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Example: Extinction: Is it inevitable?

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This page was authored by Susan Musante, AIBS, based on an original lesson written by John Ausema, Wilmington Christian School, Wilmington, DE, published in ActionBioscience.org.

Summary

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The Toolache Wallaby (Macropus greyi) went extinct in Australia in 1943. Source: John Gould, F.R.S., Mammals of Australia, Vol. II Plate 19, London, 1863.

Students read an article titled "The Sixth Extinction" by Niles Eldredge on past mass extinctions and the current rate of loss of species. The instructor can choose from a suite of activities which include having students respond to discussion and extension questions about the article, write an essay on the article defending Eldredge's view, create an extinction chart, and debate the actions of stakeholders faced with an endangered species vs. human water needs scenario. Students will need to research additional references to complete the activities and be prepared to defend their positions.

Learning Goals

Students will need to use higher-order thinking skills to complete the activities in this example. In general they will:

  • describe the geologic history of extinction
  • examine the possible causes of extinction
  • explain the effects of humans on animal populations and ecosystems
  • discuss and suggest solutions to the problems of biodiversity loss

Students will need to read articles, synthesize what they have read, research additional references, and communicate their position verbally and in writing.

Context for Use

These activities can be used with high school students or first and second year undergraduate students in biology, environmental science, or other life science courses that include biodiversity, extinction, and conservation in their syllabi. It can be used to introduce these concepts, to engage students in thinking about extinction and what can/cannot be done. The discussion and extension questions can be done in a class period, or given as home work for follow up discussion in class. The written assignment could be given as a take home over the course of a week so that students can talk with one another in class about what they have learned to help them develop their position. The debate assignment will require background research and could take one or more class periods.

Description and Teaching Materials

The complete lesson, "Extinction: Is it inevitable?" by John Ausema, was written to accompany the article "The Sixth Extinction" written by Niles Eldredge and is available for free as a PDF on the AIBS's ActionBioscience.org website at: http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/lessons/eldredge2lessons.pdf.

Here are two additional strategies to use as you guide your students through the activities to explore this real-world issue:

Scenario 1: In Class

1. Introduce the issue of extinction and conservation as a contemporary relevant concern faced by the scientific discipline through the article titled "The Sixth Extinction" by Niles Eldredge: http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html. This issue must be pertinent to the topic covered in that particular session.
2. Then pose a question to the class (e.g., Can we stop the devastation of our planet and save our own species?) and ask the students to think of an answer based upon the article they read. Have the students write down their opinion.
3. Ask the students what else they might need to know to be able to substantiate their opinion. Guide them to understand they will need scientific facts to understand the issue. Provide them with information or make information available to them to answer their questions about the issue.
4. Ask the class to use what they learned in class to discuss the issue in small groups and come up with a view or resolution of the issue.
5. Present the set of guiding rules (in the How to section of this module) for addressing the issue as a hand-out or projected on a screen.
6. Give students ample time in class to resolve the issue. Periodically ask the students about their progress and whether a resolution is near.
7. Guide a discussion with all students, allowing them to reflect on the issue.


Scenario 2: Take-home Assignment

1. Introduce the issue of extinction and conservation as a contemporary relevant concern faced by the scientific discipline through the article titled "The Sixth Extinction" by Niles Eldredge: http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html. This issue must be pertinent to the topic covered in that particular session.
2. Then pose a question to the class (e.g., Can we stop the devastation of our planet and save our own species?) and ask the students to think of an answer based upon the article they read. Have the students write down their opinion.
3. Ask the students what else they might need to know to be able to substantiate their opinion. Guide them to understand they will need scientific facts to understand the issue. Provide them with information or make information available to them to answer their questions about the issue.
4. Ask the class to use what they learned in class to discuss the issue in small groups.
5. Provide the set of guiding rules (in the How to section of this module) for addressing the issue as a handout.
6. Assign students the task of writing a brief paper detailing their views or resolutions of the issue which they will turn in at the next class period.
7. Guide a discussion with students allowing them to reflect on the issue after their papers are complete and submitted.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There is no one formula for using real-world issues in the classroom. The published lesson and the additional scenarios provide a menu of activities to engage students in the issues surrounding extinction and conservation.

Regardless of which approached is used, time in class should be made available for the students to reflect upon their resolutions to the issue. During this time, it is recommended that the instructor explain the relationship between the issue and the concepts covered in class. Feedback for the take-home assignment can be presented to the whole class based on a synopsis of the student reports. Any student arguments or disagreements should be directed back to the facts related to the issue. Instructors can share their viewpoints as long as they explain how they use to facts to come up with their view or resolution.

Assessment

Assessing student learning for the activities in this example depends upon the goals instructors have for using the lesson.

  • If you assign a mini-paper, you will want to let students know ahead of time what you will be looking for in their papers. Create a rubric based upon your learning goals for them, provide it to them ahead of time, and then use it to score their papers. The SERC page Developing Scoring Rubrics provides general information about creating rubrics and examples that you can use.
  • If you facilitate a class or small group discussion and want to assess students' participation, the University of Virginia's Teacher Resource Center has a information about Grading Student Participation which includes a rubric.
  • If you want to know the main points students learned from their participation in a class discussion, you can have students complete a brief but powerful assessment right before the end of class. Go to Classroom Assessment Techniques to learn how to administer a Minute Paper: http://www.flaguide.org/cat/minutepapers/minutepapers1.php.

For more information on assessment:

  • SERC's On The Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geosciences Faculty has a terrific suite of resources on assessment. Go to Observing and Assessing Student Learning to learn about the different types of assessment and techniques for finding out what your students are learning as you use new teaching approaches.

References and Resources

A list of resources and references is available at: http://www.actionbioscience.org/newfrontiers/eldredge2.html#learnmore.

© Science Education Research Center

reprinted with permission.



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