Unit Overview
COVID-19 & Health Equity, High School Science

What can we learn from the spread of the COVID-19 virus to protect our communities?

Unit Summary

This unit is designed to support students in understanding the COVID-19 pandemic, transmission of the COVID-19 virus, and the impacts of the pandemic on communities, especially communities of color. Specific learning targets are listed at the beginning of each lesson and highlight a core idea for the lesson, the science and engineering practice students will engage in, and the crosscutting concept students will use in the lesson. There are four broad areas of learning goals targeted in this unit:

  • virus transmission between people and communities,
  • mitigation strategies and using probabilities to explain how we can lower the chance of transmitting the virus between people and across communities,
  • understanding disproportionate impacts on communities and the policies and practices that lead to those impacts, and finally,
  • development of two social emotional competencies--self awareness and social awareness.
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Unit Examples

Additional Unit Information

Building Toward the Following Standards and Practices
Next Generation Science Standards: Science and Engineering Practices

Students build toward these elements for high school:

  • Practice 2: Developing and Using Models. 
    • Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system. 
  • Practice 4: Analyzing and Interpreting Data.
    • Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including determining function fits to data, slope, intercept, and correlation coefficient for linear fits) to scientific and engineering questions and problems, using digital tools when feasible. 
  • Practice 6: Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions. 
    • Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to provide an explanation of phenomena and solve design problems, taking into account possible unanticipated effects. 
  • Practice 8: Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information  
    • Compare, integrate and evaluate sources of information presented in different media or formats (e.g., visually, quantitatively) as well as in words in order to address a scientific question or solve a problem. 
Next Generation Science Standards: Crosscutting Concepts

Students build toward these elements for high school:

  • Crosscutting Concept 1: Patterns. 
    • Different patterns may be observed at each of the scales at which a system is studied and can provide evidence for causality in explanations of phenomena.
  • Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect. 
    • Cause and effect relationships can be suggested and predicted for complex natural and human designed systems by examining what is known about smaller scale mechanisms within the system. 
    • Changes in systems may have various causes that may not have equal effects.
  • Crosscutting Concept 3: Scale, Proportion, and Quantity. 
    • The significance of a phenomenon is dependent on the scale, proportion, and quantity at which it occurs. 
Collaborative for Academic, Social, & Emotional Learning (CASEL) Core Competencies
  • Self-awareness: The ability to accurately recognize one’s own emotions, thoughts, and values and how they influence behavior.
    • Identifying emotions 
    • Self-efficacy 
  • Social Awareness: The ability to take the perspective of and empathize with others, including those from diverse backgrounds and cultures. The ability to understand social and ethical norms for behavior and to recognize family, school, and community resources and supports. 
    • Perspective-taking 
    • Empathy 
What should my students know from earlier grades or units?

This unit builds on previous grade band understanding from middle school in order to support understanding of the COVID-19 pandemic across high school levels from 9th to 12th grade. 


This unit assumes that students will use the following middle school CCSS math concepts: 

    • Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems, e.g., by reasoning about tables of equivalent ratios, tape diagrams, double number line diagrams, or equations.
    • Find a percent of a quantity as a rate per 100 (e.g., 30% of a quantity means 30/100 times the quantity); solve problems involving finding the whole, given a part and the percent.
    • Develop a probability model and use it to find probabilities of events. Compare probabilities from a model to observed frequencies; if the agreement is not good, explain possible sources of the discrepancy.

NGSS Science and Engineering Practices

Students would benefit from having prior experience doing the following science and engineering practices (SEPs) at the middle school grade-band level. They include the following:

  • Developing and using models
    • Develop and/or use a model to predict and/or describe phenomena.
  • Analyzing and interpreting data
    • Use graphical displays (e.g., maps, charts, graphs, and/or tables) of large data sets to identify temporal and spatial relationships. 
    • Apply concepts of statistics and probability (including mean, median, mode, and variability) to analyze and characterize data, using digital tools when feasible. 
    • Analyze and interpret data to determine similarities and differences in findings. 
  • Constructing explanations and designing solutions
    • Apply scientific ideas, principles, and/or evidence to construct, revise and/or use an explanation for real world phenomena, examples, or events. 
  • Obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information
    • Critically read scientific texts adapted for classroom use to determine the central ideas and/or obtain scientific and/or technical information to describe patterns in and/or evidence about the natural and designed world(s). 
    • Gather, read, synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence.  
    • Evaluate data, hypotheses, and/or conclusions in scientific and technical texts in light of competing information or accounts.

