Why do we all have to stay home?

NSTA Daily Do - Tuesday, March 24, 2020

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Welcome to NSTA's Daily Do

Teachers and families across the country are facing a new reality of providing opportunities for students to do science through distance and home learning. The Daily Do is one of the ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families with this endeavor. Each weekday, NSTA will share a sensemaking task teachers and families can use to engage their students in authentic, relevant science learning. We encourage families to make time for family science learning (science is a social process!) and are dedicated to helping students and their families find balance between learning science and the day-to-day responsibilities they have to stay healthy and safe.

Interested in learning about other ways NSTA is supporting teachers and families? Visit the NSTA homepage.

What is sensemaking?

Sensemaking is actively trying to figure out how the world works (science) or how to design solutions to problems (engineering). Students do science and engineering through the science and engineering practices. Engaging in these practices necessitates students be part of a learning community to be able to share ideas, evaluate competing ideas, give and receive critique, and reach consensus. Whether this community of learners is made up of classmates or family members, students and adults build and refine science and engineering knowledge together.



The COVID-19 global pandemic has led to major changes in our everyday lives. The biggest changes for young children are likely staying home from school and no longer being able to spend time with extended family and friends.

In this task, Why do we all have to stay home?, students and their families engage in the practice of Developing and Using Models and discussion to figure out how social distancing (and shelter in place) slows the spread of the coronavirus. This task comes from a coronavirus lesson designed to help young children talk about changes they've seen and heard about, learn how the coronavirus is spread, and take actions to keep themselves and their families healthy and safe. The complete lesson and collection of supporting resources can be found on the NSTA website.

You may want to first introduce or remind students of classroom norms before beginning this task. OpenSciEd (openscied.org) has a set of classroom norms that well-support students in sharing, listening, and respectfully critiquing and building on other's ideas.

Virus Spread_No Social Distancing

Tell your students, "We're going to watch what happens when an imaginary germ spreads in a town where people are playing, hanging out, and going to school together."

Ask, “What do you notice or wonder about this model?” Start with the simulation off, and then let it play all the way through.

As students share their noticing, ask them a clarifying or probing question (click on thumbnail at right) as appropriate to get them to think more deeply about the components (parts) and relationships (what moves?/what changes?) represented in the model. You may want to go back to the simulation and ask each student to follow the journey of one dot from beginning to end if they have difficulty answering the questions.

If you are facilitating this task with two or more students (or family members), you have a wonderful opportunity to bring the group to consensus on the components and interactions represented in the model. See the example consensus discussion below using the questions provided (thumbnail at right) and guidance from OpenSciEd 3 Discussion Types.

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Virus Spread_Extreme Social Distancing

Tell students, “Now we’re going to watch what happens when the imaginary germ spreads in a town where people are mostly staying at home. Scientists call keeping close to home social distancing.” (Note: Keeping close to home more closely represents shelter in place. If students ask the difference, social distancing is keeping a distance (6 feet recommended) from others and only gathering in groups of 50 or less.)

Ask student how this model is similar to the first model (start with the simulation off, then let it play through while students are making observations). Record the similarities. Play the simulation again, this time asking students to notice differences between the first and second models. Record the differences students observe. You may need to run the simulation 2-3 times.

Click on thumbnail at left to see examples of similarities and differences.

Ask students to turn and talk to a partner to answer the question, “How do these models help explain why scientists are asking us not to play, hang out, or go to school together?”

To facilitate the conversation, give students the following prompts:

Speaker: I think _____ because ____.

Responder: I heard you say _____. (to honor speaker's ideas) What is your evidence?

As you listen to the partner conversations, remind students to use the models and the similarities and differences list to support their thinking. Make sure each student takes a turn as speaker and responder.

If you have two or more students (or family members), navigate to a building understanding discussion. Start by asking students to share their claims. As each student shares their claim, ask them share evidence from the models that supports their claim.

Some questions you might pose to the class to encourage critique and student-to-student interaction include:

  • Does any group have evidence to support Group A’s claim?
  • What data do we have that challenges Group B’s claim?
  • ______ and ____ made similar claims. Did you have the same evidence?
  • ______, what do you have to say to _____ about her idea? It sounds pretty different from yours.

