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Our Lungs Our Air Our Health

Activity 1 (Engage): Introducing Tatiana & Calvin

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Activity Overview

Activity Summary

Students are introduced to the anchor phenomenon for the unit: two young people who occasionally have difficulty breathing. They also share background knowledge and develop questions to explore. Finally, they examine local youth asthma statistics to understand the risk asthma poses to their communities.

Activity Objectives & Materials

Approximate Time: 30-45 minutes



  • Students will ask questions to build understanding of the phenomenon

  • Students will be able to describe the symptoms related to the phenomenon (asthma)

  • Students will make connections to local asthma health statistics



  • Projector & speakers (for video)

  • Anchor chart paper and markers

  • Local asthma data posters



  • Patient Record (teacher and student versions)

  • KWL Chart

Standards Connection

SEP: Asking Questions & Defining Problems

CCC: Cause & Effect

Before the Activity

Before the activity: The best option for the role play portion of this activity is to have 1 or 2 students play Tatiana and Calvin. You will need to identify students who can play these roles in advance and prepare them by giving them the Teacher Guide Patient Records, and explaining to them how to answer students’ questions.

Teacher Tip: If students who have asthma volunteer to play the roles of Tatiana and Calvin, it may make it easier for them to answer questions, but remind them that they are playing a role and should not reveal any personal medical information.

A Note About Roleplaying: Students will be excited about taking part in the role play if you are excited and invested in it. Think about ways you can make it more authentic for students. For example, wear scrubs to work (if allowed) and put up signs in the classroom indicating that they are in a medical facility.

Note: If you do not have students who can play Tatiana or Calvin (or you prefer not to do the role play), do the warmup and Step 1 of the activity, then show the first part of the video “Between Life & Breath” as an introduction to the patient. Stop the video at 4:30 (before it begins to talk about asthma) and have students chart the symptoms that they see in the video. Then jump ahead to Step 4 of the activity and continue as normal.



Warmup: What questions do doctors ask their patients?

  • Possible answers: how are you feeling? What hurts? When does it hurt? etc.

  • The purpose of this warmup is to prepare students for the Q&A coming up in step 3 of the activity.


1. Frame the Activity

Tell students that today they are starting a new investigation where they will act as doctors to help one or two young people who have a common medical problem. In a moment, you will introduce them to the “patients”, and the students will have the opportunity to ask them questions about their medical issue. Throughout the investigation, they will use medical thinking to study their patients’ problem.

Step 1

2. Introduce Tatiana & Calvin

Pass out the blank “Patient Record” sheet to students and tell them that their first job is to learn what symptoms their patients have. Bring your “patients” up to the front and have them share their names (they should also bring their completed copies of their patient records for reference if they need them). If you have two student volunteers, divide the class into two groups and have each group work with one patient.

3. Chart Symptoms

Have students fill in the top line of information on their charts. Then have students take turns asking Tatiana/Calvin questions to learn more about what’s bothering them. Encourage students to take on the role of doctors as they talk to their patients. Have them think about good follow up questions that a doctor would ask. If they ask Tatiana or Calvin a question they don’t know the answer to, have them write down the question on their charts.

  • Symptoms students should uncover: coughing, difficulty breathing, difficulty exercising, wheezing, high heart rate, on some days it’s worse than others

  • Students may also uncover: they live in a city, near a road that has lots of trucks, they like to play outside, and their symptoms are worse during the summer. If students don’t uncover these now, they will have a chance later in the module.


After students have completed their medical interviews, thank Tatiana and Calvin and have them return to their seats. Have students share what they learned as a whole class, and record the symptoms and information on anchor chart. If there are unanswered questions (unknown answers), write them down as well.

Extension: If time permits, and you have stethoscopes for Activity 2, you can have students take Tatiana and Calvin’s heart rate (in anticipation of the next activity)

Step 4

4. Preliminary Diagnosis & KWL Chart

Ask students to consider what their diagnosis might be. They will likely say that they think Tatiana and Calvin have asthma (if not, you can ask prompting questions to lead them this way). Have them add this preliminary diagnosis to the bottom of their Patient Record sheets.

Pass out the student KWL charts. On a class KWL chart, write Asthma & Breathing at the top, and have students do the same on their charts. Give students a few minutes to write things on their own charts about what they know and want to know about asthma and breathing. If they are not sure what to write about asthma, remind them that they know some things about breathing, and what might cause someone to have of difficulty breathing. If they don’t have things they want to know, push them on whether they know what causes an asthma attack or how your lungs work. Have students share what they know and want to know, and add them to the class chart. Next, have students write things that they would like to learn about Tatiana and Calvin or about asthma and breathing.


