Dr. Rachel Tustin has a PhD in Education focusing on Educational Technology, a Masters in English, and a BS in Marine Science. She has taught in K-12 for more than 15 years, and higher education for ten years.
Before You Start Teaching about HIV
Before you start teaching your students about human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), you'll want to consult your school district guidelines for a clear understanding of the parameters you are tied to. Most states have laws regarding the teaching of health-related topics, so be sure you're operating within those guidelines for your protection.
Students should know what HIV is: a virus. A virus is a microorganism that reproduces by taking over human cells and using them to create more viruses. Providing two unlabeled pictures - one of HIV and one of a common cold or flu virus - can offer a good introduction. Ask students if they can tell the difference just by looking at them. They'll notice a lot of striking similarities, but very few will be able to tell them apart just by looking at an image. Then explain to students the differences between HIV and the common cold. This can help break some of the stereotypes about how HIV is spread for all students.
Activities for Middle School
In middle school, students may have heard of HIV but could have a poor understanding of what it is exactly and how it spreads. So, the activities in middle school should focus on teaching students why it's important to avoid coming into contact with other students' blood, and the symptoms of living with HIV.
Reading a story together about a child who is living with HIV is a good starting activity. These stories are fairly easy to locate online and have common themes that middle school students need to hear about children with HIV. These themes can include the strict regimen of taking medications at exact times each day and the discrimination HIV-positive children often face due to misconceptions about how it is spread. Discussing these stories with your class humanizes the disease and helps students understand that there is no 'stereotype' of a person living with HIV. It's also a good springboard into discussing what HIV really is and its associated symptoms.
This next activity will help students understand how HIV is and is not spread. Make several cards to spread around your room, and label them to represent different scenarios, such as blood, sneeze, share, shake. Place the cards upside down on the table so students cannot see the words, and have them pick a card. Then divide them into groups based on the random card they chose. Explain that HIV is spread only through contact with blood or semen, and not through everyday actions such as sneezing in class, shaking hands, or sharing food in the cafeteria. Students can even make comic strips afterward to explain how HIV is and is not spread.
Activities for High School
When teaching high school students about HIV, you want to be sure they grasp how easily HIV can be spread. Give a few students bags of candy that are easily distinguishable from the rest, such as chocolate kisses. The other students can receive bags of various types of hard candy such as mints, butterscotch, jaw breakers, etc.
Now, in each bag, you also need to include an index card. Each card will serve a purpose later in the game.
- Two or three bags of candy need a card labeled with a 1. These cards should instruct students to say ''I don't want to trade with anyone today,'' if asked.
- The students who get the bags of chocolate kisses need a card labeled with a 2.
- All the other bags can just have an index card with a random number on it. These numbers don't have to mean anything, but they can keep students from guessing the outcome.
Give students about five minutes to trade candy with each other. As they trade, they should record the number of each student they traded with on the back of their card. They'll need this information later for the discussion.
Once everyone has traded, have all of your students stand in a circle so they can see each other. Explain to the class that a few students in the group had an ''infection,'' and it was the people with the 2 on their cards:
- Everyone who traded candy with those people (has a 2 anywhere on their card) is now infected and should remain standing.
- Ask the students who couldn't trade and had a 1 on their card to sit down.
- Tell students who don't have a 2 anywhere on their card that they too can sit down.
- Reveal that this was a simulation to show how quickly HIV can spread before inviting the remaining students to take their seats.
As you continue the discussion, you can use the cards as reference points. The cards with a 1 represented people practicing abstinence, so students should know that abstinence is one way to avoid being infected unless they're in a committed monogamous relationship. Originally, students with a 2 didn't know they were infected, so this can be a talking point for how HIV can be spread unknowingly as well as the importance of getting tested and making safe decisions.
Depending on what you're allowed to discuss in your district, you could use more numbers to represent other ideas in the simulation, like practicing safe sex or not sharing needles. For example, cards with a 3 could represent using protection, such as a condom, to avoid contracting HIV.
To add to the discussion, you can go through the class to see how students felt in each role. As a followup activity, each student can research a story about an HIV-positive person then share what they found. Being flexible with the requirements can paint a fuller picture of living with HIV, but students should seek to answer relevant questions, such as how the person may've contracted HIV, how they discovered they had it, and how they dealt with it.
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