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5 Ways to Motivate Students to Learn about Diabetes

Sana Shujat
Teaching with Labster
October 18, 2022

Glucose is an energy source for the human body, acting as fuel. However, we can't directly consume this glucose. Instead, we take it in the form of food. The stomach then isolates this glucose from food and sends it into the bloodstream. Although we need glucose for energy which helps us with all activities but excess of anything is not helpful.

The pancreas produces insulin responsible for regulating blood glucose levels by converting excess glucose into its stored form, i.e., glycogen. In diabetes, the pancreas either can't make enough insulin or the body cannot effectively utilize this insulin. It results in the accumulation of glucose in the blood, raising its level and causing hyperglycemia or diabetes mellitus. 

The cause of this disease is either genetic or environmental, like an unhealthy lifestyle. The onset of diabetes mellitus is observed in adults much later in life, unlike diabetes insipidus. It acts as a silent killer because people often ignore the symptoms delaying diagnosis. It is an important topic to teach young students to spread awareness and motivate them to choose healthy living and eating habits. 

Students might get scared or overwhelmed as this chronic disease is for life. There are ways to manage diabetes efficiently, but we're still hoping for a permanent solution. It is essential to approach this topic in a friendly manner that makes it less frightening. 

Diabetes GIF

GIF is from the Diabetes virtual Lab simulation at Labster.

Why learning about diabetes can be tricky

It seems pretty straightforward that insulin fails to do its job correctly, increasing blood sugar levels. However, there is way more depth to this single topic. Let's explore three reasons why learning diabetes could be tricky.

1. It's abstract

Students might have seen family or friends dealing with diabetes mellitus, but understanding its mechanism could be challenging as they cannot visualize the accumulation of glucose in the blood. The symptoms like weakness, loss of body weight, and excessive urination followed by blood sugar tests make the phenomenon believable compared to other science topics. It makes it easy for teachers to do their job.

2. It's scary

Motivating students to check their blood sugar levels is essential to this topic. It is natural for students to get anxious about taking the test. The best approach here is to address the management of diabetes and educate them about the correct way of using insulin shots. Creating familiarity with the topic makes it less scary for the students.

3. It's complicated

Many reasons affect the proper functioning of insulin. The in-depth mechanism of action is complicated, consisting of several components. For instance, food is not always the source of excess glucose in the bloodstream; sometimes, the liver fails to perform efficiently. The liver tries to compensate for low blood glucose by sending out glucose. Once the body retains normal blood glucose levels, the liver stops, but in some cases, the liver cannot stop expelling the glucose. It results in the production of many glucose molecules that insulin fails to manage. 

Such hidden phenomena make teaching and learning diabetes a tricky task. We're introducing five efficient ways to make diabetes a more approachable topic.

5 ways to make diabetes a more approachable topic

There are many ways to make learning and understanding diabetes easy for teachers and students. You can include tricks in your lesson plans to add some fun.

1. Show the people behind the science

Diabetes mellitus has been around for quite some time. The antiquity associated with this topic makes storytelling straightforward and fun. The descriptions of diabetes have been found in the ancient Chinese and Indian medical literature and Egyptian papyri. The Greek and Arab physicians also discussed the symptoms and possible precautions associated with diabetes. The record of the first accurate description of diabetes dates back to the 2nd century AD. Aretaeus of Cappadocia firstly coined the term diabetes, and in the 17th century, Thomas Willis added the word Mellitus. The word "mellitus" highlights the sweetness of urine, showing improper kidney reabsorption in patients.  

French physiologist Claude Bernard, during the 19th century, paved the way for further research by describing the glycogenic action of the liver. In 1889, Oskar Minkowski and Joseph von Mering did a revolutionizing experiment on dogs. They removed the pancreas from the experimental group of dogs, leading to fatal diabetes. Frederick Banting and Charles were inspired by their word and continued the research by introducing insulin isolated from pancreatic islets to type 1 diabetic patient. This experiment led to the remarkable discovery that insulin produced by the pancreas is the cause of diabetes and is itself the cure. 

2. Relate it to the real world

Introducing the men behind the discovery of this crucial phenomenon already made students interested in the topic. Now is the time to relate the lesson taught with real-world examples. Teachers could look up some interesting facts about diabetes mellitus and add them as information. 

Unlike common misconceptions, diabetes is not only induced by genetics or eating too many sweets. An inactive lifestyle like no exercise, smoking, stress, and improper sleep habits don't make you a person with diabetes. Changing lifestyle habits with healthy eating, exercise, and monitoring blood glucose levels help manage the disease. 

Another myth is that sweets are off-limits for people diagnosed with diabetes. Remember that the excess carbohydrates in the diet are the leading cause of the onset of diabetes. Carbohydrates are sugars present in fruits and vegetables as well. So, it doesn't make sense to stop eating cupcakes but enjoy other carbohydrates rich foods. 

Therefore, the best way is to eat calculated food; for instance, if you've got a birthday party and know your piece of chocolate cake is waiting for you, then cut your carbohydrate intake of the day through other foods. For instance, eat less pasta or beverages that day to make enough space for that piece of cake. 

Diabetes is cruel and demands high maintenance. Slight negligence would cause you to lose a limb. It damages the blood vessels, which causes health issues like nerve damage and foot ulcer. It also damages kidneys and may result in kidney failure if not treated carefully.

3. Seeing is believing

Students want to learn science with facts and proof. Diabetes is a common health problem affecting about 29 million US population, making it believable. However, students want to see the process at the molecular level.

Visual graphics like the image shown below make students more interested in the topic and make it easy for teachers to put words into action. It's from the diabetes Virtual Lab simulation at Labster.

glucose

4. Make it stick with word-play

Visual representations and storytelling are undoubtedly valuable for making the learning process fun, but students must also memorize the process to perform well in exams. Teachers could use word-play magic to connect the word with meaning or rhymes. 

  • Diabetes mellitus is derived from the Greek term diabetes, which means "to pass through," and the Latin word Mellitus, which means "sweet." It makes it easy for students to learn that the urine of diabetic people is more concentrated. 

  • Type 1 diabetes mellitus is also known as insulin-dependent diabetes, which shows the pancreas fails to produce enough insulin and the parent is dependent on external insulin. 

  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus is also known as insulin-independent diabetes, which shows that the pancreas does produce enough insulin, but cells are resistant to it. 

5. Use virtual lab simulations

A virtual laboratory simulation is a great way to teach the diagnosis and management of type II diabetes. At Labster, we're dedicated to delivering fully interactive advanced laboratory simulations that utilize gamification elements like storytelling and scoring systems inside an immersive and engaging 3D universe.

Diabetes needle

Check out the diabetes Virtual Lab simulation at Labster. In this simulation, you will learn the basics of type II diabetes. You will learn to measure your blood sugar levels and give yourself an insulin shot. You will also learn how to put together a healthy meal plan.

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