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CDC NERD Academy Curriculum (for grades 6-12)

Learn how CDC NERD Academy empowers students to apply STEM concepts, make informed health decisions, and pursue public health careers.

Welcome to the CDC NERD Academy—an educational resource to teach your science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) students about public health, epidemiology, and related careers!

This innovative and standards-based STEM curriculum covers eight basic concepts in public health and epidemiology, featuring a fictional, novel, emerging respiratory disease, or NERD for short. While NERD is fictional, the curriculum is based on real scientific data collected during the historic COVID-19 pandemic.

Designed as a collaboration between STEM teachers and CDC public health experts, the curriculum modules are age-appropriate and use relatable scenarios that will keep students engaged while learning about public health and its many career opportunities. It also encourages students to practice their skills in other subjects, including STEM, liberal arts, and the humanities.

Group of characters from NERD Academy curriculum video.

The CDC NERD Academy curriculum includes detailed STEM lesson plans with student activities and handouts, animated educational videos for students, activity demonstration videos for teachers, and career spotlights.

This curriculum can empower students to make informed public health decisions for themselves and their communities and to see themselves in public health careers!

Partner Resources

Partners, check out the promotional video and messages. Please use these materials to share with your STEM networks!

Standards Alignment

Learn pdf icon[333 KB, 5 Pages, 508] about how CDC NERD Academy modules are aligned with STEM concepts, key problem-based skills, Epidemiology and Public Health Science Core Competencies, the National Health Education Standards, and the Next Generation Science Standards. This information can also be found on the first page of each lesson plan.

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Curriculum

Download modules and use them sequentially in a comprehensive series, reorder them, or use as stand-alone lessons. Each module focuses on a key public health question. Students learn the scientific content necessary to answer each question through a student-facing educational video. Then, students apply their knowledge to a data-driven, NERD-focused activity provided in the STEM lesson plan. Each module includes a STEM lesson plan, an educational video for students, an activity demonstration video for teachers, and a career spotlight poster.

CDC NERD Academy pandemic map of globe graphic.

What exactly is a pandemic?

In module 1, students study public health and how public health workers protect and improve the health of communities. They analyze characteristics of specific disease events to determine the level of disease occurrence (e.g., endemic, outbreak, epidemic, or pandemic). Students track disease progression over time and learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as an epidemiologist.

CDC NERD Academy person-to-person transmission graphic.

How does disease spread?

In module 2, students learn how infectious diseases are spread. Students identify key components of a chain of infection, assess the spread of an infectious agent, and design evidence-based prevention strategies to reduce disease spread. Students also learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as an infection prevention specialist.

CDC NERD Academy Health Shield graphic.

Who is at risk?

In module 3, students learn about factors that can affect health outcomes (e.g., risk factors). They also learn about the social determinants of health and how these determinants affect the health of communities. Using case studies, students identify individuals’ risk for NERD based on their personal biology, behaviors, and environment. Students also learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as a behavioral scientist.

CDC NERD Academy looking at data graphic. Magnifying glass and paper with chart.

Where do public health data come from?

In module 4, students learn how public health experts collect, analyze, and interpret data for surveillance purposes and how these data can be essential for making decisions to control or reduce the spread of disease. Using surveillance data, students create graphs and area maps to identify patterns and to draw conclusions about disease spread. Students also learn about what it takes to pursue a public health career as a biostatistician.

CDC Nerd Academy flatten the curve graphic.

How are public health data visualized?

In module 5, students discover the important information that data visualizations, such as epidemic (or epi) curves, convey about disease spread. Students use surveillance data to create epi curves, identify patterns that reveal likely transmission modes, and make recommendations for prevention strategies to reduce the spread of disease. Students also learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as a health communication specialist.

CDC NERD Academy antibodies in blood graphic.  Magnifying glass and vial.

Why do laboratory testing?

In module 6, students learn how laboratory testing data are used to track the spread of disease. By simulating antigen laboratory tests, students make recommendations for a group of exposed students. Students calculate incidence at a local university and recommend ways the university can help reduce disease spread. Students also learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as a laboratory scientist.

CDC NERD Academy Contact Tracing graphic.

Why is contact tracing so important?

In module 7, students learn about the role of case investigations and contact tracing in investigating disease outbreaks. Using details from an outbreak investigation, students calculate the incubation and infectious period for known cases. Then, they use this information to make evidence-based recommendations. Students also learn what it takes to pursue a public health career as a public health nurse.

CDC Nerd Academy Outbreak Time and Place graphic. House and calendar.

How is an outbreak investigated?

In module 8, students learn how public health experts follow steps of an outbreak investigation and communicate their findings. Using data from an outbreak at a summer camp, students develop hypotheses, analyze data, and design tailored communication materials for different audiences. Students also learn the collaborative roles of different public health experts, including epidemiologists, infection prevention specialists, behavioral scientists, biostatisticians, health communication specialists, laboratory scientists, and public health nurses.

Background

The CDC NERD Academy curriculum was developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Science Ambassador Fellowship (SAF) program with input from STEM teachers and public health experts. Support for the curriculum is made possible through a partnership between the CDC Foundation and CDC, using funding provided to CDC Foundation’s COVID-19 Emergency Response Fund. SAF is located in CDC’s Center for Surveillance, Epidemiology, and Laboratory Services, Division of Scientific Education and Professional Development, Epidemiology Workforce Branch (CSELS/DSEPD/EWB). Videos for the curriculum were developed and produced by Osmosis.

Disclaimer

NERD (Novel Emerging Respiratory Disease) is a fictional disease created for this curriculum. NERD etiology, data, events, and information presented in the CDC NERD Academy curriculum are loosely based on the understanding of COVID-19 prior to a vaccine becoming available. Some details have been generalized for educational purposes.

The CDC NERD Academy curriculum is in the public domain and may be used without restriction. Citation as to source, however, is appreciated (see Citation below). Links to nonfederal organizations are provided solely as a service to our users. These links do not constitute an endorsement of these organizations nor their programs by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the federal government, and none should be inferred. CDC is not responsible for the content contained on these sites. Web site links listed were current as of the date of publication. Use of trade names and commercial sources is for identification only and does not imply endorsement by CDC or the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. The findings and conclusions in the NERD Academy curriculum are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the official position of CDC.

Citation

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CDC Science Ambassador Fellowship—CDC NERD Academy, Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2022. Available at: www.cdc.gov/scienceambassador/nerdacademy.