NGSS Crosscutting Concepts

Having students familiar with using focal crosscutting concepts (CCCs) for this unit at the middle school grade-band level would be helpful. They include the following:  

  • Patterns
    • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
    • Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural systems.
    • Patterns can be used to identify cause-and-effect relationships.
  • Cause and Effect
    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems. 
    • Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability. 
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
    • Time, space, and energy phenomena can be observed at various scales using models to study systems that are too large or too small. 
    •  Proportional relationships (e.g., speed as the ratio of distance traveled to time taken) among different types of quantities provide information about the magnitude of properties and processes.
Unit Information
How do I support students to write in their journals to foster Social Emotional Learning?

One goal of this unit is to support students with social-emotional well-being and growth. Given that the COVID-19 pandemic has taken a toll on most people in both social and emotional ways, we want to help students process their experience in both academic and holistic ways. Thus, included with this unit is a journal. Some lessons have prompts that are considered “required,” so that students have as much assistance with integrating their learning as possible. Other lessons have prompts that are “optional,” so that students can choose whether they want to use the journal for that lesson.

Important notes about the journal

  • The journal is meant to be a private place for the students to process their experiences with the pandemic and their learning about the pandemic. It is not meant to be read or graded by the teacher. Students may choose to share their writing and thinking with the teacher and/or class, and this may prompt helpful discussion.
  • No student should ever be required to share anything they’ve written in their journal.
  • You can model that journal writing is a valuable learning tool by having your own copy of the document and writing in it at the same time that students are writing in theirs. 

Lastly, we strongly recommend that you consider the hard copy, handwriting option for students’ use of the journal. There is research that shows that handwriting is beneficial for the brain and for learning as compared to typing. Feel free to look into the issue yourself if you’d like to know more, and here are some statements from one article (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/memory-catcher/201710/is-it-better-write-hand-or-computer):

  • “Writing by hand connects you with the words and allows your brain to focus on them, understand them and learn from them.”
  • “Writing by hand activates more parts of the brain than typing.”
  • “Writing by hand can be rhythmic, therapeutic, and calming. It can also jumpstart creativity.”
How do I support students who have been impacted by the COVID-19 virus and systemic racism?

In this unit, students build on their life experiences and previous understandings of the COVID-19 virus. Students will come to the unit with a wide range of background knowledge about symptoms, and some students will have been more-directly impacted than others by the COVID-19 virus in their families or communities. Some students will have experienced watching friends or family members with COVID-19 or may have been sick themselves. Some students may have been to funerals or experienced personal losses from COVID-19. As we discuss in the unit, People of Color have been disproportionately impacted by the COVID-19 virus, and for some students of color, systemic racism will be in the front of their mind as they watch the discrepancies between the impact on their own communities versus those of their White peers. During this unit, acknowledge that this topic may be really difficult for some students. Remind students that emotions are real and that it’s OK to feel angry, sad, scared, and a myriad of other feelings. Identifying how we feel is one of the best tools we can use to feel regulated. Demonstrate for students that when you feel your heart rate elevate, a pain in your gut, or a tingle up your spine, you can say to yourself, “This is me feeling angry, and my anger is valid.” Let students know that if they need to take a step outside the room or take a moment to themselves to breathe and feel their emotions, that’s always OK. If students would like to write about how they are feeling, call a family member, or speak with a school counselor, support them in doing so. Teachers modeling coping strategies can support students’ social and emotional development. 

Learning for Justice has a set of resources for supporting students through coronavirus, which may be helpful: https://www.learningforjustice.org/supporting-students-through-coronavirus 

How do I support students who do not believe the COVID-19 pandemic is a public health emergency?

Some students may perceive the COVID-19 virus as not serious, not real, or not a public health emergency. The disconnect between students’ beliefs and science may cause discomfort in class. Ensure students that in this class we are examining data and looking at evidence from the science of the COVID-19 pandemic. We will use the data to ground every conclusion we draw about the pandemic, and we will look closely at communities that have been greatly impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. We will hear different perspectives from people and try to take on those perspectives to see what others are experiencing. Remind students to support their ideas with evidence and data from science.

How do I support classroom discussions?

It is unlikely that this will be the first unit of the school year, and when you use this unit, you and your class will have established community norms. Before you start this unit, it may be productive to revisit your community norms and update them by asking students what they want to add to the list. This is important because the unit will bring up difficult and emotional discussions and topics for everyone, and topics about which students may differ in their beliefs. We want to note that norms and norming activities are tricky. They can be important and helpful for having classroom discussion. Norms such as “be nice” or “be kind” are often normed for whiteness and can be used to maintain White comfort. It will be important to make sure norms in your classroom are not being used to police or silence students who may feel hurt or angry during conversations, particularly Black and Hispanic/Latinx students. This is important because we will be talking about structural inequalities and racism during the unit.

How do I customize language around race and ethnicity to fit within my local context?

In this unit, we refer to racial and ethnic groups using the language and terminology that is used in nationwide data reporting in order to match the data we will be looking at in the unit. We also use terms recommended by equity experts, like Indigenous and Latinx. However, local communities and people may prefer different terms to identify themselves. We suggest you take steps to understand the terms used within your community and then use language that aligns with community-accepted identifying preferences. This may require you to modify some of the terms used on student-facing resources, such as handouts, slides, and readings.

