Pupils tackle problems related to a viral outbreak: locating infected people, creating an antidote and optimising the budget for their vaccination programme.

Note - April 2020

This case study has been part of Bowland Maths since 2008. Some of the mathematics are realistic and topical, but the disease described is fictional so please do not treat this as a source of information on COVID-19. Teachers and parents should use their discretion as to whether it is appropriate to use this case study with children at the current time.

Note - August 2021

Since Flash is no longer supported in most browsers, the online version has been updated to use an open-source Flash player replacement called Ruffle. However, it has not been exhaustively tested, so please report any problems to us. The download version has not been updated, but includes a PC .exe version that should still work.


Set in a fantasy context, the Case Study tackles some of the problems that health officials face when confronted with the outbreak of a deadly viral infection. Pupils play the role of a scientist trying to develop a strategy to contain the spread of the disease, working with different experts. The strategy comprises three activities: first, pupils have to locate the positions of people infected with the deadly virus; second, pupils have to help create an antidote given a number of clues; third, pupils plan a vaccination programme to minimize the spread of the disease by deciding which groups should receive the vaccine when the supplies are limited.

Completing an activity in any one of the 'bunker areas', unlocks a code which can then be used in the Map Room to reflect the progress that individuals or groups have made. This provides the opportunity either for the whole class to work through different activities at the same time or for independent progression. It also promotes group work, discussions and real world interaction.


The Assesment Guide for Outbreak is comprehensive guide to help teachers to assess pupils' achievement and progression as they work on the activities. It includes sample work, progression charts and an optional, supplementary assessment task.

Assessment Guide (PDF) Editable version (DOCX)

Mathematical content

Use coordinate clues to locate infected people. Mix ingredients in proportions to create an antidote. Use resources optimally to design a vaccination programme.

Specific Key Stage 3 National Curriculum areas covered include:

  • Key processes - consider the likely accuracy of results, communicate effectively and discuss results.
  • Number and algebra - use rational numbers, their properties and their different representations; rules of arithmetic applied to calculations and manipulation with rational numbers; applications of ratio and proportion; accuracy and rounding.
  • Geometry and measure - points, lines and shapes in 2D coordinate system; Pythagoras' theorem; similarity, including the use of scale.
  • Curriculum opportunities - work on problems that arise in other subjects; work collaboratively as well as independently in a range of contexts.

Organisation and pedagogy

Each of the three activities is a one hour lesson and can be arranged on three different levels. The teacher chooses the level appropriate for the class - or the level appropriate for individual pupils. The three activities are distinct from one another and address different areas of mathematics. They all have printable homework sheets; the third activity asks the pupils to write a report for homework.

Resources provided

This Case Study is in the form of a self-contained software application for use by pupils and teachers. The "Teachers" area of the software contains:

  • Teacher notes.
  • Supporting worksheets to print out.
  • Detailed lesson plans for each of the three activities.

Also included are illustrated templates for the spreadsheet-based activities.

Resource requirements

(including hardware & software)

  • The online version of the software has been updated to work without Flash and should run online in most popular web browsers, on Windows, Mac, Chromebook or Linux with no plug-ins. This is the recommended version.
  • The orignal package can be downloaded as a .zip file that includes a stand-alone .exe for offline use on a Windows PC. Please ignore the browser-based version in the download package as it will no longer work.
  • All the lessons require a computer for each pair or small group of students (although some could be adapted).
  • Microsoft Excel 2000 (or later) or an alternative (such as OpenOffice) is required for the spreadsheet-based activities. OpenOffice is available from http://www.openoffice.org.

Many thanks to the Ruffle Project which allows this App to run online without Flash.