A Firsthand Lesson on Colds, Flu & Infectious Disease

Priscilla Robinson headshotby:  Priscilla Robinson

Talking about Infectious Disease

These days, it’s hard not to hear reports about the spread of infectious disease, from serious viruses like Ebola to the “common” cold.  There are ads for flu shots and cold remedies, nightly media coverage about rampant epidemics all over the world, and pundits predicting whether these contagious diseases might someday get to this country.

So how is this affecting your students?  Are they asking questions?  Are they anxious about where these germs may be lurking, and whether they or their families are in any danger?

As a teacher, I’ve found that the science classroom is the perfect environment to help students understand the world around them.

A few years ago, my students and I survived an outbreak of the Swine Flu.  So many kids were getting sick that our school had to establish a quarantine room to isolate ill students until their parents could pick them up.  During this time, I set up stringent hand-washing techniques for students (and myself), as well as protocols for disinfecting desks, chairs and door handles.  Ultimately, my students had a lower rate of absences than their peers, and I stayed healthy as well.

Below you’ll find two fun and engaging classroom activities related to infectious disease transmission and prevention.  Try them with your students!

Bug in the Classroom

Grades:  K-12

Learning Goals:

  • To demonstrate how easily an infectious disease can be transferred from person to person.
  • To promote an open discussion of proper hygiene behaviors that can keep students safe.


Directions:helpful hints for glo germ - infectious disease prevention lesson

  1. Before class (out of sight of the students), sprinkle the palm of your right hand with Glo Germ powder.
  2. Ask for five volunteers. Greet each volunteer student by shaking hands and then have them return to their desks.
  3. Instruct all the students in the class to stand up and greet any three classmates, shaking right hands each time.
  4. Once this has been accomplished, ask the students to return to their places.
  5. Darken the room and shine the UV light onto your right hand.  Explain that you’ve sprinkled a harmless powder onto your hand that happens to glow under ultraviolet light.  This powder is made up of tiny particles about the same size as bacteria.
  6. Say, “Today we’ll pretend that this powder is a bacterium which causes a disease, and that I (the teacher) came to school sick today.”
  7. Shine the UV light onto the students’ hands. Have them look around the room.  Explain that anyone whose hands are glowing has now caught the same “disease” you have, and is contagious.
  8. Discuss these questions: Are they surprised at the number of students who got “sick”?  How many students do they predict would have gotten “sick” by the end of the school day?  What can we do to prevent spreading actual diseases to our classmates and families?
  9. At the end of the discussion students should wash their hands with soap and water. Using the UV light again, students are able to examine how well they washed their hands.  Did they miss any spots?  Are their hands completely “germ”-free?  This will opens up a whole new discussion.

Glo Germ Kit - perfect classroom demo on importance of handwashing to prevent infectious disease

Who Is Getting the Flu?

Grades: 3-12

Learning Goal:

  •  To demonstrate how a flu shot can help to prevent you from getting the flu.



  1. Before class (or out of sight of the students), dip the paintbrush in a small amount of Glo Germ Powder, then use the paintbrush to “infect” a few frequently-used classroom objects (manual pencil sharpener handle, door handle, the keyboard of the classroom computer, etc).
  2. As students enter the classroom, randomly place a sticker on about a third of your students’ shoulders. Tell them you will be explaining the stickers later, during the class.
  3. Have the students move about the classroom in their normal routine.
  4. At a transition period, announce, “I am conducting a Flu Bug Check.”
  5. Darken the room and use the UV light to check students’ hands, faces, mouths, noses, etc.  Point out spots where the Glo Germ Powder has spread.  (It’s amazing where the powder travels!)
  6. Explain to students that anyone with glowing spots has come in contact with the flu virus (in this case, harmless Glo Germ Powder).  Ask students if they think they would get sick if the powder had been a real infectious disease.  Did they realize that they were spreading germs around?  What might happen if they went home and continued to touch objects around the house?
  7. Point to the stickers that you placed on some students’ shoulders.  Explain that the stickers represent a vaccination against the flu virus.  “Good news, the students with stickers got a Flu Shot!”
  8. Open a discussion with them about who might get sick? Who might pass the bug on to other students more easily and how?  How might students have a fighting chance to beat the bug?


Building Your Own Glow Box


  • A cardboard box (big enough to fit your UV light fixture and for students’ hands to move around inside)
  • A portable ultraviolet light, 18″ or larger
  • Duct tape
  • Scissors

Choose a cardboard box that is deep enough for students to place their hands inside.   Use duct tape on edges to keep flaps from folding down into box.

glo box 01

Secure the UV light inside one corner of the box with duct tape.  Make sure you don’t cover the ON/OFF switch with tape!

glo box 02

Turn on the ultraviolet light and invite students to place their hands inside the box.  If they have touched anything dusted with Glo Germ powder, those areas will fluoresce brightly.

Prevent the spread of infectious disease with UV light demo    GloGerm demonstration to prevent the spread of infectious disease


For more about teaching disease prevention, see our “Has the Swine Flu Affected Your School?” blog.