How do I adapt this unit into my remote learning environment?

This unit was designed so that students could engage with the materials in a classroom setting or at home via remote learning. The unit is written in “days”, each of which is equal to a 45-minute class period. Each lesson includes a “lesson snapshot” at the beginning of the learning plan that summarizes the activities in the lesson and the estimated time. You may choose to break the “days” into different pieces, some of which could be done asynchronously. You may also choose to combine “days” of instruction if you are teaching on a block schedule. 

The following sections provide suggestions for setting up components of the unit for remote learning. Recall that many of the artifacts you create as a class (such as the Driving Question Board) will be referenced throughout the unit, so you’ll need a way to link back to them or reshare them in your virtual learning space.

Leading Discussions

Due to privacy concerns and equity issues (such as unreliable internet access), not all students may choose to have their video on during virtual class discussions. Encourage students to join in the conversation via audio only, with no stigma, and invite students to reply to questions using the meeting’s chat feature. Use breakout rooms to allow for small group or partner talk and post the discussion prompt(s) in the chat so everyone can refer to them.

Collecting Shared Class Ideas

Many lessons call for “chart paper and markers”. Your remote teaching setup may include chart paper, and you can scribe student ideas or create a consensus model as you would in your typical classroom, just on video so students can see and participate. However, you may also choose to create a shared Google document when collecting student ideas (and you can type into it as students share aloud or give all students editing access and have them each type their ideas into a certain area of the document, such as a table row). Padlet, Jamboard, and Mural are platforms that use digital “sticky notes” and are helpful for times when everyone is contributing ideas (such as for the Driving Question Board).

If you are looking for additional resources, please review OpenSciEd’s Staying Grounded when Teaching Remote: https://www.openscied.org/remote-teaching/


Unit Acknowledgements
Unit Development Team
  • Katie Van Horne, Unit Lead, Concolor Research
  • Lindsey Mohan, Unit Storyline and Reviewer, BSCS Science Learning
  • Dawn Novak, Writer and Reviewer, BSCS Science Learning
  • Holly Hereau, Writer and Reviewer, BSCS Science Learning 
  • Nicole Vick, Writer and Reviewer, BSCS Science Learning
  • Michael Novak, Writer, Northwestern University
  • Ally Orwig, Writer, Denver Public Schools
  • Tyler Scaletta, Writer, Chicago Public Schools
  • Dan Voss, Writer, Dallas Center-Grimes High School
  • Joy Barnes-Johnson, Writer, Morgan State University
  • Arash Jamshidi, Unit Storyline, University of California, Berkeley
  • Rebecca Kaplan, Unit Storyline and SEL Learning, Summit School District
  • Audrey Mohan, Unit Storyline and Reviewer, BSCS Science Learning
Project Leadership
  • Lindsey Mohan, Division Director, Instructional Materials Development, BSCS Science Learning
  • Danny Edelson, Executive Director, BSCS Science Learning
Production Team
  • Renée DeVaul, Copyeditor, BSCS Science Learning
  • Stacey Luce, Copyeditor, BCSC Science Learning
  • Kate Herman, Copyeditor, Independent Contractor
  • Becca Greer, Project Coordinator, BSCS Science Learning
  • Chris Moraine, Multimedia Graphic Designer, BSCS Science Learning
  • Kate Chambers, Multimedia Graphic Designer, BSCS Science Learning 
  • Sean O’Connor, GIS Mapping, BSCS Science Learning 
  • Gretchen Peterson, GIS Mapping, PetersonGIS
Contributing Experts
  • Dr. Doriane Miller, The University of Chicago Medicine 
  • Carlos Nelson, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation 
  • Norma Sanders, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation 
  • Haya Muhammad, Greater Auburn Gresham Development Corporation 


The development team consulted with the following experts to inform their development of the unit.

  • Larry Gold, SomaLogic 
  • Ashley St. John, Duke-NUS Medical School  
  • Maria Sundaram, Emory University 
  • Tiffany Clark, Seattle, WA
  • Claudia Ludwig, Institute for Systems Biology
  • Becky Howsmon, Institute for Systems Biology

The development team wants to thank the following experts who reviewed parts of the unit. 

  • Marceline DuBose, Equity Literacy Institute  
  • Brian Donovan, BSCS Science Learning 
  • Monica Weindling, BSCS Science Learning 
  • Zoë Buck Bracey, BSCS Science Learning 
Field Test Team
  • Cari Herrmann Abell, Senior Research Scientist, BSCS Science Learning
  • Joseph Hardcastle, Senior Research Associate, BSCS Science Learning
  • Lisa Carey, Senior Research Associate, BSCS Science Learning