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        Exploring Endangered Species

        In this lesson, students learn about ecosystems, food webs, and human impact on ecosystems as they develop a plan to protect an endangered species that lives in their state. 

        Lesson Summary

        In this lesson, students learn about ecosystems, food webs, and human impact on ecosystems by identifying an endangered species in their state and proposing a plan to help protect it. They watch a video about students exploring animal habitats in a city, and then explore habitats near their school and play an interactive food web game. Then they identify a threatened or endangered species, research why it is in jeopardy, and propose plans to help protect it.

        Time Allotment

        • Three 60-minute class periods

        Learning Objectives

        • Understand that living things need air, water, food, light, and shelter. Living things can only survive in ecosystems in which their needs are met.
        • Show how a habitat is an organism's home. A habitat provides food, water, shelter, and space.
        • Explain that different areas support different kinds of living things, both on land and in water.
        • Explain that an ecosystem is a community of living things (plants, animals, and other organisms) interacting with each other and with the nonliving things in the environment (weather, water, soil, sun, air). 
        • Show that there are many different kinds of living things in any area, and they exist in different places on land and in water. 
        • Recognize the interdependent relationships between organisms in an ecosystem. 
        • Understand that human activity can both harm and help ecosystems.

        Prep for Teachers

        • Read through the entire lesson and print one copy of the Creature Cards handout. 
        • Cut out each Creature Card; you will assign one card to a group of three students during the lesson. (The handout contains seven cards. If you have more than 21 students in your class, print two copies).
        • Assemble the craft supplies in a bag or bucket that can later be transported to a nearby outdoor setting. 
        • Later in the lesson, your students will identify and learn about endangered or threatened species in your state. Browse the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Endangered Species listing for your state. You might select a handful of the listed species to share with students.
        • This lesson depends on access to an outdoor setting where students are likely to see a variety of places where plants and animals live. In advance of the lesson, be sure to scout out places where the outdoor activities will work well, such as a neighborhood park, schoolyard, or even a walk through the neighborhood. Notice what kinds of living things (plants and animals) you find and where you find them. Be sure you also troubleshoot any safety concerns, such as traffic, poison ivy, or sharp objects.
        • For Part II of this lesson, it would be helpful for each student to have access to a computer.



        • Computer for each child or way to project the monitor from one computer, such as on a whiteboard


        • Creature Cards handout [Creature Cards handout (Spanish)
        • Notebook or clipboard with paper (per pair of students)
        • Pencils 
        • Construction paper
        • Craft sticks
        • Crayons or markers
        • Craft supplies such as pipe cleaners, pom-poms, tape, and glue
        • Flipchart or poster paper
        • String

        Media Resources

        Learning Activities

        Part I 
        Today your students will consider the neighborhood around your school from the perspective of an animal while they learn about the things plants and animals need to survive.

        1. Ask your students to name some of the animals that live near your school. Squirrels, raccoons, sparrows, spiders, and ants are all animals that your students might find in your community. Then, ask how these animals survive in your neighborhood: where do they find food, water, shelter, and space?

        2. Explain that you are about to watch a video showing a group of students walking through a city neighborhood with a forest ranger. Show the video A Forest in the City. (Note: This media gallery has two videos. You only need to show A Forest in the City for the lesson.) As students watch, ask them to note the plants and animals the students in the video find, and how these organisms get what they need to survive (food, water, shelter, and space).

        3. Have a short discussion about the video. What animals and plants did the students and Ranger Jesse see on their urban hike? How do they make their homes in the city? Be sure you introduce the term habitat.  A habitat is a place that provides an organism with food, water, shelter, and space. In other words, a habitat is an organism's home.

        4. Explain to students that they will now survey an outdoor setting near their school in order to find ideal habitats for imaginary animals. Have students form groups of three, and give one Creature Card to each group. Tell students that each card includes the name of an imaginary animal that needs a home somewhere near their school.

        5. Have students draw what they think their creature might look like, based on the card's description. While they are doing this, copy the text below on the flipchart or posterboard:

        How the creature 

        • finds food
        • uses its habitat for shelter and space
        • finds water
        • interacts with other creatures

        6. Head outdoors with the craft supplies you assembled and the drawings of students’ creatures. Show students the boundaries of the outdoor space you would like them to keep to.

        7. Explain that students should now find a place that looks like an ideal habitat for the creature, based on the information on the flipchart. After they have identified a habitat for their creature, they should:

        • Come up with a fun name that describes a real living or nonliving part of their creature’s habitat, such as Asphalt Alley, Ranger's Ridge, or Crickety Thicket.
        • Make a poster, using construction paper and craft supplies, for people visiting their habitat. The poster should show what's special about the habitat and the creature that lives there. Posters should also include:
        • the name of the habitat
        • a drawing of their creature in the habitat, showing it either finding food or seeking shelter

        Tell students they can draw several examples of the creature in its habitat. For example, they might draw one creature eating and another sleeping in its shelter. They also may draw real animals, such as ants or birds, that they notice in the habitat. When kids are done, have them tape their posters to craft sticks and place them in the ground in the habitat. Kids might need to tape several craft sticks together in a cross shape to support the poster.

        8. Gather the group together and take a guided tour of each group’s habitat. Ask each group of students to explain:

        • How does the creature find its food and water? How does it use the habitat for shelter and space?
        • How do you think your creature might interact with the other creatures?
        • Before we did this activity, how many different kinds of habitats did you think we would find here?
        • Has your answer changed?

        Before you head back indoors, wrap up by talking about some real animals students might find in their habitats, and discuss how these animals find food, water, shelter, and space. 