To conclude the building understanding discussion, consider using the following prompt:

  • What can we conclude about how these models help explain why scientists are asking us not to play, hang out, or learn together?



This task provides guidance for secondary students to use models published in the Washington Post to figure out the relationship between social distancing and the spread of coronavirus through a community. Prompts are provided to help students engage in individual and shared thinking at various points in the lesson. Families (including students’ parents and guardians) or pairs/groups of students virtually connected (by internet or phone) are encouraged to complete the activity together. Educators can modify the task for asynchronous distance learning by providing digital spaces for students to share their thinking with classmates and critique and build on each others’ thinking. The Why do we all have to stay home? task is an extension of a cornavirus lesson for secondary students designed to engage students in asking and prioritizing questions around the coronavirus and COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus); obtaining and evaluating information; and reflecting on the harm done when we respond to events such as the coronavirus with racial or ethnic prejudice. The complete lesson and collection of supporting resources can be found on the NSTA website.

Part 1: What is social distancing and what’s our current thinking as to why we’re being asked to do it now?

You’ve probably already thought and talked about why school closures and other measures of social distancing are taking place all across the country right now. Find a thought partner- a sibling, an adult, or a peer- and talk with them briefly about these questions:

  • What is your understanding of what “social distancing” means?
  • Why do you think so many cities and states are taking these measures right now?

Part 2: But why are we closing schools even if there are no known cases of COVID-19 in them?

Many schools have closed across the country (has yours?) even when there were no known cases of the disease caused by the coronavirus among the students, staff, or visitors to those schools. With your thought partner(s), share and record your current thinking about why this is.

Part 3: How can we know that social distancing measures like school closures can make a difference in slowing the spread of COVID-19 (the disease caused by the coronavirus)?

What tools can we use to predict how our individual and collective actions will impact the disease’s spread?

With your thought partner, make a list of ways that we can predict how what we do will impact the disease’s spread even before we take action.

Part 4: If we were to run a computer simulation to help us predict how the coronavirus will spread based on our actions, what would we want that computer simulation to represent?

One common tool that scientists use to help with making predictions are computer simulations. Maybe this idea was included in your list from Part 3. If it wasn’t, it probably connects to some ideas you did have!

Considering our questions and based on what you know about how viruses and other germs spread, what would you include in a computer simulation of the coronavirus/COVID-19 and its spread in our communities? With your thought partner, make a list of what you would like to be included. (Don’t worry about how to make the computer program right now- just brainstorm what would be in your ideal program).

Part 5: What aspects of the virus does the simulation below represent?

Watch the videos of the first computer simulation below (or view them directly from the Washington Post article here). With your thought partner(s) reflect on the question in the title above. Also consider:

  • Do the features included in the simulation overlap with your ideas from Part 4?
  • What from your list is missing from these simulations?
  • How else could the simulations below be improved to better reflect what you know about how a virus gets transmitted from one person to another?

Recovered stays recovered

Part 6: What does the second simulation below predict about how the coronavirus/COVID-19 will spread across a community after it is introduced?

Run the improved simulation below (which you can also access via the Washington Post article) and answer the question in the title above. Note that this simulation represents a case where there is no social distancing attempted. Also consider:

  • What gets added in this simulation?
  • In what ways is the simulation below more useful and realistic than the simulation in Part 5?
  • How could we change this simulation to represent social distancing?

Be sure to use the Talk Tips and to continue to record your thinking.

Virus Spread_No Social Distancing

Part 7: Is it the exact same as the first run?

Run the same simulation a second time. (In the video above, the simulation gets run twice. Review both runs of the simulation in the video carefully or go directly to the Washington Post article and run the simulation a few more times). Answer the question in the title above and also consider:

  • Why do you think there are changes from one run to the next? How could this be programmed into the simulation?
  • What does this reflect about what we know about the real world?

Part 8: How does another simulation represent individuals who are staying home and avoiding contact with others outside of their homes (social distancing)?

