Lab: virus tracker (Activity adapted from cibl: Center for Inquiry-Based Learning workshop and kit) summary



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Lab: VIRUS TRACKER

(Activity adapted from CIBL: Center for Inquiry-Based Learning workshop and kit)


SUMMARY: This activity simulates the spread of infectious disease throughout a population of people. Students will exchange safe liquids in plastic cups among classmates and then work backwards to identify the two originally infected people. The following NC Standard Course of Study objectives are met during this activity:

7.03 Analyze data to identify trends or patterns and determine how an infectious disease may spread including:



  • Carriers

  • Vectors

  • Conditions conducive to disease


MATERIALS: The following materials are needed to complete this activity for 4 classes of 25 students:

  • 1 dropper bottle of Phenolphthalein (virus indicator solution)

  • 8 permanent markers

  • 3 liter (~100 oz.) of Sodium carbonate solution (“infected saliva”)

  • 3 liter (~100 oz.) of Distilled water (“uninfected saliva”)

  • 6 Dice (1 die per group)

  • 6 Destination Cards labeled:

    • Cafeteria, 3 exchanges

    • Concession/snack stand, 2 exchanges

    • Homeroom, 2 exchanges

    • Gymnasium, 2 exchanges

    • Library, 1 exchange

    • Principal’s office,1 exchange

  • Destination and Exchange Table (for class display and reference)

  • 25 trays (for storing cups)

  • 400 plastic cups with lids: 100 for original “saliva” and marked with unique ID number; 300 without ID number

  • 100 Virus Tracker activity sheets

Prior to DAY ONE: (Homework: Chapter 21, Section 3, Viruses, pp. 482 – 485)



PREPARATION: (Preparations may be completed one day or more before the lab.)

  • Place Destination Cards at 6 stations around the room

  • Prepare “original saliva” cups

    • Label one cup for each student with a unique ID number

    • Fill 2 cups ¾ full with sodium carbonate solution. These are the “infected” cups. Be sure to record the ID# of these 2 cups before placing them with the other cups.

    • Fill the rest of the cups ¾ full with distilled water (“uninfected saliva”).

    • Fill a few extra infected and uninfected saliva cups in case of spillage during the lab and to use during the demonstration of the exchange procedures.


DAY ONE: Spreading Infectious Disease?

  1. Compare and Contrast Infectious (Communicable) Diseases with Noninfectious (Non-communicable) Diseases. Lead a brief discussion of the ways infectious diseases can be spread, including:

      1. sharing drinks or food

      2. kissing or sexual contact

      3. shaking hands

      4. touching objects (doorknobs, fountains, etc.) and then touching your eyes, mouth, or nose

      5. coughing or sneezing




  1. Modeling the Epidemic

    1. Distribute the Virus Tracker activity sheet and instruct students to record their name and date

    2. Distribute 1 tray with the following items:

      1. a cup of original saliva, marked with the unique ID #

      2. 3 unmarked cups and lids

      3. a marker

      4. a die

    3. Instruction students to label the unmarked cups as “morning”, “lunch”, and “after school” (one location per cup) and to also include their initials on each cup.

    4. Provide an overview of the directions: Students will travel to 3 locations and exchange “saliva” based on the number of exchanges noted on each card (Ex. Cafeteria = 3 exchanges)

    5. Demonstrate and Describe the Infection Process including:

      1. Locations and number of exchanges

      2. Dice rolling to determine which locations each student will visit

      3. Display the Destination Table in class to assist this review

      4. Use 2 morning cups to demonstrate one exchange as shown below

Start with 2 morning cups Show how to pour ALL Show how to pour 1/2

½ full with “original” saliva, of “saliva” from Student of the “saliva” from

one for Student #1, one for #1 cup to #2. Student #2 cup back to



Student #2. Student #1 cup

      1. At the end of the morning exchange, students return to their seats and transfer ½ of the morning saliva into their ‘Lunch’ cup.

      2. After completing this transfer, place the lid on the cup and place it on the tray. The students will then repeat these steps for the ‘lunch’ destination and exchanges and return to their seats again for another transfer to the ‘after school’ cup and one final set of destinations and exchanges.

      3. REMINDER: Depending on class size, students may not be able to make the total number of exchanges noted on the destination cards. STUDENTS SHOULD NOT EXCHANGE WITH THE SAME PERSON MORE THAN ONCE AT EACH DESTINATION.

