T-GEM, NetLogo and public health

This week, I found myself really intrigued by NetLogo, especially the model on AIDS. I wanted to use this in a lesson on public health using the T-GEM approach (Khan, 2010).

Target audience: medical students

Topic: Public health


Step 1 – Introduction
Students will work in groups of 3-4 during this lesson. I would introduce the lesson by giving them the following scenario:

“ The CDC has just announced that a new retrovirus has emerged. No treatments for this virus has been established. It acts similarly to HIV in that it is sexually transmitted and the use of condoms significantly decreases the risk of infection. Infected individuals are initially asymptomatic, but later develop an immune deficiency, just like AIDS. A test has been developed to detect this virus but infected individuals only test positive 3 months after infection. You are public health officials who have been tasked to identify the most effect method to keep infection rates as low as possible.”

Step 2 – Prediction/Generate
Based on their current level of knowledge, students will be asked to predict methods that will be effective in minimizing the infection rate. They will likely come up with a few ideas, but will be asked to narrow it down to just one (given our current budget issues), based on their group discussion. This will then be presented to the rest of the class

Step 3 – Evaluate
Students will then be asked to use the NetLogo AIDS model to run their prediction. They will then explore other variables (condom use, frequency of screening, etc) to see if changes to these variables cause the desired effect (decreased infection rate). Based on the data, students will start to understand the relationship between these variables and infection rate.

Step 4 – Modify/Reflection
Students will then be asked to go back and look at their original predictions, and modify it as they see fit. Students will reflect on their initial predictions and their modified predictions to address any misconceptions they had at the beginning of class.

Step 5 – Peer review
Groups will then present their finial recommendation as public health officials and receive feedback from the remainder of the class.


Khan, S. (2010). New Pedagogies on Teaching Science with Computer Simulations. J Sci Educ Technol, 20(3), 215–232. http://doi.org/10.1007/s10956-010-9247-2


  1. Hi Momoe

    I really liked the peer review step in your lesson. According to Vygotsky (1978), the peer review and feedback process afford strong social learning opportunities facilitated by knowledge exchange among peers. Particularly, the social constructivist view highlights learning as a social activity and emphasizes that learners’ interactions with people in the environment stimulate their cognitive growth (Schunk, 2008).


    Schunk, D. H. (2008). Learning theories: An educational perspective (5th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson

    Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind and society: The development of higher mental processes. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press

    1. I saw it used in the Friedrichsen and Pallant (2007) article and I thought it was a great idea, so I borrowed it from there. They used to to model scientific norms which I thought was brilliant!

      If you have some time, it’s a great article!

      Friedrichsen, P. M., & Pallant, A. (2007). French fries, dialysis tubing & computer models: teaching diffusion & osmosis through inquiry & modeling. The American Biology Teacher. http://doi.org/10.1662/0002-7685(2007)69%5B22:FFDTCM%5D2.0.CO;2

  2. Hi Momoe,
    I liked how you first presented with a real-life scenario in which the students can feel like they are a part of something. I’m assuming since the target audience is for medical students, they will already have a basic understanding of how to minimize infection rates? I wonder if most groups will come up with the same method since they have to narrow it down to one? Another angle could be to assign each group a particular method and have each group present their findings. In the end, they could vote on which one was the best one?
    Thanks for the post.

    1. I think both approaches would work well. Originally, I wanted to have the groups make a commitment based on their own ideas to draw them into the project. Sometimes I find that assigning methods doesn’t get their buy in.


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