Make sure not to provide additional information about asthma to students at this stage of the module. As students develop questions, their curiosity will grow. In the activities ahead, they will develop their own explanations about asthma and their diagnosis.

Teacher Tip: Students with asthma (or who have a close friend or relative with asthma) will likely be engaged with the phenomenon quickly, but others may not be. Use the KWL chart and the local asthma data to help these students to develop curiosity about additional aspects of the phenomenon such as how your lungs work and why certain communities are affected more than others to get them engaged in the module.

Modification: Have students make their own KWL charts in their notebooks.

Differentiation: Create KWL charts with sentence starters or with a few responses already written.

Activity 1 - KWL chart.jpg

5. Local Asthma Data

Ask students if they think asthma is a problem for kids or other people n their neighborhood (be mindful not to ask students for personal health information, but leave the door open for them to make a personal connection). Tell them that as medical professionals, it is their job to investigate whether conditions like asthma are problems in their communities.

Choose one or more sets of local asthma statistics from the asthma data posters (see materials) that you think will be most relevant to students. Share them with either by projecting them where all students can see, or putting them up on signs around the room.


Have students read the poster(s) and talk with a partner about how they feel about the statistics. Then have partners share out what they talked about with the class. Use this as an opportunity to point out that asthma is a problem not just for individual patients like Tatiana and Calvin, but also for whole communities. Have students add any additional information from the statistics to their KWL charts in the “Learned” column, and any new questions they have to the “Want to Know” column.


Tell students that they will come back to this KWL chart throughout the investigation as they learn additional information about asthma.

Virginia Asthma Rates: Asthma rates in Virginia are below the national average. If you live in Virginia, it may be worthwhile to also share the rates in DC as a way to highlight the problem

Teacher Background Knowledge: For an excellent (and disturbing) report on the relationship among poverty, race,  location, and asthma in Baltimore, read "Baltimore’s asthma hot spots are poor, African-American neighborhoods with lots of empty houses" from the Capital News Service.

6. Formative Assessment

Collect students’ KWL charts, or circulate around the room and mark down who has completed their chart. Have students share a question that they are particularly interested in learning the answer to during their investigation.

Reading: Janet Phoenix - Air Quality Champion

Optional homework or in-class reading: Have students read the interview with this module’s Air Quality Champion to help them understand the people who keep us safe from air pollution.

How does your work relate to air quality?

I manage an asthma home visiting program. We provide education and tools for families to use to improve the health of their children with asthma. We provide vacuum cleaners to reduce allergic dust particles in the home, pest management for roaches and mice and dust mite covers for the bed. Many of the families we serve live in areas of the city where air quality is poor, because of close proximity to roadways. I also teach graduate students at George Washington University about how poverty and poor environmental conditions can contribute to poor health outcomes.

Janet Pheonix Headshot.jpg

Name: Dr. Janet Phoenix

Title: Assistant Research Professor

Organization: George Washington University













What motivates you to come to work every day?

It motivates me to know that the work we do helps families keep their children healthy. I also like training the future health care workforce.


How did your education lead you to the position that you have today?

I majored in Anthropology in college, and I studied how culture, beliefs and health intersect. That was a great foundation for medical school at Howard University. After medical school I studied at the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University.


What is your workspace like?

My office at George Washington University is in the middle of a densely populated urban center: Washington, D.C. When I am not conducting research, I am out in the city working with families of children with asthma. I also collaborate with organizations and agencies in the city that deal with asthma. Some of these agencies are responsible for improving housing conditions that make asthma worse like leaks and mold. I also work with agencies to write laws and enforce environmental regulations in order to keep people safer.


What accomplishment are you most proud of?

I am proud of forming a coalition called the Healthy Housing Collaborative. This group is working to improve housing conditions related to health for DC residents.


Is there something important that you want to share that we haven’t asked?

I underestimated the role of good public policy (laws and regulations) when I began my career. Without these laws and regulations, it is difficult to keep communities safe from pollution sources that make the air hazardous to breathe. Elected officials don’t always know how to keep the air clean. They depend upon citizens and experts to help them write and support environmental laws. It is important for you to understand the laws in your community, so you can make improvements and create new laws that are needed.

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