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Learning the Land: Native Prairies Species-at-Risk 7

Middle, Secondary


The vast expanses of Canada's prairie grasslands have traditionally been connected to First Nations culture and history.  “Living lightly” on the land supported balanced ecological relationships between bison, vegetation, wildlife and natural resources.  Since colonization, the expansion of croplands, overgrazing by cattle and urban development have impacted the vulnerable species that depend on prairie habitats and disrupted natural functions such as groundwater storage and erosion control.  Temperate grasslands are now among the most threatened biomes of the world and it is imperative that humans conserve these habitats to protect endangered species, sensitive ecosystems and the cultural connections to this landscape.  Centered around seasonal changes in the prairie landscape, this learning unit integrates traditional ecological knowledge and outdoor exploration into four activities where students will:

  • Observe and describe biotic and abiotic features of a native grassland habitat
  • Measure parameters to assess the health of prairie habitat
  • Describe prairie food webs and identify connections between prairie species-at-risk and other plants and animals
  • Identify personal strategies for respectfully interacting with nature
  • Share knowledge with First Nations Elders to understand their beliefs about the natural world

General Assessment

What skills does this resource explicitly teach?

  • Observation and identification of plants and animals
  • Design
  • Active listening
  • Problem solving


  • Provides an authentic outdoor experience
  • Involves First Nation Elders in teaching traditional ecological knowledge
  • Seasonal activities support a year long project-based teaching unit
  • All accompanying support resources are available on the Nature Conservancy Canada website


  • Does not include any assessment tools
  • The student handouts are contained in large zip files containing individual pages instead of one pdf that has the entire package
  • There are no notes included with the Powerpoint presentation

Recommendation of how and where to use it

This lesson supports Grade 6-8 Science curriculum exploring ecosystems, species-at-risk and human impacts on the environment. Students are able to practice and apply Science skills such as investigation, experimentation, observation and species identification. The activities also strengthen skill development in the areas of attention, focus, sensory processing and reflection.  The ecological knowledge that is passed from Elders to pupils complements Indigenous Studies outcomes exploring culture and traditions.

Students are encouraged to become environmental stewards by participating in summer habitat projects with Nature Conservancy Canada but a teacher could implement an action project during the school year by involving a class in enhancing a local wetland or grassland area with nest boxes.  The Learning the Land website has links to plans and installation guidelines for Mountain Bluebird and Tree Swallow boxes. 


Relevant Curriculum Units

The following tool will allow you to explore the relevant curriculum matches for this resource. To start, select a province listed below.

Themes Addressed

Ecosystems (4)

  • Appreciating the Natural World
  • Biodiversity
  • Endangered Species
  • Habitat Loss

Indigenous Knowledge (1)

  • TEK -- Traditional Ecological Knowledge

Sustainability Education Principles

Principle Rating Explanation
Consideration of Alternative Perspectives Good

The holistic approach teaches students about the close relationships between First Nation's people and nature and their respect for all that Mother Earth provides them.  As the primary stewards of the land, indigenous communities have been impacted by habitat loss as much as the wildlife species that inhabit these sensitive ecosystems.  Pupils will deepen their awareness of how environmental damage results in the loss of biodiversity while also threatening human identity and culture.

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 connections between species-at-risk, native prairie and humans are investigated from the context of environmental and socio-economic issues such as species decline, flooding and agricultural losses.

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

Learning about native praririe ecosystems from a First Nations perspective fosters an understanding of how interactions between nature and humans can be supportive or harmful.  Students will recognize that natural resources can be used responsibly and sustainably.

Respects Complexity:

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

Acting on Learning Satisfactory

During the summer season learners are encouraged to become involved in conservation through Nature Conservancy Canada volunteer days.

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

Each student develops a “Code of Conduct” that describes their personal philosophy about how they will interact with nature without harm. 

Values Education:

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

Empathy & Respect for Humans Good

A shared learning experience with Elders fosters a deeper awareness of how cultural identity is connected to beliefs and traditions that are passed through generations.

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

Pupils are involved in a respectful wilderness activity where they watch, hear and feel the natural world around them.  This close observation occurs from the landscape level to the organism level and includes personal introspection about their experiences.

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 Satisfactory

Although Saskatchewan is the focus of the lesson, the core learning about species-at-risk and habitat loss is applicable across all Canadian provinces and territories.  A teacher could make the activities more regionally relevant by including content about locally threatened ecosystems such as wetlands or mature forest.

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 Good

Students are able to connect how human activity has impacted habitats and contributed to many prairie wildlife species becoming threatened or endangered.  They will understand how indigenous stewardship principles protected grasslands in the past and can become an important component of future conservation efforts.

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 Good

“Mind mapping” and “think-pair-share” exercises engage students in the learning process as they explore the what, why and how of each task. Learners are also actively involved in planning, organizing and analyzing information in their outdoor exploration of prairie habitat.

Open-Ended Instruction :

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

Integrated Learning Satisfactory

This resource supports Science concepts related to ecosystem dynamics and biodiversity while also integrating topics surrounding the relationship between First Nations culture and the natural world.

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

Investigation, experimentation, and problem solving strengthen student connections to the content by supporting curiosity and creativity.

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 Satisfactory

Although there are no specific differentiation strategies, the outdoor activities will appeal to a wide range of learners, while the open dialogue with Elders supports students who prefer oral communication and learning.

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 Good

Involving Elders in the instruction makes the link between content and real world experiences.  The lesson also uses an inquiry based process that provides many opprtunities for discovery and self-reflection.

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 Satisfactory

Students work individually and in small groups to complete the activities, however the collaborative learning with Elders provides an opportunity for social engagement beyond their peers.

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 Poor/Not considered

There are no specific assessment tools included with the resource although a "Teacher's Program Evaluation" sheet provides an opportunity for instructor reflection on lesson effectiveness in terms of student learning. 

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 Poor/Not considered

Small group work encourages cooperative learning but there are no specific action items for peer teaching.

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 Good

Temperate grasslands are among the most threatened biomes of the world and the loss of Canada's prairies has been significant.  Students are able to understand the seriousness of this habitat loss by observing a natural area while listening to the traditional knowledge that describes how the landscape has been affected by humans.

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 Satisfactory

The hands-on approach fosters intiative and problem solving. This lesson also supports exploration of the natural world and students are able to apply learning in future outdoor experiences.

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.