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The Spread of HIV Through a Population

By Lois Glasscock


Biology curriculum offers many opportunities to discuss ethical issues and to foster growth in moral maturity. One helpful strategy is to ask students to keep a journal of values and concerns throughout the year. The student will see growth as the year progresses. An ethical approach to the teaching of biology can make the discipline relevant to the students and equip them to be more responsible members of the human family.

Adolescents can take responsibility for their behavior. The objectives for the activity THE SPREAD OF HIV THROUGH A POPULATION asks the student to look critically at the number of people who are hurt when a person is found to be HIV positive. Behavior, which at first looks like an individual's private choice, is seen to affect a large circle of peers, family and community. This activity will fit the content area involving the immune system.

This activity was developed in collaboration with Frank C. Jahn, Esperanza High School, 1830 N. Kellog Dr., Anaheim, CA 92686 and was first published by the 1992 Woodrow Wilson Biology Institute on Bioethics.



High School Biology I and II


  1. Students use a model to illustrate the spread of HIV through an adolescent population.

  2. Students, acting in the role of epidemiologists, explore the dilemmas of HIV infection presented by the simulation.

  3. In cooperative groups, students identify values and make decisions based on ethical principles of human dignity, beneficence and justice.

  4. Students produce a play, skit, broadcast, puppet show, story or some vehicle to present HIV information to younger children.

  5. Students critically explore the conflict between freedom, "it's my life," and the responsibility that the individual has to the larger community.


  1. Clean test tube for each student

  2. Distilled water or water that remains colorless when tested with phenolphthalein. Do not add buffer or acid. It must be sensitive to slight amounts of NaOH which represents HIV

  3. 0.1 molar NaOH

  4. Phenolphthalein, dissolved in alcohol, diluted with water


Each student will be given a test tube 1/2 full of fluid. At the beginning of the simulation all but two students have pure water. Choose, based on the profile card, two tubes that are to be the source of HIV infection (tubes of 0.1 m NaOH). Do not tell the students who has the infection. Keep the simulation as real as possible. Each student will represent an epidemiologist who will follow a individual through the simulation. The individual will be defined by a role card and represented by a test tube of fluid. Based on the profile card the student/epidemiologist will predict sexual behavior of his/her subject.

Each sexual encounter will be represented by the exchange of droppers of fluid between the two test tubes. At the end of a 10 minute time interval each student/epidemiologist returns to the lab bench to test the test tube for contamination. To test for HIV add a drop of Phenolphthalein. If the fluid turns pink that individual is infected. Students are visibly shaken when their subject is found to be HIV positive. Have epidemiologists following infected individuals give profile of their subject to the class.

Students move to cooperative groups. Groups can be organized (1) so that members represent the various interested parties and each hears a variety of perspectives or (2) so that each group explores the problem from one point of view. One group could approach the problem based on the perspective of close friends, another could represent the views of the medical community, another the family, etc. Let your students help define the interested groups. It will facilitate group work if a group leader and a recorder are assigned.


GROUP VIEWPOINT ___________________________
GROUP MEMBERS ____________________________


  1. Identify four problems that arise in the consideration of the plan for the care of the infected individual. Write these on the group's display pad. Choose the main problem and write it on the pad as a question.

  2. List all, both individuals and institutions, that are affected by this problem either directly or indirectly. Write them on the display pad.

  3. Outline several possible solutions. Consider what action will be performed:
    a. by whom?
    b. how will it help solve the problem?
    c. where will the action take place?
    d. when will the action take place?

  4. What values did you consider in choosing a solution? Values include truth telling, protecting another from pain or harm, respect for others, freedom, fairness, empathy, growth of knowledge. List at least four values that you considered in choosing a course of action.

  5. As a group select your best possible answer to the question formulated in "1". Defend your plan of action.

  6. Discuss the "Did you consider" questions that are in your envelope.

  7. Each group posts their conclusions and reports to the class.


  1. How you would feel if you were diagnosed with HIV infection?

  2. If you were the one who was HIV positive, would the solution that your group formulated be adequate to take care of your needs?

  3. Place yourself in the position of an HIV infected individual. Who, other than yourself, would be hurt most by the news?

  4. What do children need to know about HIV infection?

  5. What would make a difference in HIV education?


Have students share group work. Expand the discussion to the planning of some activity that the students can do to teach younger students about HIV. Activities might include a play, a puppet show, a newspaper, a broadcast, a video, et cetera. Hopefully the students' circle of concern for others has been enlarged.

Some of the possible profiles for the simulation are listed below. Notice that many of them could be either male or female. I would suggest that you make several copies of this page, adjust the sexes of the individuals so that it makes a believable mix, put the profiles on cards and hand them out randomly to your students.

  • HS senior with a steady girl friend who keeps him on a short leash

  • HS student who is very much into heavy metal and is not involved in school activities

  • Co-captain of tennis team and on honor roll

  • HS senior who belongs to a secret homosexual club on campus

  • Straight "A" student who hangs out with a mixed group, attractive but does not have a steady boy friend

  • Newspaper staff photographer who hangs out with the "brains"

  • Cheer leader, active in the local church youth group, and volunteers at a day care center

  • Student belongs to the Ecology Club, likes to go hiking and camping with other club members

  • Junior girl, dating a 28 year old man, feels HS boys are immature HS student who believes that sex outside of marriage is wrong

  • Senior boy who has experimented with sex and has bisexual tendencies HS graduate who is proud of his sexual prowess and macho image

  • Student who wants a career before a relationship

  • 16 year old who has run away from home and is living on the street

  • "Good" kid, believes family values are important, doesn't usually drink

  • Junior girl hangs out with the girls, doesn't date

  • Macho type who likes to go with the guys to the "red light district"

  • HS female athlete, likes to date different guys, rumor is that she is "easy"

  • Female prostitute

  • 16 year old who has been initiated into a gang


    Muuss, Rolf E. (Spring 1988) "Carol Gilligan's Theory of Sex Differences in the Development of Moral Reasoning During Adolescence." Adolescence 23, pp 229-243

    Kohlberg, L., and Lickona, T. (1986) The Stages of Ethical Development: From Childhood to Old Age. New York: Harper and Row

    Zucker, A., Borchert, D. and Stewart, D. (1992) Medical Ethics, a Reader. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall

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