Image of virus particle
Educational Outreach

Modeling the Transmission of Disease

Learning Outcomes 

  • Students will describe the spread of disease and ways outbreaks can be avoided or prevented.
  • Students will explain the dynamics of the transmission of diseases by taking part in a "hands-on" simulation.
  • Students will analyze and identify the source of the pathogen
  • Students will develop a theory to flatten the curve


  • Modeling the Transmission of Disease Lesson Plan
  • Clear plastic cups (16 oz preferred)
  • Tap water
  • Phenolphthalein solution or strips*
  • Sodium carbonate Na2CO3 (aka washing soda)**
  • Index Cards
  • Pen or pencil
  • Gloves
  • Goggles

How It Works 

This hands-on activity simulates the spread of disease.  Students will discuss what disease are, how they spread, the purpose of vaccines and how to flatten the curve.  Students will act as epidemiologists to investigate the transmission of the disease and solve the mystery of who is patient zero.


  1. Part 1- A new type of pathogen is identified and investigated. Increased cases or clusters of cases are identified.
  2. Part 2- Increased cases are identified as well as an increased potential for person-to-person transmission.
  3. Part 3- efforts are made to decrease the spread of the pathogen including a vaccine. There is a decreasing rate of cases.


  1. Name 3 diseases that are the result of infection
  2. Graphically represent data created in a classroom simulation
  3. Explain the concepts of biohazard, quarantine, epidemic, and pandemic
  4. Name ways that infectious disease can be prevented, controlled, or cured

Additional Resources

  1. Modeling the Transmission of Disease Lesson Plan
  2. Center for Disease Control and Prevention
  3. Flattening the Curve
  4. Play Solve the Outbreak from the CDC