Resources for Teaching Epidemiology

tube 200For those who have high schoolers who are not gunning to get a 5 on the AP Physics, Biology, and Chemistry exams or are just looking for a different approach to the traditional high school science sequence, consider a class on Epidemiology.

Epidemiology is the study of health at the population level rather than the individual. When ever you hear an “epidemic” of something happening in the news, they’re talking epidemiology.

I see teaching Epidemiology as a way to apply math and science (mainly biology) to real world problems past and present. The past part was important to me since my son’s interest is history–the black plague and the flu had major impacts on history. Better yet (from my son’s perspective) they affected the military and battles.

I created a year-long Epidemiology class for my son and several other high schoolers based on the curriculum from the Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition. The following is a list of resources I found at the time, 2008, for the class although we didn’t use them all. I’m sure there are plenty of new resources that have been developed since then.


Young Epidemiology Scholars Competition. (Free) The competition is no longer held but all the teaching materials are still available at this website sponsored by the Robert Woods Foundation. I used this material as the basis for the first semester of the class I did with my son.

Under the resources section, is the PDF of Epidemiology as a Liberal Art. It’s not something the student needs to read but I found that it help define the subject as part of my son’s over all education. This was useful when I was preparing my son’s transcript and counselor letter for college applications.

The Useful Links section covers pretty much the other resources you can use to teach epidemiology.

Detectives in the Classroom (Free) This is a five module curriculum targeted for middle school. Includes teacher notes and slides, worksheets, standards, rubrics, and quizzes. I used a couple of the investigations in the class.


Emerging Epidemics: The Menace of New Infections by Madeline Drexler
If I remember correctly, this is the book that caused me to give up lemon in my ice tea. Mad cow disease, flu pandemics, HIV, and West Nile are all covered. It also includes a chapter on Bioterrorism. The class read the entire book.

The Coming Plague: Newly Emerging Diseases in a World Out of Balance by Laurie Garrett
This book is over 700 pages and we didn’t have time to read it in its entirety with everything else we wanted to do. It was published in 1995 so some of the material feels dated but is still very relevant. It’s well written, almost like reading a thriller, and kept everyone’s attention. For those who want to take a literature based approach to the subject, which would be very doable, this should be one of the required books.

The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How it Changes Science, Cities, and the Modern World by Steven Johnson
This is the perfect book to use an introduction into epidemiology. Again, it’s written as a story that keeps you turning the pages. And it shows people developing the math and science that will be used to solve the problems. We didn’t use this in the class since my son and I had already read it.

Biology Resources

Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases (Free) This is a set of five activities that can be integrated into a more traditional high school biology class. Although I only used one module, I found the background for the teacher to be very useful. This has an online component using quicktime videos.

The Dana Sourcebook of Immunology (Free) This is one of two texts that we used for establishing a biology foundation for the course. At the time, I was able to request free hardcopies.

The Blueprints of Infection This series is no longer in publication but it’s pretty easy to find used copies. I found the textbook provided a good background for the students who hadn’t completed a biology class. For those interested in a more traditional type of text with assignments, labs, etc, this is it.

Statistics Resources

Probability & Statistics at Carnegie Mellon University Open Learning Initiative (Free) I used this course as part of the math background for the class.  This is a more recent version of the course we used which doesn’t exist anymore.

Collaborative Statistics (Free) This is the online textbook we used for statistics.  We only used selections from it as needed.

Against All Odds Inside Statistics (Free) This is a series of half-hour videos that we used as needed.

Case Studies

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has several Epidemiologic Case Studies available computer-based or for the classroom. We used the classroom-based case Gastroenteritis at a University in Texas.

The National Health Museum has case studies available in The Mystery Spot. We used The Blackout Syndrome and Two Forks, Idaho.

The National Evolutionary Synthesis Center has a lesson plan, Influenza Virus: A tiny moving target, that we used.

CASES Online is a collection of investigative lessons for science education at all levels. You have to register to download the case. At the time, I didn’t have any problems registering. We used the Kevin and the carn-evil food Case.

BioQuest Investigative Case Based Learning A wide range of cases from middle school to college level.

Med Myst Medical Mysteries on the Web Online introduction to microbiology and infectious disease for middle schoolers.

Excellence in Curriculum Innovation through Teaching Epidemiology (EXCITE) has exercises for the Science Olympiad Disease Detectives Event that could be used as cases.

Data Sources

(The YES sites lists many more resources, these are just the two we used)

WISQARS  (Web-based Injury Statistics Query and Reporting System) is an interactive database system that provides customized reports of injury-related data.

Health Data Interactive Presents tables with national health statistics for infants, children, adolescents, adults, and older adults. Tables can be customized by age, gender, race/ethnicity, and geographic location to explore different trends and patterns.

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