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Teaching Guide: Exploring the Polio Epidemic and Vaccine

This teaching guide helps instructors use a specific primary source set, There is No Cure for Polio, in the classroom. It offers discussion questions, classroom activities, and primary source analysis tools. It is intended to spark pedagogical creativity by giving a sample approach to the material. Please feel free to share, reuse, and adapt the resources in this guide for your teaching purposes.

Discussion questions

  1. Using the syringe and vial, the news film about distribution of a polio vaccine, and the news film about Dr. Albert Sabin, explain how Dr. Salk’s and Dr. Sabin’s responses to polio compare to doctors currently fighting Ebola, HIV, AIDS, or Zikka Virus.
  2. Using the syringe and vial, the news film about distribution of a polio vaccine, and the news film about Dr. Albert Sabin, assess the importance of the Salk and Sabin vaccines.
  3. In the photograph of a child in an iron lung, both the nurse and the child are models. The child did not have polio. Why do you think this photograph was taken with models and not an actual patient using the iron lung?
  4. Consider the photograph of patients with a giant card and the photograph of patients watching President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s funeral procession. Using these photographs and what you have learned from additional sources, assess whether President Roosevelt’s personal experiences with polio influenced the race to find a vaccine.

Classroom activities

The March of Dimes Birth Defects Foundation was founded in 1938 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt, who was a polio survivor, in response to the polio epidemics sweeping the nation. Using the photograph of a man with a sign for inspiration, divide students into several groups and ask them to develop a 1940s radio or print advertisement for the foundation to raise money and awareness of polio. Have each group present to the class.

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