Extinction and Biodiversity STEM

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In this lesson, students will learn about biodiversity, why biodiversity is a measure of a healthy ecosystem, and the reasons for species to become endangered or extinct. Using a case example, they will explore critical questions about what happens when a species is endangered. In addition, they will learn what species are endangered or extinct in their state.

Students will also discover the reasons why we need to protect endangered species. The topic of endangered and extinct species can be challenging even to older students. While students are familiar with the demise of dinosaurs, they may not be aware of other endangered and extinct species on the planet.

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Description

What our Extinction and Biodiversity STEM lesson plan includes

Lesson Objectives and Overview: Extinction and Biodiversity STEM explores the concept of extinction as both a natural and human process. Students will discover how losing a species can affect other members of an ecosystem and cause detrimental consequences. They will also learn why saving specific types of species is critical to human survival. This lesson is for students in 5th grade and 6th grade.

Classroom Procedure

Every lesson plan provides you with a classroom procedure page that outlines a step-by-step guide to follow. You do not have to follow the guide exactly. The guide helps you organize the lesson and details when to hand out worksheets. It also lists information in the yellow box that you might find useful. You will find the lesson objectives, state standards, and number of class sessions the lesson should take to complete in this area. In addition, it describes the supplies you will need as well as what and how you need to prepare beforehand.

Options for Lesson

The “Options for Lesson” section of the classroom procedure page offers ideas for additional activities or tasks to add to the lesson plan. For this lesson, you could add an activity where students create a board game based on the subject of endangered and extinct animals. You can use the link provided to follow their instructions or come up with your own ideas.

Teacher Notes

The teacher notes page provides an extra paragraph of information to help guide the lesson and remind you what to focus on. It suggests you look at the Learn Bright video related to this topic and see other resources, such as related lesson plans. The blank lines on this page are available for you to write out thoughts and ideas you have as you prepare the lesson.

EXTINCTION AND BIODIVERSITY STEM LESSON PLAN CONTENT PAGES

Biodiversity

The Extinction and Biodiversity STEM lesson plan has five pages of content. Students will discover that biodiversity refers to all the different life that exists in an area. Measuring the number of various species—whether a plant, animal, or insect—is one way in which biologists determine the health of an ecosystem. Generally, the greater the diversity, the healthier the ecosystem. In a healthy ecosystem, species are interdependent, meaning they are all in some way connected to other species. For instance, one species may struggle to survive if the interdependent species disappears. When a species disappears, this is known as extinction.

All life on Earth, including humans, is supported by vibrant biodiversity. Biodiversity is essential because healthy ecosystems supply the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the food we eat. When a species is at risk of becoming extinct, this is called endangered. It is not hyperbole to state that when a species appears on the endangered list, it is not the only species in peril. The interconnectedness of ecosystems means that all species in the ecosystem share the risk of a species becoming extinct. So, how many species are endangered on the planet?

The International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of Threatened Species (IUCN) began to monitor the health of the earth’s species in 1964. The IUCN report is considered one of the most accurate and comprehensive lists of endangered and extinct species on Earth. It is critical to measuring biodiversity and is used by governments as well as conservationists to put resources in place to protect sensitive environments. The lesson lists several significant findings that you could discuss with the students.

How a Healthy Ecosystem Works

Healthy ecosystems comprise living (biotic) and non-living (abiotic) matter. Biotic refers to all living organisms, such as plants, animals, and microbes. Abiotic refers to all the non-living things, like air, water, climate, and soil. The alteration of any biotic or abiotic factors can have dire consequences on an ecosystem.

For example, during a drought, water is in short supply. Plants and animals depend on water to survive. Plant-eating animals (herbivores) depend on healthy plants as their sole source of nutrition. If the drought is severe enough to kill off the plants the herbivores depend on, the herbivores either migrate to find a new food source or do not survive. Meat-eating animals (carnivores) depend on the herbivores as a food source. Therefore, fewer herbivores result in a reduction in carnivores as well.

