When Ms. Kim planned her 5th grade science curriculum for the school year, she had no idea how relevant her current unit would be. Last week, her 5th graders were beginning their previously scheduled unit on viruses just as Westridge dove into a new world of remote learning, shaped by the new virus, COVID-19. Ms. Kim started by asking students write an argument on whether viruses are living things. To prepare to answer this question, the class learned about the characteristics of living things and compared them to the characteristics of viruses. Once they had drawn their conclusions, students took to the Padlet discussion board to defend their argument.
"The objective for this lesson was for students to learn the characteristics of life as we begin our life science unit called 'ecosystems,'" said Ms. Kim. "This debate allowed students to review the characteristics of life and apply what they learned in a new situation. The timing was perfect since the world is learning about the new virus, COVID-19."
Half the class argued that viruses are living because they have the ability to travel to different hosts, reproduce, and die—all characteristics of living things. Students who believe that viruses are nonliving argued that they cannot replicate, collect energy, or live on their own without a living host organism. Although there isn't one right answer to this question, the debate gave students the opportunity to think like scientists–changing their minds as new information was introduced to the debate. (If you'd like to learn more, check out this USA Today article on the topic)
Continuing their investigation into the characteristics of life, students were asked to take a walk with their families and use their scientific observation skills to find something that could either be living or nonliving. Some of the objects in question included a lemon, a picked flower, and clouds. "Going out and thinking about what evidence they should collect is an important scientific process, and I wanted my students to continue to practice that skill set even when they are confined at home," said Ms. Kim.
This week, Ms. Kim's 6th graders are taking on this virus debate as a part of their life science unit on the human body system, learning how the cells defend our bodies.