Unit 8-The Immune System

Osmosis Jones trailer. Great for introducing the topic in a fun way.

Great video from NPR about the flu virus.

The immune system can be quite overwhelming as it's one of the most complex systems. How you teach it can vary from quite simplistic to as complex as you want to go. For AP students, consider using labs to show students how biotechnology has harvested the immune system for really cool research tools (immunoblotting, immunoprecipitation, ELISA, immunofluorescence, etc.). I really liked this lesson plan, though it was quite advanced (http://www.aai.org/Education/Summer_Teachers/Docs/Archive/2008_Withum_Final.pdf) 

Teaching the Basics:


  • bacterial, viral, other (amoebas, parasites, fungi) and what they look like. 
  • Connect to prokaryote vs. eukaryote cell (good opportunity for review). 
  • How does each one invade the body?
  • What makes you feel sick?

Cells of the Immune System: 

  • white blood cells
  • T-cells
  • B-cells
  • etc.

First line of defense--the skin and basic inflammatory response
Antigens and antibodies
Key Questions:

  • How are antibodies made?
  • How do antibiotics work?
  • How do vaccines work?
  • How do they make vaccines?
  • Why aren't antibiotics effective in treating the common cold?

Diseases of the Immune System

  • Autoimmune diseases (AIDS, MS...)
  • Infectious diseases
  • chronic inflammatory diseases (arthritis, atherosclerosis, IBS, etc.)
Other Topics:
  • antibiotic resistance
  • epidemics
  • evolution tie-in (bacteria evolve; humans adapt to diseases too)
  • biotechnology
  • vaccine development
  • prion diseases
  • gut flora--the Good Guys

For activities, there are some really cool labs to simulate how infection is spread (using phenolphthalein, split students into 2 groups. Infected gets phenolphthalein and see how quickly it spreads).

And don't forget simply swabbing students' cheeks and growing it on agar plates! Students will be fascinated with what's growing in their mouths. Or, swab the school to see which area is the dirtiest. Have students form hypotheses. They will be surprised!

Check out this activity where students work in teams to solve individual case studies. These are some of my favorite projects as it requires teamwork and critical thinking to solve the problem.

Also, don't forget web quests! They're a great way for students to get involved. Here's one on the immune system: http://media.cpcsc.k12.in.us/websnap/ktmlpro/files/uploads/users/ksmola/Immunology_Webquest_Student.pdf
This one is for 7th grade but is very thorough and could easily be adapted for 9th grade: http://www.longmeadow.k12.ma.us/wms/pages1/Gartman3/immunesys.html

Simple, yet effective, internet research project (done in teams) for autoimmune diseases: http://www.teacherplanet.com/links/redirect.php?url=http://www.scienceteacherprogram.org/biology/mjoseph201.html

A ton of lesson plans, activities, and resources can be found at this site:
http://outreach.mcb.harvard.edu/lessonplans_S04.htm (wow!)

Good article on MS (connecting the immune system to nervous system, from previous unit): http://serendip.brynmawr.edu/bb/neuro/neuro00/web3/Iyer.html

Other Resources:

Link to all my immune system resources in Google docs: https://docs.google.com/folder/d/0BxAJgJ5OqE-GZGhNWW5xRlJUUGc/edit?usp=sharing

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