Project Based Learning: Microbes – Virus


The first thing I wanted to do was revise what makes something living alive.  The reason for this is that Viruses aren’t generally accepted as being a living thing, but instead of simply teaching that to the children I wanted them to work it out for themselves.

Characteristics of living organisms

– movement as an action by an organism or part of an organism causing a change of position or place

– respiration as the chemical reactions in cells that break down nutrient molecules and release energy for metabolism

– sensitivity as the ability to detect or sense stimuli in the internal or external environment and to make appropriate responses

– growth as a permanent increase in size and dry mass by an increase in cell number or cell size or both

– excretion as removal from organisms of the waste products of metabolism (chemical reactions in cells including respiration), toxic materials, and substances in excess of requirements

– nutrition as taking in of materials for energy, growth and development; plants require light, carbon dioxide, water and ions; animals need organic compounds and ions and usually need water

(This is copied verbatim from an IGCSE syllabus)

Of course, in order to answer the question as to whether a virus is living or not, the children would need to learn a bit more about viruses.  They used my computer to find out some facts.

Structure of Viruses

They studied these diagrams of a bacteriophage and retrovirus from BBC’s Bite size GCSE:

Two examples of virus structure. Both have a protein coat on the outside, and nucleic acid inside. The influenza virsu has RNA on the insode and an outer membrane envelope. The bacteriophage has DNA inside it, and from that it has a tail, and fibres coming from the end of the tail.

As I had done with both bacteria and fungi, I asked them to make their own model of either a virus or a bacteriophage.  However, this time I limited them to making it out of Lego, Magnetix or Knex.  Each child chose to make a retro virus rather than a bacteriophage.  Here are their models:




Replication of Viruses

We then looked at the replication of a virus.  BBC bitesize have some very clear diagrams, which I went through with the children, and then we all watched this video:

I wanted them to really understand how cells replicate because it is this replication which causes disease in our bodies.  To really drum it home, I had them watch the following video on a cold virus entering the body:

I then asked them to build a cell, in which a virus attacks and then replicates, using their model of the virus made previously.  Here they are demonstrating the replication of viruses.  All three of them used a hoop as their cell being attacked (it’s not always clear from the photos):

Here is the Lysis cycle as explained by C11:









And here is L11’s:







I thought both girls did a fabulous job and their explanations were very clear.   T12 had the Lego option and he spent the whole afternoon making a 3 dimensional model.  I somehow missed getting a photo of the actual host cell, but did get a couple of the working machine he made to represent the nucleoid.  It was really cleverly done using Lego Technic gears, with a conveyor belt transforming one RNA strand into two.  My photos don’t do it justice at all:



Following this brief study of viruses I will be doing two more in-depth studies with them.  The first is to look into the flu pandemic of 1918 and the second is to read a ‘living’ book on the 1983 outbreak of Ebola virus in Washington DC, called The Hot Zone.

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  1. These are really great. There’s nothing like creating a working model for really getting to know a subject. Fort Missoula has very moving exhibit about the 1918 Spanish influenza outbreak – but that would probably be a little out of your field trip range.

    1. I hope so, that’s the point really, because I’m using the GCSE syllabus and hopefully preparing them to take an exam. Remembering their work would be a big plus!

  2. My son watched the vid clips and examined your children’s fabulous models before heading off to bed. He is inspired – thank you:)
    This is an incredibly detailed post and it is extremely useful.

    Thanks so very much for linking up to this weeks #homeedlinkup

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