Spider Venom and Silk: Human Uses

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SWBAT use research to determine the potential human uses for spider venom.

Big Idea

You want to inject me with what?! Students discover the potential medical treatments that spider venom may provide.


5 minutes

This information corresponds with check in 3 of the spider biodiversity quest.

I begin this lesson by asking students, "What is the difference between venom and poison?"

I allow students to pose their best guesses for a minute or two.  I am trying to teach students that it is good to take risks and that, especially in this context, there is nothing wrong with guessing at answers to which they are unsure.

To answer the question I show this video.  

Following the video I again ask students to identify the difference between venom and poison. Any student should be able to answer the question accurately (venom is injected and poison is inhaled, ingested or absorbed).


35 minutes

This is a turning point in the unit in which students are going to take the lead in finding the information needed for their final project (SP8 Gather, read, and synthesize information from multiple appropriate sources and assess the credibility, accuracy, and possible bias of each publication and methods used, and describe how they are supported or not supported by evidence).  

Students need to work to improve their ability to locate relevant information and to consider the quality of the sources of that information and they cannot do those things if I continually provide them with resources.  Additionally, this allows students to take their learning in a direction they choose and adds variety to student products that could not exist if they lacked the freedom to make their own choices.

Check-In 3 of the project requires student to:

  • Explain the importance of spiders within an ecosystem
  • Identify the importance of spiders to humans
  • Research how humans negatively affect the biodiversity of spiders
  • Describe how change, large and small, effect an ecosystem
  • Create the pages for your project that relate to this information

Prior to "setting students free" to gather information, I want to ensure they are focused on the research topic: spider venom and silk.

To get students thinking, I read them the essay The Killer's Bite.  You might choose to let your students read the essay on their own but I feel there is something lost to students unless they are high level readers. Research indicates that motivation, interest, and engagement are often enhanced when teachers read aloud to middle school students. Plus, reading it aloud provides the opportunity to cut portions out to save time if that becomes necessary. The following video provides an example of how I used the read aloud with one of my classes; please refer to the reflection for a more detailed explanation of the possibilities of this strategy.

After students have a chance to share their thoughts and reactions to the essay, I go through the Venom & Poison PowerPoint to explain how we have begun to use these toxins as medical treatments.   The last slide of this PowerPoint gives students the direction for their research:

• Work with your group to find out how humans are benefiting (or plan to benefit) from these two “gifts” that only spiders can provide.

• Determine how humans might be negatively impacting the biodiversity of spiders and how that might hurt both us and the ecosystem as a whole.

Students spend the rest of class researching this information. 

Albright, L.K.  (2005). Tapping the potential of teacher read-alouds in middle school. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, 48, 582–591.


5 minutes

To conclude this lesson, I ask students to pick their most interesting finding about spider venom and silk and write it on a post-it note, along with their name, and stick it on my white board as they are leaving the room.  This allows me to quickly preview the type of information the students are finding and provide some assistance for those who are struggling.

Then next 2-3 days will be spent allowing students to research and synthesize their learning into their final project.

I recently came across this article How Ancient Spiders Weaponized An Arachnid Version of Insulin which is quite interesting.  I am not sure if I will use it within this lesson or later during the unit on evolution but it is worth students looking into - I love evolution, so much great stuff!