        Optional: If you have time, show your students the video Habitat Sweet Habitat when you return indoors. Have a short discussion comparing the video with your students’ experiences. Where did the kids in the video find habitats for their creatures? How were these habitats similar to or different from the ones your students identified? 

        Part II
        Today your students will consider how changes in habitats may affect the organisms that live there. By playing an interactive food web game, they will experience how the different species of plants and animals in an ecosystem depend on one another. 

        1. Ask your students to recall the creatures whose habitats they identified yesterday, and have a short discussion about the balance between those creatures and the resources they need. What do their creatures eat? If their creatures eat other animals, such as ants, what do they think those animals eat? What might happen if the creature’s food source disappeared? Use this discussion to introduce the term “ecosystem.” Ecosystem is short for “ecological system.” The term describes the interactions between the living and nonliving things in a given place. The plants, animals, and other living things in an ecosystem interact and depend on one another in many ways. Your students will experiment with the interdependence of plants and animals in an ecosystem as they play the game described in step 2. 

        2. Have students play the game Mountain Scramble. If possible, have students play the game individually. If students need to pair up or form larger groups, be sure those students alternate turns at the computer. You also might project the game on the whiteboard and play it as a class. As students play, encourage them to think about balance in an ecosystem. 

        When students have finished playing the game, have a discussion about the challenges in keeping an entire ecosystem in balance. Ask questions such as: 

        • Was it easy or hard to keep your terrarium alive for 12 days? If it was hard, what made it hard?
        • What surprised you about the number of plants and animals you needed in order to keep your terrarium alive?
        • How might this ecosystem change if all the snowshoe hares disappeared? All the plants? All the predators? 
        • What kinds of plants and animals make up the ecosystem where you live? When you look outside, do you see more plants or more animals? Why do you think this might be? 

        3. Next, use the game as a segue into a discussion about endangered species. Ask students if any of the plants or animals disappeared as they played the game. Most likely, they will all answer yes! Can students explain how or why those species disappeared? Explain that, in the game, students could just add those species back to the game, but in the real world, plants and animals that disappear completely are said to have gone extinct.  

        4. Ask students if they have ever heard the term “endangered species.” If not, explain that endangered species are plants or animals that, for a variety of reasons, are in danger of going extinct—of disappearing forever. When a species is endangered, that means that very few individuals exist, often because they aren’t able to find the resources they need to survive. 

        5. Then, ask students if they think there might be any endangered species living in their state. Students often know about the plight of charismatic endangered species, such as pandas or tigers, but few recognize that endangered plants and animals live in every part of the world, including right in their own state. Wrap up with a visit to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service Endangered Species listing. Project the page on the whiteboard. Using the pull-down menus, find the common names of endangered species in your state or county. Tell students that next time you meet, you will be learning about one of these endangered species and discussing how you can help keep this species from going extinct. 

        Part III
        Today your students will synthesize what they have learned about habitats and ecosystems and will propose solutions for helping endangered species that live in your state. 

        1. Project the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service Endangered Species listing on the whiteboard again. As a class, choose one of the endangered species from your state list.

        Note: As an alternative to having students focus on endangered species, you could have them learn about your state plant or animal. They could explore its habitat and what it needs to survive. Where can it find those things? Can your state plant or animal live in your neighborhood? Why or why not? If not, how might you be able to create a habitat for it in your city? As a class or in groups, students can find information about your state’s official plants and animals on your state government’s home page. For example, Kentucky lists a state bird, butterfly, horse, fish, and flower. If you choose to focus on your state plant or animal, adjust steps 2 and 3 below as needed.

        2. Have students work in small groups to find out more about endangered species in their state. Assign student groups to one of the questions below:

        • Where does the endangered species live? Find where on a map of your state. 
        • What does the endangered species need to survive? Describe its habitat, what it eats (remember, carnivorous plants, such as the Venus flytrap, are endangered in some states!), and what, if anything, eats it.  
        • Can the species live in your neighborhood? Why or why not?
        • Why is the species endangered?

        3. After about 20 minutes, have students report back to the group on their findings. Loop back to Part I of the lesson and its emphasis on habitats. Ask students:
        Knowing what you now know about habitats and ecosystems, what do you think people can do to help keep this endangered species from going extinct? To give students additional ideas about how to help the plight of endangered species, you might read aloud highlights from one of the Success Stories for species in your state. 

        4. Tell students it is now their job to spread the word about endangered species. How would they educate their friends and families about the plight of endangered species? You might have groups create educational posters to hang in the cafeteria or other locations where other students will see them, or produce informational flyers to send home. If possible, you might arrange for your class to present their posters to a younger group of students to teach them about habitats and endangered species. If you have the resources, you also could produce a class video in the form of a news program or documentary summarizing what your students have learned.

        Culminating Activity

        Ask students to talk about the balance between plants and animals in an ecosystem. How do the different species in an ecosystem depend on each other? How can changing this balance sometimes cause species to become endangered? How can people prevent endangered species from going extinct?


        Next Generation Science Standards Correlations

        Disciplinary Core Ideas

        • LS1.A: Structure and Function
        • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems
        • LS2.B: Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems
        • LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience
        • LS4.D: Biodiversity and Humans
        • ESS2.D: Weather and Climate

        Science and Engineering Practices

        • Asking Questions and Defining Problems
        • Developing and Using Models
        • Using Mathematics and Computational Thinking
        • Planning and Carrying Out Investigations
        • Obtaining, Evaluating, and Communicating Information

        Crosscutting Concepts

        • Patterns
        • Cause and Effect: Mechanism and Explanation
        • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity
        • Systems and System Models
        • Energy and Matter: Flows, Cycles, and Conservation
        • Structure and Function


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