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Tracking Aliens

Comparing Native and Invasive Species in Your Back Yard

Secondary, Middle

Description

Students conduct a field study to investigate, record and analyse the presence of native, non-native and  invasive species in a selected local environment. By focusing on identifying and observing the variety of species found in the local environment, students are able to explore the relationships among the organisms that live there and better understand basic ecological concepts and the impact invasive species can have on the environment.

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

The lesson plan is designed to have students practice the steps in scientific inquiry, ie. how to gather and analyse data to best ensure that the conclusions arrived at are both valid and reliable.

Strengths

The topic of invasive species is both interesting and relevant and likely to be of greater concern as climate change and increased globalization heighten our awareness of and concern for the negative consequences of their spread.

The opportunity for students to compare their findings with those of others using the Project Noah website further enhances the lesson plan.

Recommendation of how and where to use it

Tracking Aliens may be used by teachers in those units of the Science curriculum that focus on the study of ecosystems and /or biodiversity at the upper middle and secondary level and in Social Studies units that have students examine the consequences of globalization. 

If exploited to its full advantage, the lesson plan may be approached as a case study in sustainable development with students investigating the interplay of economic, environmental and social forces in discussing the causes and consequences of the spread of invasive species.

Relevant Curriculum Units

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Themes Addressed

  • Ecosystems (5)

    • Appreciating the Natural World
    • Biodiversity
    • Endangered Species
    • Habitat Loss
    • Invasive Species
  • Land Use & Natural Resources (1)

    • Planting Native Species

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Very Good

In carrying out the field study, students construct their own conclusions about the issue. The scientific method used in arriving at that conclusion is deliberately designed to reduce or eliminate bias in the findings.

Consideration of Alternative Perspectives:
  • Satisfactory: absence of bias towards any one point of view
  • Good: students consider different points of view regarding issues, problems discussed
  • Very good: based on the consideration of different views, students form opinions and  take an informed position
Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions Good

The focus of the lesson is environmental health in that the goal is to determine the relative distribution of native, non-native, and invasive plants at the local level. The discussion that follows explores the role of humans in the spread of invasive species and our responsibility to minimize the impact of invasive species in the area and encourage native species. While students are not directed to  investigate the economic implications of the spread of invasive species, it is hoped students or teachers would recognize the need to do so.

Multiple Dimensions of Problems & Solutions:

Effectively addresses the environmental, economic and social dimensions of the issue(s) being explored.

  • Satisfactory: resource supports the examination of  these dimensions
  • Good:  resource explicitly examines the interplay of these dimensions
  • Very Good:  a systems-thinking approach is encouraged to examine these three dimensions
Respects Complexity Good

The lesson plan has a limited goal - to have students determine the relative distribution of native, non -native, and invasive plants (content) and to outline a strategy based on the scientific method to gather the required information (process). The issue would become more complex as students investigate the factors that contribute to the spread of invasive species, the environmental, social and economic impact of invasive species and the range of responses to minimize their impact.

Respects Complexity:

The complexity of the problems/issues being discussed is respected.

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

The extension component of the lesson plan invites students to "design and promote an invasive species assessment mission for their area  and to draw together invasive species observations from other classes, government agencies, community members and others."

Acting on Learning:

Learning moves from understanding  issues  to working towards positive change — in personal lifestyle, in school, in the community,  or for the planet

  • Satisfactory: action opportunities are included as extensions 
  • Good: action opportunities are core components of the resource
  • Very Good: action opportunities for students are well supported and intended to result in observable, positive change
Values Education Good

The discussion that follows the analysis of the data has students consider, either explicitly or implicitly, the value of biodiversity, and the degree to which students and others must take responsibility for protecting that biodiversity 

Values Education:

Students are explicitly provided with opportunities to identify, clarify and express their own beliefs/values.

Empathy & Respect for Humans Poor/Not considered

Not relevant to goals of lesson plan.

Empathy & Respect for Humans: Empathy and respect are fostered for diverse groups of humans (including different genders, ethnic groups, sexual preferences, etc.).
Personal Affinity with Earth Very Good

The core of the lesson plan is a field study that has students make careful observations about nature, record and analyse that information. Suggested extension activities would have students revisit the plot studied at another time of year to determine if different species are found at different times. Students are also invited to undertake a plot survey of different types of habitats (fields vs  woods, lawns, meadows, etc.)

Personal Affinity with Earth:

Encourages a personal affinity with -the natural world.  

  • Satisfactory: connection is made to the natural world
  • Good: fosters appreciation/concern for the natural world
  • Very Good: fosters stewardship though practical and respectful experiences out-of-doors 
Locally-Focused Learning Very Good

Students investigate the distribution of invasive species at the local level through a class field trip and use the Project Noah website to compare their findings to those made by other classes, government agencies and community members. 

Locally-Focused Learning:

Includes learning experiences that take advantage of issues/elements within the local community. 

  • Satisfactory: learning is made relevant to the lives of the learners
  • Good: learning is made relevant and has a local focus
  • Very Good: learning is made relevant, local and takes place ‘outside’ , in the community 
Past, Present & Future Poor/Not considered

This focus is somewhat peripheral to the goal of the lesson plan although one might argue that the students are examining a current issue (invasive species) in order to determine the extent of the problem and possible future reponses. 