Priscilla Robinson works with Educational Innovations as a consultant to link teachers with ideas, lessons and materials to enrich their science classrooms.  She admits to being a lifelong learner.  “Education and Science are both dynamic.  I feel it’s important stay current and flexible!”  In addition to teaching middle school science, Priscilla provides professional development for teachers.  She has a passion for teachable moments and loves engaging young scientists’ curiosity to explore, take risks and learn at a higher level of understanding.



Desperately Seeking Goldenrod Paper

donna_giachettiby: Donna Giachetti

 In a February 2014 blog post we said goodbye to the last of our goldenrod paper supply, a beloved staple in many science teachers’ classrooms.

Truthfully, we can’t count how many times in these past months we’ve had to tell customers that our stock was gone—and unlikely to ever be replenished since the manufacturers had permanently ceased production.

Sure, it may not seem like such a big deal to the uninitiated.  Stationery fashions come and go, after all.

But this was not just colored paper—it was G O L D E N R O D !  If anything can prove the old idiom that appearances are sometimes deceiving, this was the stuff.

goldenrod paper SM-925

Goldenrod paper in action

Assuming you dampened a sheet with a bit of plain water… well, you’d be looking at some soggy golden-yellow paper. But try spraying it with a base solution such as washing soda or Windex® and stand back! Everywhere the liquid touched, the paper instantly turned bright red. (Blood red, in fact.) Immerse the paper in vinegar and it “magically” shifted back to its original color!

Customers lamented the loss, loudly and often. “How can it be gone?” they asked.  “Don’t you even have a few sheets left?”  They understood that our goldenrod paper was a guaranteed show-stopper—whether their audience was toddlers, teens or tenured educators.

Knowing this terrible shock had to be softened, we came up with our own recipe for Do-It-Yourself goldenrod paper, involving heaps of tumeric (a bright-yellow spice) and several hours of mess.  It wasn’t the same as our goldenrod paper, but in a pinch it would do.

Until now!

If you haven’t already figured it out, take another look at the first letters of the paragraphs above.


Let the rejoicing—and experimenting—begin.

Reunited... and it feels so good!

Reunited… and it feels so good!

For a refresher course in all the wonderful experiments you can do to captivate students of all ages with a simple sheet of goldenrod paper, we refer you to master teacher Ron Perkins’ blog of simple and advanced activities. We also offer free lesson ideas online.  (Just scroll down to the tab marked “Lesson Ideas.”)

And don’t forget to stock up!

Finally, check out our new video below—consider it a little preview of some of the fun you can have with our wonderful goldenrod paper. Every time we watch it, we start humming Peaches & Herb’s classic, “Reunited (and It Feels So Good).”

PS: Is it our imagination, or does the color of that stamp on their album cover look a bit like goldenrod?



What It Means to Be a Teacher

donna_giachettiby:  Donna Giachetti

If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a teacher.

If you spend more than an hour a day with kids—from 1 to 100 (in age and quantity)—chances are you’re a teacher.

If you’ve grinned at our Facebook comics or said “I need that!” while clicking through our website, chances are you’re a teacher.

But what is a teacher?

Here’s what the dictionary says:


The definition of a teacher

Source: Merriam-Webster dictionary online

Read the rest of this entry »

At Halloween, Science Is Cooler than Ever

donna_giachettiby: Donna Giachetti

In the spring
a young man’s fancy
lightly turns to thoughts of love.”

 —Alfred, Lord Tennyson

Alfred may have a point, but these days our thoughts turn to darker, spookier things—zombies, ghouls, witches, monsters and ghosts (more about them later, scroll down to the end of the blog).


Why is autumn one of our favorite times of year?

Let us count the ways:

  •     A new school year…
  •    Cooler temperatures…
  •    Warm, cozy sweaters and boots…
  •    A procession of colorful fall foliage…

But best of all, there’s the anticipation of HALLOWEEN! What a wonderful time to be a mad scientist! Read the rest of this entry »

The Microscale Vacuum Apparatus

Tami O'Connorby: Tami O’Connor

After the birth of my youngest child I decided to get a teaching position at a school closer to home. Until that point, I had only taught in the elementary grades. As it turned out, a seventh grade science position had opened up in the middle school in the next town, and, shortly after I filed my application, I was called in for an interview. Because it was already early June when the opening occurred, things moved along rather quickly.

The day after my interview I was called back to schedule a time to present a lesson to a class of students. The only day available just happened to be the second to last day of school, and the only class available just happened to be an 8th grade class… The school only went up to 8th grade, and on the last day of school, these 8th graders were participating in their moving up “fun” day at a local amusement park…

Microscale Vacuum ApparatusNow, anyone reading this probably recognizes that these kids—on the second to last day of their eighth grade year—had absolutely no interest in learning anything more from any of their regular teachers – much less a teacher they had never seen before. So, to say I was a little nervous is an understatement. I learned that they had just completed a unit on space, so after scouring my brain to come up with an interesting hands-on lesson that related to space, I decided to bring in the microscale vacuum apparatus from Educational Innovations.

Since most middle schools don’t have access to one, very few eighth grade students had ever seen a vacuum bell, so I gambled that the lesson I selected would hold their interest. With two team teachers, the science department chair, and the principal in the room to observe, this really was a lesson on “pressure!” Read the rest of this entry »