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Author: Ann Haley MacKenzie (@AnnMacKenzie)
The Science Teacher—April/May 2020 (Volume 87, Issue 8) and for the full article



COVID-19. Viruses. Pandemic. Mother Nature.

As we deal with this horrific pandemic, we must be sure our students understand the power of nature.


Is human activity the real cause for emerging pandemics?


New information is surfacing that suggests man’s interaction with nature in the form of habitat destruction may be releasing previously unknown viruses that were safely tucked away in the confines of their natural environment. Is there a chance that the more habitats we destroy, the more pandemics we will unleash? Is this yet another ramification of climate change? (University of Liverpool 2017). Has Mother Nature effectively sent us to our rooms for time-out with the outbreak of COVID-19 due to our role with changing landscape of the Earth through logging, destruction of the rainforest, and other major mechanisms of habitat alterations (Zohdy et al. 2019)? The power of Mother Nature cannot be overlooked, understated, or ignored. As we know from the film Jurassic Park, nature always finds a way.


Nature and environment in the science classroom


Environmental studies seem to take a backseat in many science classrooms at a time when students must be well-versed in the social issues surrounding nature and the impact of humans on the environment.
In a time where this is the most important, all-encompassing issue we, as humans, are facing, our students must be more than well-versed on the issue, the ramifications, and methods for combatting climate change. As it is, teaching climate change is often a “filler” in classes instead of an overarching theme that all biological concepts could surround and connect.


Media literacy and activism


The advent of this current pandemic has shown the absolute necessity for our students to have the media literacy skills to determine reliable sources, the credentials of authors making claims, and the validity of information they receive. On social media, fake claims run rampant and the general public, including our students, often do not dive deep into stories to determine their credibility.

Our students must have these skills if they are to take action, much like Greta Thunberg did during her emotional, powerful speech at the United Nations Climate Action Summit in 2019. Are our administrators and school boards afraid of our students becoming activists and taking action in their communities to preserve habitats, to participate in citizen science action projects, and to make other changes


whether big or small? If so, it is our role to be transformative science teachers to empower our students to be leaders in their communities.

We must help our students gain the skills to interpret scientific papers, providing them with the foundation to take action. Writing letters to their political representatives weaves language arts into science. Examining graphs and data charts enables our students to see mathematics in action. And, with the pandemic, maps of countries facing this virus links science to social studies. The interdisciplinary nature of many socio-scientific issues provides teachers with a plethora of opportunities to be interdisciplinary in their approach to project-based learning, problem-based learning, and helping students see that knowledge is not an isolated phenomenon occurring from one class period to the next.

We, as adults, are responsible for the damage that has been done to Mother Nature. We must educate our youth so they will do a far better job of nurturing the environment around them than we have done.




  • Making digital stories highlighting an environmental issue and posting on social media.

  • Creating a course blog with student posts devoted to many socio-scientific issues.

  • Attending town meetings to speak out about an issue facing the community.

  • Contacting various environmental groups to volunteer with one of their myriad

    projects, such as protecting prairie lands, creating and maintaining hiking trails, and

    planting specific flowers to help grow the bee population.

  • Creating environmentally based activities that could be taught to younger students to

    enhance their awareness.

  • Participating in environmental education curricular programs.

  • Making various environmental monitoring instruments.

  • Adopting a stream and regularly monitoring water quality, aquatic life, and other

    measures of a healthy stream.

  • Participating in a team effort to rid areas of invasive species that rob organisms of

    valuable habitat space.

  • Protecting ecotones where diversity of life flourishes. These ecotones are located

    between agricultural fields, alongside railroad tracks, at the seashore, and other rich

    natural areas.

  • Reading key environmental books that have been influential in our society.

  • Creating plays and skits depicting various biomes and the environmental issues they

    face as well as introducing index species of flora and fauna.

  • Using social media, such as Tik Tok, Instagram, and Twitter, to relay important

    messages about nature and the environment.

  • Holding Zoom, Skype, or Facetime conversations with environmental professionals

    from around the world, as well as other international students acting on various issues.

  • Exploring the natural environment around the school. Make taking students outside a non-negotiable term. If teaching in the city, have students create container gardens.