Plants do more than provide a food source. Plants offer protection and cover for other species. But, more importantly, they give nutrients to the soil, remove carbon from the atmosphere, generate oxygen, and protect the soil from erosion. Soil erosion is a critical problem for the world. Scientists estimate about 7.5% of the earth’s surface is usable agricultural soil. When they die and decompose, plants are vital in creating usable soil.

It takes somewhere between 500 and a thousand years (depending on the climate in an area) to make one inch of topsoil. Some scientists believe there will be a severe shortage of agricultural soil in the next 60 years at the current rate of soil consumption. A healthy ecosystem has a wide range of biodiversity, and all components unite, including plants.

Causes for Endangerment or Extinction

Students will then learn about some of the things that cause harm to the biodiversity of an ecosystem. Threats to biodiversity come from either natural causes like droughts or human-made problems like over-farming. Both lead to species’ being added to the endangered or extinct lists. There are several causes for a species to become endangered and extinct. The most common that scientists agree with include deforestation, invasive species, pollution, and climate change.

It is true that natural events such as hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, bush fires, earthquakes, or landslides have negative consequences on the ecosystem. However, it is apparent that many of the causes of extinction can be traced back to human-made activities or climate change. Climate change is the long-term change in weather patterns due to increased atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO₂). CO₂ in the atmosphere traps heat from the sun and results in dramatic and unpredictable swings in weather patterns. Climate change is not a new phenomenon.

Scientists believe the earth has gone through five periods of mass extinction events in geologic history. Dinosaurs became extinct possibly after a massive asteroid crashed into the earth. The ash from the fires and dust from the crash entered the atmosphere and reflected the sun’s rays, lowering the earth’s temperature. Scientists believe the extinction of the dinosaurs was due to significant drops in the tropical temperature and a massive loss of the plant life the dinosaurs ate. Many scientists believe the earth is entering the sixth period of mass extinction driven by human activity and climate change.

The key point to remember is that while climate change has been
going on for a long time, the rapidity of the change in climate in recent years is of concern. Human activity can be at the heart of most climate change. And the threat of climate change is the leading cause of the endangerment or possibility of extinction of species.

EXTINCTION AND BIODIVERSITY STEM LESSON PLAN WORKSHEETS

The Extinction and Biodiversity STEM lesson plan includes three worksheets: an activity worksheet, a practice worksheet, and a homework assignment. Each one will help students solidify their grasp of the material they learned throughout the lesson. You can refer to the classroom procedure guidelines to know when to hand out each worksheet.

ENDANGERED SPECIES LIST ACTIVITY WORKSHEET

With a partner, students will choose one species from the list on the worksheet to research. (If they want to find a different animal, they can search for other endangered species as well.) Students will fill out the information using the prompts in the box on the right side of the page as a guide. They will then create a presentation to give to the class.

HONEY BEES REPORT PRACTICE WORKSHEET

For the practice worksheet, students will read a passage about the decline of the honey bee population and its effects. They will explain the impact of the problem on the ecosystem and suggest possible solutions. They are welcome to use other resources to support their research. The second practice page lists thinking questions to help guide students’ essays.

EXTINCTION AND BIODIVERSITY STEM HOMEWORK ASSIGNMENT

The homework assignment requires students to choose one species that they believe should be protected. Using the guiding questions from the practice worksheet, they will create a poster to encourage people to protect their chosen species. The posters should include information that answers the questions from the practice worksheet.

Worksheet Answer Keys

The lesson document provides answer keys for the practice and homework worksheets. Given the nature of both of these assignments, students’ answers will vary. However, the answer keys provide sample responses in red and remind you what to look for in your students’ work. If you choose to administer the lesson pages to your students via PDF, you will need to save a new file that omits these pages. Otherwise, you can simply print out the applicable pages and keep these as reference for yourself when grading assignments.

Additional information

grade-level

5th Grade, 6th Grade

subject

Science

State Educational Standards

NGSS.HS-LS2-7, NGSS.HS-LS4-5, NGSS.HS-LS4-6

Lessons are aligned to meet the education objectives and goals of most states. For more information on your state objectives, contact your local Board of Education or Department of Education in your state.