Past, Present & Future: Promotes an understanding of the past, a sense of the present, and a positive vision for the future.

Pedagogical Approaches

Principle Rating Explanation
Open-Ended Instruction Satisfactory

Students carry out an investigation in accordance with the principles of the scientific inquiry.  They start with the question -To what extent are invasive species present in the local environment, and if so, what impacts are they having on the environment? They undertake a field study to gather the relevant data in accordance with certain principles of data collection. In the classroom, they analyze the data and report their conclusions using appropriate media.

The question is pre-determined but it is the students who determine answers, while engaging in an inquiry process that provides for the validity of that answer.   

Open-Ended Instruction :

Lessons are structured so that multiple/complex answers are possible; students are not steered toward one 'right' answer.

Integrated Learning Good

In carrying out their investigation, students practice a number of generic skills - observation, recording of data, data analysis, communication of findings. The topic investigated has relevance for a number of subject areas - Science (ecosystems, biodiversity, habitat loss); Math (collection, recording and analysis of data); Social Studies (effects of globalization, economic consequences of spread of environmental species); Language Arts (communicating information) 

Integrated Learning:

Learning brings together content and skills  from more than one  subject area

  • Satisfactory: content from a number of different  subject areas is readily identifiable
  • Good:  resource is appropriate for use in more than one subject area
  • Very Good:  the lines between subjects are blurred 
Inquiry Learning Good

Students are provided with a question of some significance - To what extent are invasive species present in the local environment, and if so, what impacts are they having on the environment? A process is outlined as to how to best answer the question but this is a critical part of the learning process since it better ensures the validity and reliability of the students answers. 

Inquiry Learning:

Learning is directed by questions, problems, or challenges that students work to address.   

  • Satisfactory: Students are provided with questions/problems to solve and some direction on how to arrive at solutions.
  • Good: students, assisted by the teacher clarify the question(s) to ask and the process to follow to arrive at solutions.  Sometimes referred to as Guided Inquiry
  • Very Good:  students generate the questions and assume much of the responsibility for how to solve them.  . Sometimes referred to as self-directed learning.

 

Differentiated Instruction Good

The variety of tasks (Internet research, laying out the sample plot, photographing and describing organisms found, downloading and analysing data) required, both in the classroom and in the field, provide opportunities to exploit the talents and interests of individual students. 

Differentiated Instruction:

Activities address a range of student learning styles, abilities and readiness.

  • Satisfactory:  includes a variety of instructional approaches
  • Good: addresses  the needs of visual, auditory &  kinesthetic learners
  • Very Good: also includes strategies for learners with difficulties
Experiential Learning Very Good

The existence of invasive species and their potential impact, both environmentally and economically, represent an issue of considerable significance. The lesson plan engages students in exploring the issue in accordance with the principles of inquiry and experiential learning and with a focus on the local environment. 

Experiential Learning:

Authentic learning experiences are provided

  • Satisfactory: learning takes place through ‘hands-on’ experience or simulation
  • Good: learning involves direct experience in a ‘real world context’
  • Very good: learning involves ‘real world experiences’ taking place’ beyond the school walls.
Cooperative Learning Good

The central piece in this lesson plan is the class field trip, a collective exercise in which students must co-operate to realize the goal of obtaining the required information. This co-operation continues back in the classroom where students work together to analyse and communicate their findings.

Cooperative Learning:

Group and cooperative learning strategies are a priority.

  • Satisfactory:  students work in groups
  • Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught and practiced
  • Very Good: cooperative learning skills are explicitly taught, practiced and assessed
Assessment & Evaluation Good

A rubric is provided that may be used as a guideline for assessing student involvement in the activity.

Assessment & Evaluation: Tools are provided that help students and teachers to capture formative and summative information about students' learning and performance. These tools may include reflection questions, checklists, rubrics, etc.
Peer Teaching Satisfactory

The essence of the lesson plan is a class project designed to gather and analyse the data necessary to answer the question posed. As a class undertaking one would expect students to learn from the observations, suggestions and conclusions offered by their fellow students.

Peer Teaching:

Provides opportunities for students to actively present their knowledge and skills to peers and/or act as teachers and mentors.

  • Satisfactory: incidental teaching that arises from cooperative learning, presentations, etc.
  • Good or Very Good: an opportunity is intentionally created to empower students to teach other students/community members. The audience is somehow reliant on the students' teaching (students are not simply ‘presenting')
Case Studies Very Good

The field trip to determine the relative distribution of native, non-native, and invasive plants in the local environment represents a case study, the findings of which may be compared with observations from other classes, government agencies, and community members using the Project Noah site.

Students are also encouraged to carry out a similar case study at another time of year or in a different type of habitat for comparison purposes.

Case Studies:

Relevant case studies are included.  Case studies are thorough descriptions of real events from real situations that students use to explore  concepts in an authentic context.

Locus of Control Good

While the lesson plan represents a structured approach to investigating an issue - necessarily so if the inquiry is to have legitimacy - it does allow for a degree of student autonomy in carrying out the investigation.

Locus of Control: Meaningful opportunities are provided for students to choose elements of program content, the medium in which they wish to work, and/or to go deeper into a chosen issue.