      4. REMINDER: If students roll the die and match a previous destination, they should roll the die again until a new destination is rolled. STUDENTS SHOULD NOT GO TO EITHER OF THEIR PREVIOUS DESTINATIONS.




  1. Infectious Exchanges

    1. Instruct students to pour ½ of their original saliva into the “Morning” cup and begin the exchange procedures:

    2. Morning Exchange: Roll die, Go to Destination, Make Exchange(s), Return to Seat, Make Transfer, Move Morning (with lid) to Tray

    3. Lunch Exchange: Roll die, Go to Destination, Make Exchange(s), Return to Seat, Make Transfer, Move Lunch (with lid) to Tray

    4. After school Exchange: Roll die, Go to Destination, Make Exchange(s), Return to Seat (no addition transfer or lids)

    5. TEACHER NOTE: Set up trays and cups for the next class while students are completing the exchanges.




  1. Checking for Infection

    1. Instruct students to have their “After school” cup ready for testing and add 2 drops of “virus indicator” to each student’s after school cup.

    2. Pink = positive results = infected with virus; Clear = negative results = not infected with virus

    3. Students should place their final lid on the ‘after school’ cup and place it with the other cups on their tray.

    4. All trays should be safely stored for the next class period.




  1. Lab Report - If time allows, students should complete the hypothesis, materials, and procedures sections of the lab report.


DAY TWO: Tracking Infectious Disease – This part of the activity will allow students to determine the origin of the virus using the scientific method. Students may complete the lab report individually, in pairs, or small groups.

  1. Question: Students should make predictions and complete the hypothesis after Day One and prior to completing the lab report. Their hypothesis should address this question: Where did the infection begin?

  2. Hypothesis: (Make a prediction based on where you think the virus originated.)

  3. Materials/Procedures: Students should summarize the procedures followed during Day 1 of the lab and include the materials required for the lab procedures.

  4. Data Collection: Students will use the Virus Tracker Activity Sheet to collect and analyze data.

  5. Data Analysis: Students will construct a diagram or outline to illustrate your problem solving steps. Diagrams may resemble flow charts that depict the “track” used to determine the origin of the virus.

Notes for Tracking procedures:

Lunch Test: After initial investigation, agree to test the lunch cups to help students narrow down when they were infected. Prior to this test, ask students to note if they thought they became infected at lunch. Usually, ½ or fewer were infected at lunch.

Three Additional Tests: Inform students that 3 tests of the original cups will be permitted to determine the original 2 carriers. Students must present their rationale for each person they want to test. If the original carriers are not identified during these 3 tests, you may provide 1 more test if a strong rationale is presented.

Morning Test: Once the original carriers have been identified, instruct students to note when they were infected and then reveal by placing “virus tracker” drops in the morning cups.


  1. Conclusion/Findings: Students will summarize the results from their virus tracking and indicate the actual origin of the virus and the route at which it spread across the population. Although diagrams are encouraged in the Data Analysis, students should be encouraged to express their conclusion using a written format to reinforce accurate and scientific writing skills.

  2. OPTIONS: If small groups are used for Day Two, students may be encouraged to file their Centers for Disease Report and release it to the class as an Epidemic Warning or other creative scenarios.

News Article: Instruct students to write a news brief or create a news flash announcing the virus outbreak and containment by the researchers who traced and isolated the spread of the virus before it attacked the world.

LAB: Virus Tracker

(Activity adapted from CIBL: Center for Inquiry-Based Learning workshop and kit)


This activity simulates the spread of infectious disease throughout a population of people. Students will exchange safe liquids in plastic cups among classmates and then work backwards to identify the two originally infected people.
NAME Original Sample # Date
Morning Exchanges:
Location # of exchanges

Name and number


Name and number
Name and number
Lunch Exchanges:
Location # of exchanges

Name and number


Name and number
Name and number
After school Exchanges:
Location # of exchanges

Name and number


Name and number
Name and number

Where you infected with the virus?



LAB: Virus Tracker


  1. Question: Where did the virus originate?

  2. Hypothesis: (Make a prediction based on where you think the virus originated.)





  1. Materials/Procedures: (summarize the procedures followed during Day 1 of the lab)









  1. Data Collection (see Exchange Data Sheet)

  2. Data Analysis (use a diagram or outline to illustrate your problem solving steps)



  1. Conclusion/Findings (Review your original question and hypothesis and refer to these as you summarize your findings.)










Newport Middle School 8th grade Science M. Sutton




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