Microworlds: Intro to Micro and Molecular Biology, Gr 5-6

MicroWorlds: Intro to Micro and MoleculAR biology

Where the telescope ends the microscope begins. Which of the two has the grander view?
— Victor Hugo, Les Miserables

In this course, the common theme of size and scale takes students on an adventure that crosses life sciences, chemistry and physics pivotal to student's continued enjoyment of science and engineering as they progress through school. The course devotes the first two terms (fall and winter) to microbiology/cell biology and spring term to molecular biology or genome science. The level at and depth to which these areas are explored correlates with grade level and is taught in a developmentally appropriate manner. When taught to fifth and six graders, students develop the necessary foundation for enrolling in Ti2's Molecular Biology, Genetics and Genomics course, for example.   

This curriculum asks questions including:

  • What is a molecule, and how does understanding at the molecular level unlock a whole new way to understand the world and ourselves?
  • Similarly, what is a cell, and how does understanding at the cellular level unlock a whole new way to understand the world and ourselves?
  • What are microorganisms and how does current understanding affect our ability to manage "good" and "bad" microrganisms in our bodies and environment?

To formulate answers to the above questions, students delve into the microbial world. Some questions they explore include:

  • Why did one student come into class with a cough and now many students are coughing three days later?
  • Will I really get sick if I do not wear my hat?
  • What are bacteria, and why are some “good,” while others are “bad”?
  • What is the human microbiome?

Students examine microorganisms, i.e., their structure, function and impact to understand:

  • the characteristics and function of cells
  • single and multi-cellular organisms
  • cells as the microscopic building blocks of life

The course investigates cell biology jointly with microorganisms to help students understand the levels at which microorganisms operate and the ways in which the human body responds at the cellular level. Students perform many experiments, use microscopes, undertake microbial scavenger hunts, build several microscopes.  Upper level coursework also explores in greater depth viruses, vaccines and epidemiology.

Students also gain a solid introduction to molecular biology (genome science) for one term, which includes:

  • investigating DNA, RNA and the basics of genetic material
  • applying understanding of DNA to genetic diversity and evolution
  • gaining hands-on exposure to bioinformatic methods used in today's genome research 

The engineering design challenges throughout this year-long class are full of surprises and call for innovation and creative thinking and design, including building several microscopes.

The Innovation Institute's team engages area research institutions and industries to help our students understand how and why real people are investigating the science behind and developing innovative solutions to the topics covered in this course. 

Learning entry points include the use of story telling, fiction and non-fiction literature and art. 

Note: When the course is offered for winter/spring term only, the course is not a compressed or accelerated version of the academic year-long offering. The course covers fewer concepts with the same level of depth as the full-year course. The two areas covered are microorganisms and cell biology. If student interests and understanding permit, the course provides a partial introduction to molecular biology.