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The Chemistry of Vaccines (28 Favorites)

LESSON PLAN in Molecular Structure, Chemical Properties. Last updated February 24, 2021.


Summary

In this lesson, students will read the article Can a Vaccine End the Pandemic? by Wynne Parry from the December 2020 edition of ChemMatters magazine. Students will answer questions based on the content of the article and also have the opportunity to do additional research. Finally, they will create a podcast discussing the chemistry of vaccines.

Grade Level

High School

NGSS Alignment

This lesson plan will help prepare your students to meet the performance expectations in the following standards:

  • HS-PS2-6: Communicate scientific and technical information about why the molecular-level structure is important in the functioning of designed materials.
  • HS-ETS1-3: Evaluate a solution to a complex real-world problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics as well as possible social, cultural, and environmental impacts.
  • Scientific and Engineering Practices:
    • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
    • Analyzing and Interpreting Data
    • Engaging in Argument from Evidence
    • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

Objectives

By the end of this lesson, students should be able to:

  • Understand how a vaccine is used to train the immune system, as well as how vaccines are made, and the success rate of vaccines.
  • Demonstrate understanding by creating a podcast based on evidence and reasoning from their reading and research.

Chemistry Topics

This lesson supports students’ understanding of:

  • Molecular Structure
  • Chemical Properties

Time

Teacher Preparation: minimal
Lesson: 60-90 minutes

Materials

  • Copy of the ChemMatters article, Can a Vaccine End the Pandemic, from the December 2020 issue (available for download)
  • Anchor App:  Free podcast making App (available for Apple and Android)

Safety

  • No safety issues are associated with this activity.

Teacher Notes

  • It is important to remind students that podcast discussions must remain respectful and school appropriate, just as you would encourage for an in-person class discussion.
    • These Guidelines for facilitating classroom discussion around controversial issues, developed by the University of Michigan might be helpful for teachers to review.
  • A copy of the ChemMatters article, Can a Vaccine End the Pandemic, from the December 2020 issue is available for download in the sidebar.

Part 1: Article and Reading Comprehension questions:

  • Depending on the nature of your instruction (in person or remote), teachers can make hard copies for each student or make the article available digitally (students can access the article directly from the AACT website with a Student Pass from the ChemMatters archive).
  • Students should read the article and answer the Student Reading Comprehension Questions and the Questions for Further Understanding. These questions are from the ChemMatters Teachers Guide. An Answer Key document has been provided.

Part 2: Podcast

  • Students can record the podcast using any medium they are comfortable with as long as the resulting podcast can be shared with the teacher.
  • An easy to use App called Anchor, is free and available for apple and android. Recording and sharing a podcast with Anchor is very easy. A great feature of this App is that students can record a podcast with friends/partners from separate locations.
  • For the podcast, students can work alone or in small groups (2 to 3 students). They should create a podcast that highlight both the benefits of vaccines and the challenges associated with developing safe, effective vaccines and distributing them to the community. In a remote setting, students may ask a family member for assistance to have an additional voice in the podcast.
  • The expectations for the podcast can be adjusted by the teacher as needed but recommended expectations include:
    • Podcast should be approximately 5-10 minutes in length.
    • The podcast should highlight both the benefits of vaccines and the challenges associated with developing safe, effective vaccines and distributing them to the community.
    • Opinions should be supported by credible facts from research.
  • Encourage students to assess the quality of the resources that they are finding so they are sure they are getting scientifically accurate information. This article is a good place for students to look for guidance on evaluating internet resources. Also be sure to indicate which format (APA, MLA, Chicago, etc.) you want them to use for their citations. Resources such as www.easybib.com or www.bibme.org might be helpful tools.
  • As students are researching, the teacher should check in to make sure that all students are able to use evidence to support their conclusion.
  • It is important to give our students an opportunity to create an argument based on evidence and facts from credible sources. These skills are linked to the science and engineering practices and are invaluable in a world full of misleading news and information.
  • Podcasts can be private to only the teacher and/or the students can be given an option to share with the class based on their comfort level.
  • A follow up discussion on vaccines can be had after the podcast have been submitted based on the comfort level of the teacher or the submission of the podcast can end the lesson if the teacher felt the vaccine discussion might become too political.

