Sixth Graders Study Viruses (Including the One That’s Dominating Headlines)
By Dr. Ingrid Koh
As part of their curriculum on Life Sciences, sixth graders have studied viruses for the past two years. One of the first questions we ask is what makes something ‘living.’ Turns out, it is somewhat counter-intuitive. Unlike bacteria, viruses are actually non-living because they are not made up of cells, even though there have genetic materials. They rely on host cells to replicate and can’t reproduce on their own. Although it is not common to study viruses to this extent in middle school, it’s an intrinsically fascinating subject and helps explain the concept of living versus non-living. This year, with the outbreak a novel coronavirus, the subject proved to be quite timely. As sixth graders started hearing about coronavirus in the news, they were curious to learn more and, operating with the Montessori mindset of supporting intrinsic motivation, of course it made sense to let the students explore the subject further. Below, our sixth graders—Mateo Boccalandro Vall, Mia Crawford, Dan Gaon, Trevel Griffin, Jackson Hayes, Luciana Rodriguez—share some of the things they’ve learned about Coronavirus. They also created a poster to share their research.
- Recently, there is a new virus that originated from Wuhan, China that has caused a worldwide pandemic. This virus has been spreading quickly to many parts of the world, including Asia, Europe, North America, South America, and Africa. As of today, there have been 53 confirmed cases in the United States, but none in New York City. No one has died from the coronavirus in the US so far.
- We have done some research on the impacts to human health for a number of common viruses, including Ebola, influenza, bacteriophage, HIV, Zika, and the coronavirus. We investigated how they are spread, what preventions and treatments can be made, and how the geometry of these viruses help them attack host cells, because form often fits function. Corona in Latin means crown. The name coronavirus was coined because this virus is spherical with club-like protruding spikes, which make it look like a crown. These spikes probably help the virus attach to host cells in some way.
- “My second aunt is quarantined in a town in Italy for 14 days,” says Luciana. Many people have been quarantined all over the world if they are infected or suspected to have caught the virus even before they show symptoms. This has been the most effective means to contain the virus and prevent it from spreading further.
- A hospital was built in Wuhan in two weeks to treat patients with coronavirus. Many governments give kids a longer vacation to keep them home. There is a shortage of surgical masks in many places. Some taxi drivers are being sued for discriminating against passengers who have travelled from China.
- “Coronavirus may not be as bad as people make it out to be,” says Jackson. The flu in the US has about 80,000 cases a year. The death rate for coronavirus is low compared to SARS or MERS, and only people whose immune systems who are already compromised seem to be most vulnerable and suffer the most. Nonetheless, coronavirus has raised worldwide concern. People are paying close attention to the development and will be on high alert until the virus is under control.