To explore how scientific research of one declining species can increase knowledge about the natural world at large.
Known for her research with large marine mammals, Terrie Williams is considered one of the 50 most important women in science. Her research with marine mammals, particularly seals, and the recent research she did with the Hawaiian monk seal, KP2, is the focus of her book, The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species. It is estimated that Hawaiian monk seals will be extinct in 50 years. In the book, Williams' research focuses on what factors were the likely cause of the monk seal's impending extinction. The book is one of the winners of the 2013 SB&F Prize for Excellence in Science Books. Science Books & Films (SB&F) is a project of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.
Williams' story is “hands-on” science that shows how human and animal cultures play roles in the natural cycle of life. She poses for readers the question of the value and appropriateness of government intervention in helping preserve species for scientific research. Because the book focuses on the research of a few key personalities (animal and human), it provides students with an up-close look at scientists and how they go about their work, in this case with marine mammals. The presence of a female scientist opens up the possibility that girls reading The Odyssey of KP2 will be more likely to pursue science when they see it in the context of this story, especially since the narrative conveys not only Williams’ work, but also how she developed into a scientist and her passion for her work.
In this lesson, students will read the book using the The Odyssey of KP2 student sheet to guide them in a question and answer format.
Scientific explanations must meet certain criteria. For this to happen, scientists must be consistent with experimental and observational evidence about nature and must make accurate predictions when appropriate about systems being studied. Their explanations should be logical and respect the rules of evidence and be open to criticism. Scientists should also report their methods and procedures and make their knowledge public. Explanations on how the natural world changes based on myths, personal beliefs, religious values, mystical inspiration, superstition, or authority may be personally useful and socially relevant, but they are not scientific.
In this book, Williams shares her experiences and frustrations trying to balance the science of her research with the local Hawaiians' personal beliefs, culture, and view of nature and how it fit in their way of life as well as their resistance to scientific authority. Because these issues can be politically charged, students might challenge some of the theories presented in this book. You should be prepared to engage students in exploring and debating these challenges.
Ideas in this lesson are also related to concepts in these Common Core State Standards:
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts, attending to important distinctions the author makes and to any gaps or inconsistencies in the account.
- CCSS.ELA-Literacy.RST.11-12.2 Determine the central ideas or conclusions of a text; summarize complex concepts, processes, or information presented in a text by paraphrasing them in simpler but still accurate terms.
You should read the book The Odyssey of KP2: An Orphan Seal, a Marine Biologist, and the Fight to Save a Species by Terrie M. Williams and review the questions students will answer on the The Odyssey of KP2 student sheet. The questions guide the students as they read the book.
To introduce students to Williams and her work, they should use their Odyssey of KP2 student esheet to watch this Interview with Terrie Williams, which will introduce students to her work with KP2 and what she and her team learned about monk seals and their physiology. After viewing this interview, lead a discussion with the students about Williams' conclusions from her research. Begin by asking them:
- How did KP2 come into Williams' life?
- (Williams was in Antarctica when she received an email asking her if she wanted a Hawaiian monk seal. Since she had been wanting to study these animals, she jumped at the chance to be able to do research with KP2.)
- What did Williams learn about the physiology of monk seals and how did these conclusions shift the research team's plans for KP2?
- (She learned how much food he needed to eat and the temperatures at which he could comfortably live. She learned that monk seals are Hawaiian animals and that they are not going anywhere because the temperatures they live in are warm water temperatures. They cannot dive to deep, deep depths, like some other marine animals.)
- What did Williams mean when she said KP2 was a "sign from the ocean"?
- (The Hawaiians saw him as a sign from the ocean. They believed that he was going to tell the local kids and adults what was happening in the ocean and how to protect the animals of Hawaii.)
- How is KP2 an ambassador for the species?
- (He's teaching children about the biology of monk seals and about what monk seals need to live in the wild.)
- What was it like to write the book for Williams?
- (It was an adventure for her because she recorded what was happening as it was going on. She often didn't know what would happen to KP2. So, the book comes across as in the moment. It could often be heart wrenching.)
- What does Williams think of her job?
- (She says that she has the best job in the world. She is still working with monk seals. She's currently working with an adult male monk seal, KP18, who had to be removed from the wild because he was hunting other monk seals.)
In this part of the lesson, students will learn more about Terrie Williams' research and her work with Hawaiian monk seals by reading independently The Odyssey of KP2 and answering the questions on The Odyssey of KP2 student sheet. These questions are divided into three main sections that follow the structure of the book. You may want to schedule a "check-in" after each part is read to discuss the questions.
Students should read the first two parts of the book, Part 1: Destiny and Part II: Passages, and answer the questions on the student sheet. Before going on to Part III: Survival, however, students should use their esheet to watch the video, Terrie Williams Reads from The Odyssey of KP2. In this video, Williams reads from pp. 202-204 of the book.
Williams says the laws that protect endangered species from human disturbance also keep scientists from working with these species. She states that researchers and the government have the same conservation goals regarding the ocean’s largest animals, but they go about accomplishing those goals differently. Researchers feel that bureaucrats are out of touch with the realities facing these ocean animals, and bureaucrats feel that researchers ignore the laws governing marine mammal protection.
Ask students to write an essay about these statements and what they see as possible solutions to this impass.
Consider developing a detailed rubric for assessment of the essay. There are several resources on the Internet that describe the use of rubrics in the K-12 classroom, a few of which are highlighted here.
To learn more about rubrics in general, see Make Room for Rubrics on the Scholastic site.
For specific examples of rubrics, more information, and links to other resources, check out the following sites:
- Kathy Schrock’s Guide to Everything: Assessment and Rubrics
- Assessment: Creating Rubrics
- Rubrics for Web Lessons
Finally, you can go to Teacher Rubric Makers on the Teach-nology.com website to create your own rubrics. At this site you can fill out forms to create rubrics suitable for your particular students, and then print them instantly from your computer.
Tigerland and Other Unintended Destinations is a memoir of a scientist who studies and defends endangered species.
Mammoth Extinction explores various hypotheses, particularly infectious disease, that caused the extinction of the wooly mammoth.
In this TEDx Talk, Terrie Williams talks about her work with marine mammals and what led her to doing research in this area.