For the Student

Lesson

Goal

Develop an understanding of the science of vaccines and use that knowledge to formulate an opinion of vaccines based on evidence and facts.

Background

Vaccines are created with the intention of saving millions of lives by preventing the spread of deadly viruses. However, over the past few decades vaccines have been under scrutiny due to reports of significant negative side effects. The COVID-19 vaccine has brought the discussion about vaccines back into mainstream media. In a world full of endless information, some of which misleading and false, it is extremely important to create opinions based on facts and evidence.

Assignment

Developing an understanding of Vaccines

  • Part 1: Can a Vaccine End the Pandemic? Article
    • Read the article from ChemMatters magazine. After reading the article, answer the Student Reading Comprehension Questions and the Questions for Further Understanding.
  • Part 2: Vaccines Podcast
    • The article from part 1 provides an excellent introduction into the science behind vaccines. Now it is time for you to conduct your own research. Find articles from credible sources that answer any questions that you may have about the safety associated with receiving vaccines.
    • After you complete your research create a podcast discussing both the benefits of vaccines and the challenges associated with developing safe, effective vaccines and distributing them to the community. You may use any medium you are comfortable with or record the podcast. Anchor is a free, easy to use, podcast creating app that allows you to record and share a podcast. You can also record podcasts with friends from separate locations with Anchor.

Expectations for the Podcast

  • Podcast should be approximately 5-10 minutes in length.
  • The podcast should highlight both the benefits of vaccines and the challenges associated with developing safe, effective vaccines and distributing them to the community.
  • Opinions should be support be credible facts from research. This article is a good place to look for guidance about credible resources.
  • You may record the podcast alone or work in groups.
  • You might attempt to create a debate in the podcast by having group members take opposite sides of the argument.
  • If you are working alone, highlight both benefits and challenges.
  • The most important aspect of the podcast is to make sure your arguments are respectful and supported with facts and evidence. 
  • When the podcast is finished, share it with your teacher.

The Chemistry of Vaccines
Student Reading Comprehension Questions

Directions: Read the article, Can a Vaccine End the Pandemic? then answer the questions below.

  1. What does a vaccine do for a person?
  2. How did Dr. Edward Jenner’s method differ from what the Chinese doctors had been doing to try to help people fight off smallpox?
  3. Which part of the immune system can be “trained” using vaccines?
  4. Why does giving you the virus in the form of a vaccine help you fight off the virus that you might eventually be exposed to?
  5. What is the difference between an antigen and an antibody?
  6. Formaldehyde is a compound used as a preservative in funeral homes. Why are tiny amounts of this compound included in a vaccine?
  7. The three major parts of the coronavirus are the viral envelope, which is made of proteins, the spike proteins that cover the viral envelope, and the RNA that is inside the viral envelope.
    1. Which part of the virus is responsible for the reproduction of more virus particles?
    2. Which part of the virus is responsible for getting it into a human cell?
  8. Make an analogy for a virus and use it to describe each of the four main strategies used to produce vaccines. (You do not have to consider what it will do in the body, only how it relates to the virus itself.)

Questions for Further Learning

  1. Watch the video using the link at the end of the article.
    1. The virus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic is in a class of viruses, called coronaviruses, that our bodies have had prior exposure to. Why does this help to speed the development of a vaccine for this most recent virus?
    2. At what point in your exposure to a virus are you considered to be infected?
    3. What is the role of the spike protein on the SARS CoV-2 virus?
    4. Why is knowledge of the specific structure and shape of the spike protein on a coronavirus important to scientists that are working on a vaccine for that virus?
  2. Choose one of the four vaccine strategies and explain how putting that type of vaccine in your body is different from infecting the body with the virus you are trying to fight.
  3. Consider the doctors that originally worked with the smallpox virus. Write an experimental question, along with a hypothesis, that may have guided:
    1. the Chinese doctors.
    2. the English doctor, Edward Jenner.