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Polio: The Childhood Killer

Lesson Plan Item

General Information
Grade 9th Grade, 10th Grade, 11th Grade Class US History Length of Lesson 50 Minutes
Lesson Title Polio: The Childhood Killer
Unit Title Post-WWII/Early Cold War (1945-1963)
Unit Compelling Question What was polio, what were the effects, and how could it be fatal?
Historical Context:

This newspaper clipping from 1952 discusses several stories related to polio in Iowa. One of the stories discussed is Marilyn (Lawson) Bode's admittance into Raymond Blank Memorial Hospital in Des Moines. In late 1952, Bode contracted polio and she underwent treatment and physical therapy over the next few months. She later wrote about her experiences in a children's story, "My Mean Mom" which talks of the rigorous exercises such as taking hot baths twice a day in a house with no running water. Her book also informs children of the medical history of the 1950s and includes activities.

In 1952, Bode was experiencing flu-like symptoms when she was taken to the Des Moines Hospital and diagnosed with polio. She was admitted to the Blank Children's Hospital and placed in a ward with other polio patients. While in the hospital, Bode received treatment to help keep her muscles healthy such as stretches and wrapping her arms and legs in wet hot packs made of steaming wool that were then covered in plastic. The procedure often resulted in burns and blisters forming, a painful memory for Bode.

Another painful memory was seeing a boy in an iron lung machine. The hospital soon became overrun with patients and Bode was sent home since she was no longer contagious. Bode was forced to continue her physical therapy exercises despite her hatred of them. She wrote a book called My Mean Mom describing her experience.

~ Matthew Miller, Teaching Iowa History Team
Lesson Supporting Question What was the Salk Vaccine? How did it affect Iowans?
Lesson Overview

Students will be shown an image of a newspaper clipping from 1952, one year before Jonas Salk developed the polio vaccine, and will be asked questions about it. Even over 65 years ago, polio was still a common childhood disease and could lead to paralyzation and even death. This is a lesson about polio and what some of its symptoms can lead to. One of the stories mentioned in the newspaper clipping (Marilyn Lawson, age 7, of Dexter) would end up surviving the disease and write a children’s book (My Mean Mom) about it later on in her life.

Primary Sources Used
Resources Needed





Lesson Target
  • Students will be able to understand how primary sources can tell how people thought and felt about something like polio.
  • Students will be able to understand the short-term and long-term effects of polio.
Lesson Themes Health & Wellness, Disaster and Crisis
Lesson Procedure
Step Procedure Time Differentiation plan / Additional Information
1 The class will begin with a brief overview of what polio is and how it could to paralysis and even death. Students will be given a link to the primary source but paper copies of the newspaper clipping may also be provided.    
2 The class will then be provided a link to a worksheet with questions on it about polio and the primary source. Paper copies will also be provided. They will first work on it individually and then they will get into groups of 3-4 people and discuss their answers.    
3 After the discussion with the small groups, bring the class back together (still in their groups) and call on each of the groups to see what they inferred about the effects of polio from the newspaper clipping.    
4 Students will be provided links to articles from blogs and from other sites about the history of polio. Each member of the group has to read one article, one reads a different one, etc. and come together as a small group and share what stuck out to them. Make sure they give a very brief summary of the article they read before they share what stuck out.    
5 When the small groups are finished discussing, ask them about some of the more important things. Ask for specific examples and write them on the board. Also take note of a common theme(s) between the articles. Maybe also suggest asking grandparents or greatparents about polio.    

Finish with an exit ticket with the following questions:

What effects did the vaccine have on the baby boom of the 1950s? (Be specific!!)

What were the positive effects of the Salk Vaccine (polio vaccine)? Were there any negative ones? (Be specific!!)

Does the primary source have a different meaning? Why?

Formative Assessment
(How will you use the formative assessments to monitor and inform instruction?)
  • Students will be assessed based off of their discussions with their small groups and seeing what they inferred from the primary source and the articles. They will also be assessed off of their exit tickets and worksheets by seeing if they can connect the effects of polio and the vaccine for it
Summative Assessment
(How does the lesson connect to planned summative assessment(s)?)
Author Information
Author Tyler Hosch Reviewer Chad Christopher, History Education, University of Northern Iowa Created 02/18/2020 Last Edited 02/19/2020
Lesson Plan Development Notes: Teaching Methods, University of Northern Iowa, Fall 2019

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