Could Melting Ice Release a Zombie Virus?

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SWBAT find and evaluate resources that allow them to determine the likelihood of a "zombie virus" being released from melting permafrost.

Big Idea

Students work to determine the reliability of resources as they attempt to answer questions about our potential future.


15 minutes

By this point, students have already begun to suspect and talk about the zombie virus or the zombie apocalypse which provides the perfect opportunity for a lesson on finding reliable web resources and finding answers to questions.

Once again, parts of this lesson will be written from the perspective of the space mission captain.

Crew, excellent job of providing me with a picture of what I can expect back on Earth.  At some point you are going to have to help me determine where is the best place to land this ship but it seems a more disturbing set of questions have been brought to light.  This video was uncovered by one of the research teams.  Watch closely and be prepared to discuss your thoughts and questions immediately following the video.

Obviously, this brings up some disturbing questions but I want to hear your thoughts to ensure I am on the right track.  You have 2 minutes to discuss with your tables the questions that this brings up.  Be prepared to share your list following the discussion.

At the end of this I am looking for students to question the validity of this video and to develop 2 main questions that will be the focus of the research activity:

  1. Can melting ice release viruses that are harmful to humans?
  2. Is there a virus that can cause a zombie outbreak?

Question 1 should come directly from watching the video while question 2 comes from synthesizing all that has occurred thus far in the unit and their background experience with pop culture zombies.  If the students generate some great questions, add them to this list of required research questions.


60 minutes

Once again, it is critical that we know what we are going home to and I know we have all had the thought: zombies.  You will work in teams of 2 to find and evaluate resources that lead you to the answer of these questions:

  • Could viruses or parasites have been released from the melting permafrost?
  • Could there really be a zombie or zombie-like outbreak that has affected the human population back on Earth?


This task has 2 main components.  Students need to find and evaluate resources that provide information that allows students to develop their own answers to these questions.  I am always more concerned with the thoughts and thought processes of my students than I am of "right" answers and this is really no different. I want students to read from web based resources, evaluate the quality of those sources and use both of those pieces of information to formulate their own answers to the questions.  

The answer I anticipate students developing for the first question is yes, ancient viruses could be released from the ice, though not necessarily from dead bodies or in a form that is harmful to humans.  Question 2 gets a bit trickier; while there is no current zombie virus, there are credible resources that discuss the possibility of parasites that lead to zombie like behavior in animals so students could defend the idea of human zombies as well (see Popsci article Could Scientists Really Create a Zombie Apocalypse Virus? and a TED Talk from Ed Yong Zombie Roaches and Other Parasite Tales).  I want students to generate arguments from both sides as it results in a true to life scenario, I mean how often do you have a group of expert researchers/scientists in a room and they all agree on one single answer?  

There are many rubrics and tools to help students evaluate the internet resources, but I provide them with the CITE IT Strategy rubric because it is easy to use, requires students to critically examine the resource and provides students with a numerical score which makes it easier for students to compare different resources. (Here is the link to the lesson that explains the CITE IT Strategy in more detail.)

Students must find and evaluate 3-5 different resources for each question.  Students will evaluate each resource using the provided rubric and will use what they learned during the process to develop their answer to the questions being investigated.  Students will then write their answers to the questions in paragraph form following the CEIEIO Template.  This is a writing strategy that our Literacy department has been using for some time and is similar to the Claim-Evidence-Reasoning chart that is abundant in science classes.  Students will complete one CEIEIO for each question under investigation.


20 minutes

In order to provide feedback quickly, I use a strategy I call opposite sides.  Focusing on question 1 (could parasites/viruses be released in melting permafrost), I have students who thought "yes" go to one side of the room and students who thought "no" go to the opposite side.  I then call on students to explain how/why they chose that answer.  I have students state what they learned and where they learned that and the rating they gave to the resource.  When students are on both sides, it is fun to have a quick, informal debate. I repeat this process for each question that was investigated.

At the end of this process, we will determine if we are only concerned with the new world brought to us courtesy of global warming or if we also must consider the possibility of potential infection from either a virus, parasite or both.  

*Note: For the sake of this unit, I will plan that students determined that some type of infection is possible though not likely.