To explore the Endangered Species Act and the work of scientists who strive to protect species.
This lesson is the second of a two-part series on endangered species. Endangered Species 1: Why Are Species Endangered? introduces and explores the various issues and problems faced by endangered species globally. Endangered Species 2: Working to Save Endangered Species may be done sequentially or independently, since it focuses less on the science and more on the actual work of saving endangered species.
As human populations grow and more and more plant and animal species become endangered, it is important for students at this level to become aware of the types of efforts that are underway to try to protect our vital global ecosystems and the kinds of people, groups, and institutions that are conducting them.
In earlier grades, students learn that, when it comes to critical national and international issues or problems, their government system gets involved, either through providing support and services or by determining the fairest, most democratic solution. It is important for students to ultimately see their government's role in addressing the ongoing endangerment crisis—as through enforcement of the Endangered Species Act and the variety of conservationist agencies and scientific research efforts that are funded through public taxation. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 167–169.) They will come to learn about their government's critical role in preserving natural resources and parks by establishing laws and enforcing them in order to protect society.
Student will also learn of another key body engaged in the effort to protect endangered species—science. Students should begin to recognize that scientists and scientific activities are involved in many areas of society—universities, business, industry, health care, government, and the environment—and that their efforts to identify, investigate, and protect endangered species are similar to those of others. (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, pp. 14-17.) Students also should see science as a widespread effort involving individuals, small groups, or large research teams that are there to serve the social values or practical problems of a given society. (Science for All Americans, pp. 8–12.) In the effort to save endangered species, students need to learn how various scientific disciplines—in both publicly and privately funded agencies and institutions—are working together nationally and internationally to monitor, investigate, protect, and restore environmental imbalances like the ongoing endangerment of species.
There are a number of misconceptions that students are likely to have at this level. With regard to scientists and scientific pursuits, students often describe scientists as “brilliant, dedicated, and essential to the world.” When asked about science as a career, however, they respond with a negative image of scientific work and scientists. They see scientific work as “dull and rarely rewarding,” and scientists as “bearded, balding, working alone in the laboratory, isolated and lonely.” (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333.) In the effort to save the environment, perhaps the following descriptions are more appropriate: purposeful, heroic, and adventurous. Another stereotype about scientists—but less comical—is that “some students of all ages believe science mainly invents things or solves practical problems rather than exploring and understanding the world. Some high-school students believe that moral values and personal motives do not influence a scientist's contributions to the public debate about science and technology and that scientists are more capable than others to decide those issues (Benchmarks for Science Literacy, p. 333.)
Whether or not your class has completed the first lesson of this series, it is recommended that teachers read Why Save Endangered Species?, a resource that provides sufficient background on the issues and benefits of saving threatened species.
If your class has completed the first lesson in this series, Endangered Species 1: Why Are Species Endangered?, briefly review what students have already learned.
If your class has not completed the first lesson, they will need to have a general orientation on the subject of endangered species, which can be well accomplished by running them through the Motivation section of the first lesson.
Either way, before students get into the heart of this lesson, it is important that they understand:
- What endangered species are
- That human population growth is the primary development that threatens species worldwide
- The various and specific kinds of activities that threaten the environment (e.g., habitat destruction, human disturbance, garbage, and global warming)
- How these kinds of changes in the earth’s life systems cause imbalances, triggering dangerous environmental changes in the landscapes, oceans, and atmosphere of the world
The second part of this warm up should relate to and focus students on the benchmarks and purpose of this lesson, which is to explore the Endangered Species Act and the work of scientists who strive to protect species.
Conduct an open class discussion asking questions like the ones below to elicit broad, flowing responses to gauge your students’ awareness of these critical components in the endangered species effort.
- What kinds of people, groups, or institutions do you know of that are helping to protect endangered species today?
- How do you think these kinds of efforts are funded?
- Do you think that protecting endangered species is worth doing? Why or why not? To what extent?
- Have you ever tried to help in this effort? Why or why not?
- What, if anything, have you done to help protect the environment?
(Accept all answers. Have students support and elaborate on their views.)
The core of this lesson is based on Endangered Means There's Still Time, which is the National Conservation Training Center’s colorful, informative, and eye-opening slide presentation of the endangered species problem, causes, and efforts. It is comprised of 59 sequential photos and graphs and should take 30 to 40 minutes to complete, including time for discussion. Direct students to take notes on the animals, including, for each, its status, causes of decline, key statistics, and protective efforts being made. They will be responsible for the material at the end of class.
If a monitor projector is available, it is recommended that the class as a whole view the slide show from a big screen, so that each student has a turn to read the captions, take notes, answer questions about the animals, content, statistics, and related issues as you progress. If a projector is not available, perhaps the whole class in pairs can click from one slide to another in unison so the reading, reactions, and review questions can be done together. Either way, it is recommended that students view the slide show using high resolution, since some pictures are hard to see at low resolution.
At the end of the presentation and ongoing discussion, pass out Endangered Means There’s Still Time - Knowledge Survey—a quiz based on the site’s Knowledge Quiz—that students can do in class or as homework. An Endangered Means There’s Still Time teacher sheet has also been provided. Note: By assigning this handout as homework, you allow more time for the spotted owl activity.
From the slide show, students learned about the deforestation fire alarm that sounded when the spotted owl population in the Pacific Northwest became threatened years ago. Some may have heard about this heated and controversial national debate in the news during the mid-to-late 1990s.
As a way to apply what students have learned and familiarize them with the kinds of real-life issues that are involved in protecting plant and animal species, divide the class into three groups or interests:
- Those representing lumber workers and business interests
- Local environmental activists seeking to protect the owl and their aged forests
- The government and scientific agencies who are working under the Endangered Species Act and are monitoring the situation
After dividing the class into teams, give students time to talk among themselves to decide who they represent, what their feelings and interests are, and what their likely views on the debate will be. Then begin by addressing each team with questions like the ones below. Allow each group time to respond to each other’s views, claims, and assertions, since the purpose of this activity is to get everyone involved and thinking about the kinds of humanity vs. environment issues they will surely have to deal with (and resolve) in the future.
Ask lumber workers and the business community:
- Where do you stand on the issue of spotted owls?
- Why do you have to cut down so many trees?
- Do you think money is more important than the environment?
Ask local activists:
- What is the matter with cutting down trees?
- How are lumber workers and their families supposed to make a living if they cannot cut down trees?
- Do you think spotted owls are more important than people?
Ask government and scientific interests:
- What happens if the status of the spotted owl goes from threatened to endangered?
- How will the government help workers if the spotted owl falls under the Endangered Species Act?
- What could happen if the spotted owl is made extinct?
(Accept all responses and encourage students to support their feelings and views.)
Conduct a general review of the key points students learned in this lesson about the governmental and scientific role in the fight to protect endangered species. This review can involve the discussion of the kinds of fire alarms that have been sounded in society about the declining plant and animal species and the kinds of personal, financial, and philosophical conflicts the public grapples with when it tries to address these kinds of issues, as in the mock spotted owl debate.
If You Hear a Hoot, Then This Site Is Kaput is an EconomicsMinute lesson in which students learn about which species are covered under the 1973 Endangered Species Act, the different organizations and their philosophies on how to protect these species, and how each group's policies are driven by self interest as they weigh costs and benefits.
Can Captive Breeding Save Species? is an interesting and informative National Geographic Xpeditions lesson that has students research and evaluate biodiversity-promoting programs like captive-breeding and species-survival plans that are used by zoos, aquariums, and other institutions.