Summer Research Program for Science Teachers


Palma Repole

Fieldston School, Bronx, New York



Introducing the concept of Medical Ecology

(as related to the West Nile Virus)



Course:         Environmental Biology

Grade:            10th grade

Unit:               Ecology

Time:              2-3 days, depending if research is done in class or at home.

Aim:   To introduce the concept of “Medical Ecology;” a branch of science that investigates the connection between ecological functions and human health.


To investigate a Medical Ecology case study, understanding and appreciating the interconnectedness of biological processes with ecological one. (STANDARD A)

Background: Medical Ecology is a branch of science that investigates the effect of the environment on human health. Environmental degradation affects the quality of our air, water, food, and ultimately, our health. Through the study of ecosystem functions, we can better understand how natural systems impact human health and how we can be better prepared to treat such health issues. By investigating a medical ecology case study, students will understand and appreciate the interconnectedness of the physical, chemical and biological systems of the world, as well as the roles politics, demographics, geography and economy play in influencing human health.

Objective:  Working in small teams, students will investigate a set of facts related to the outbreak of the West Nile Virus (WNV), propose various hypotheses as to its origin, and present an action plan to the NYC Board of Health based upon their findings. (STANDARDS C & F)


First Day:

1.         Break the class into small working groups (2-3 students).

2.         Explain that each group is an independent investigation team that has been hired by the New York City Board of Health to investigate a recent series of events.

3.         Each student will receive a copy of the “fact sheet;” (see attachment) a compilation of the events that took place in New York summer of 1999 that lead to the 5 confirmed cases of WNV.

4.         Students will spend half the period brainstorming with their partners a list of questions to investigate.

5.         If some groups seem hopelessly stuck, the list of questions can then be shared with the class on the board—or you can keep the groups working independently if they seem to all be generating good leading questions.

6.         By the end of the first class, each group should hand in a draft of leading questions that need further investigation.

**********A short lesson on what a good “leading question” is could be appropriate here—depending on the level of the students************

Second Day:

7.         Schedule time in the computer lab with Internet access to allow students to continue their research. Require that students keep excellent notes that document their course of thinking. For example, when they answered one question, what new questions were generated from that? Keep a list of each step in the thought process.

Also stress the importance of documenting sources.

Possible Web sites of interest include:


8.         By the end of class, students should have written a “Working Hypothesis" that explains how the out break occurred.

********Again, a short lesson on what a “Working Hypothesis” could be appropriate here*********

Third Day:

9.         Round table presentation. Each group will present their hypothesis to the “Board” (which is you or other teachers or the rest of the class).

10.       Stress the importance of substantiating any claims with documented evidence and citation to sources.

11.       The class then discusses which of the Hypothesis shows the greatest plausibility and why.

12.       As a class, identify what biological topics, such as ecology, evolution, genetics, and immunology are involved in the case. Also identify what sociological topics are involved, such as economics, geography, immigration, communication, and politics.

13.       As the final assignment: Each student will write a proposed Action Plan for the City Board. It should include the following:

a.   Their interpretation of the events that lead to the outbreak—background.

b.   A discussion/identification of all the factors that contributed to the outbreak.

c.   A proposal for how to deal with the current problem and/or prevent a similar outbreak in the future.

d.   A discussion of any questions that are still, as if yet, unanswered that need further investigation.


Written work:

As a group:

1.   The Leading Questions generated from the fact sheet.

2.   The Working Hypothesis generated from investigating their questions.

As individuals:

1.   The Final Action Plan that summarizes their hypothesis as to how the outbreak occurred, what can be done about it, and what still needs to be answered.

Collaborative Work:

2.   Level of engagement and participation within the group during investigations.

3.   Level of preparedness at the Final Round Table discussion. For example, are claims supported by documented evidence?



West Nile Virus Fact Sheet



Despommier, Dickson. West Nile Story; A Virus in the New World.

Apple Trees Productions, LLC. New York, New York. 2001.



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