemed to really have enjoyed it and appreciated that I included a free video game that they could play at home. This whole remote learning situation is not ideal and I want to make sure my students are still as engaged as possible and I feel that video games have a place in that process. Pandemic II is a unique resource, as opposed to just reading more articles in the news, for them to learn about how diseases spread.
Thanks for reading,
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