Run the simulation with moderate social distancing (3 out of every 4 individuals in the population participates in social distancing). You can use the video below to view this simulation or run it yourself by going directly to the Washington Post article.

In addition to discussing the question in the title above, consider- why does this representation make sense based on what we know about social distancing and how the virus gets transmitted? What changes when we add moderate social distancing to the simulation?

Virus Spread_Moderate Social Distancing

Part 9: How does this more widespread version of social distancing change the outcome?

Run the simulation with extreme social distancing (7 out of every 8 individuals in the population participates). You can use the video below (showing two runs of the simulation) or run it yourself by going directly to the Washington Post article.

Discuss and record your thinking about the title question. Run the simulation again. Why is it that even though there are random differences from one run of the simulation to the next, the results between this simulation and the previous one can help us predict what will happen as more individuals take social distancing seriously? What does this tell you about actions that you should take?

Virus Spread_Extreme Social Distancing

Part 10: If every individual in a population follows strict social distancing, what would happen to the spread of the virus?

Though we don't have a simulation to represent this case, based on what you know about how social distancing is represented, what would happen in a simulation with 100% social distancing?

Also consider: why don’t we aim for this in our communities? Who cannot follow strict social distancing?

Part 11: What are some other ways this simulation could be improved to better reflect the real world?

The Washington Post article suggests adding one more component to the simulation (deaths) that might make it more realistic. Brainstorm other components that could be added (answer the question in the title above).

Also consider: What are some reasons it’s not possible (or necessary) to build a simulation that reflects every aspect of the real world coronavirus/COVID-19 situation?

Part 12: Why is information regarding the different ways COVID-19 effects individuals important for understanding how we can use the computer simulation to react to the spread of the coronavirus?

One thing the simulation doesn’t show is that different individuals who carry the virus have different responses. For example, while COVID-19 affects some people seriously, many people with the virus show very mild or no symptoms (they are asymptomatic). However, evidence suggests that these individuals can still pass the virus on to other individuals.

Discuss how does this information (in addition to the simulation data) impact your understanding of how we should respond to the virus?

Part 13: What are some ways you could show and share your learning?

Now that you've done all of this thinking and figuring out around why social distancing measures (including school closures) are so important right now, consider some ways that you could share your knowledge with others. You might feel that this information needs to be shared more widely with your peers. One way of doing this would be to construct a science explanation. Data from computer simulations, like the ones you just ran and analyzed, can be used as evidence in science explanations. Use one of the templates in this document from BSCS Science Learning or this template from the University of California to construct an explanation, or consider other creative ways you can pass on the ideas you've figured out to others.

Part 14: Do you want to learn more? What questions do you still have? What else could you do to investigate your questions?

Do you want to learn more about social distancing and the coronavirus/COVID-19? What questions do you still have? What ideas do you have for investigating these questions? Here are four articles you could read for more information.

Do you want to learn more about computer simulations and the coronavirus/COVID-19? What questions do you still have? What ideas do you have for investigating these questions? Here are two articles you could read for more information.

Do you want to learn more about how computer simulations are used in other fields of science like climate science, ecology, or chemistry? What questions do you still have? What ideas do you have for investigating these questions? Here are four articles you could read for more information.

NSTA Collection of Resources Today's Daily Do

NSTA has created a Why do we all have to stay home? collection of resources to support teachers and families using this task. If you're an NSTA member, you can add this collection to your library by clicking ADD TO MY LIBRARY located near the top of the page (at right in the blue box).

Check Out Previous Daily Dos from NSTA

The NSTA Daily Do is an open educational resource (OER) and can be used by educators and families providing students distance and home science learning. Access the entire collection of NSTA Daily Dos.


The coronavirus simulations used in these tasks are part of the story "Why Outbreaks like Coronavirus Spread Exponentially and How to "Flatten the Curve" published in The Washington Post on March 14, 2020.

Stevens, Harry. “Why Outbreaks like Coronavirus Spread Exponentially, and How to ‘Flatten the Curve’ .” The Washington Post, WP Company, 14 Mar. 2020, www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/2020/world/corona-simulator/.