Driving Question

Is getting a flu vaccine worth the risk?
Should public schools mandate flu vaccines like they mandate other vaccinations?

Should every public school student be required to receive a flu vaccination? What messages do media outlets send about the safety and importance of vaccines?

Students investigate the risks and benefits of vaccines, and then organize a campaign to increase the rate of flu vaccination in their school campus/community.

This is the first major unit in our AP Biology course. The first 1-2 days of the course (before the unit begins) focus on familiarizing students with current global health events – for example, Ebola, measles outbreaks, etc. Students are also introduced to the difference between correlation and causation (see teacher presentation), and to critical analysis of media reporting.

Unit Title:

Influenza Vaccination Program

For Students:

11th-12th grade


8 weeks


AP Biology

Unit Launch

The unit starts with a poll of students’ opinions about the overall risks and benefits of vaccinations. (This could be done on paper or using an electronic tool). Students then read background information on the history of vaccines (http://www.historyofvaccines.org/content/educators) and re-assess. The class spends two class periods generating questions that they will need to answer in order to address the driving question – is the flu vaccination “worth it”? Student questions then drive the teaching of key biology concepts throughout the unit (see Standards tab).

Midpoint Check

Students participate in a structured academic controversy discussion on the question: Should flu vaccinations be mandated in schools, as they are in some health care settings?

Articles for students to review for and against flu vaccines could be drawn from the National Vaccines Information Center or other sources. (Examples –  http://www.nvic.org/NVIC-Vaccine-News/February-2011/WA-State-Vaccine-Law-Threatens-Exemptions—Violat.aspx; Johns Hopkins School of Medicine – http://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/mandatory_flu_vaccination/faq.html)

Directions for structured academic controversy: SAC Flu Vaccine

Culminating Experience

Students organize a flu vaccination clinic held on the school campus that is open to the public. They run a publicity campaign in advance to encourage participation.

Directions and rubric for vaccination campaign: Vaccine Campaign Instructions

The rubric for students’ campaigns was embedded into the instructions document (see Materials section, Culminating Experience).

In addition to the vaccination campaign, students also took quizzes and tests covering the content in the unit (enzyme activity and energetics, biomolecules, cell parts and organelles, protein folding, immune system, viral replication).

Teacher Reflection

Here’s what I really enjoy about this unit:

Influenza seems to always be in the news, so the topic continues to be relevant from year to year.  One of my goals for students is that they become critical consumers of scientific media.  To that end we take the time necessary to analyze sources and  consider different perspectives. Misconceptions are surfaced early in the unit, which allows them to be addressed.  Additionally, there is a strong focus on our individual responsibilities to our society, as a whole.

Students come up with creative ways to educate their peers about flu vaccines.  I am impressed every year with the range of projects – from holding a lunchtime forum, to QR codes in the bathrooms to entice students to learn more.

Here’s what I’m still working on making better about this unit:

There are a couple of places where there is room for improvement in this unit. I’d like to bring in more outside expertise, in the form of healthcare workers, epidemiologists, virologists, etc. I’m also working to incorporate more lab experiences into this unit.

Student Reflection
Outside Expert Reflection
Authentic Problem

Every year each member of a society must make the decision whether or not to get a flu shot.  In today’s environment of fake news, vaccine controversy, and mutating flu strains, it is sometimes hard to find the science.  Whether a student chooses to get a flu shot or not, students cannot make an informed decision without finding, and understanding, the science.  Our authentic problem is to use scientific information to educate the student body.

Authentic Assessment

The authentic assessment for this unit is for students to educate the student body about influenza and the flu vaccine using a method of their choice.  Further, students work to advertise and host a flu vaccination clinic that is open to students, teachers, and the public.

Student Voice

The Influenza Unit is driven by the questions students develop in response to the prompt, “Is a Flu Shot worth it?” Through a series of activities, the student questions are filtered and then organized into categories by the students themselves.  As learning progresses, these questions are used to guide what is learned. New questions are added as they come up during the class.

Students are also given choice in how they demonstrate their mastery of the content for the flu vaccination educational campaign.  The only requirement is that they meet the expectations described on the rubric.


Students ask logistical questions of our district head nurse about running a vaccination clinic.  The school nurse will come in to class to talk to students about reported vaccination rates by school within the district.  Vaccination clinics are run by visiting nurses.

Culturally Responsive Instruction

Individuals, families, religious groups, etc. have values systems that inform the choices that are made. The choice of whether to get a flu vaccination is a respected option.  The emphasis of this unit is to develop the skill to identify reliable sources so that each person can make an educated decision.   During all parts of this unit, privacy is respected.  Polling of student opinions and preconceptions is anonymous. During the vaccination interview, students are told that they can either use information from their own lives or they can predict what someone else might say in answer to the questions.  In the Structured Academic Controversy students are assigned to research one specific side to the issue in order to draw out the best arguments for that side. The focus is on education around the science, not on students getting a vaccination.

Culturally responsive instruction requires meeting students where they are and then growing their skills and understanding. By having students develop their own questions they reveal where they are in their own process and they are able to identify their own gaps in knowledge.


A focused collaboration model is used in the question formulation technique to filter and categorize best questions.  In this model all team members are working together toward a common goal.  Team collaboration is used during the Structured Academic Controversy.  Students are paired up within a quad and assigned opposing sides of an argument, however the exercise ends with the whole group working together to come to consensus. The final project, the Flu Vaccine Educational Campaign, may be completed collaboratively.  In this case, students must decide on the best approach – focused, team, delegated, or competitive collaboration.

Academic Discourse

Through structured academic controversy, students argue from evidence.  Academic discourse also shows up in a poster presentation, where students must show how they respond to peer feedback.  Communication is also an important component of running an effective educational campaign.

College Board AP Biology Course Description

Course Learning Objectives 2.13, 2.14, 2.29-2.30, 3.29-3.30, 4.1-4.6, 4.17

Topics –

  • Organic molecules
  • Enzyme structure and function
  • Specific & nonspecific immunity (plants and animals)
  • Viral replication
  • Cell structure and function (including membrane transport and specific organelles)

About the Authors

Jayesh Rao, Kristi Sutton, and Kim Herzog

Kristi, Kim, and Jayesh have each been teaching biology and AP Biology for over 15 years across three different high schools.

The Bellevue School District acknowledges that we learn, work, live and gather on the Indigenous Land of the Coast Salish peoples, specifically the Duwamish and Snoqualmie Tribes. We thank these caretakers of this land, who have lived and continue to live here, since time immemorial.