MowWow Animals A Curriculum in Humane Education

LESSON 1:
Animals in the Natural World—The Importance of Wild Places

Goal: To lay the foundation for understanding the interconnectedness of life on Earth and each person’s responsibility for sustaining the plants and animals that form part of it.

Content: In this lesson we help our students understand the idea of ecology—the interdependent relationships among living beings, the place each plant and animal has in the biology of the earth, and the role each one plays in supporting life on earth. Another expression for this concept is the “web of life.”

  • The students will learn about what constitutes the natural world and why maintaining the natural world is important.
  • The students will learn that there are different kinds of ecosystems, or the environments that are occupied and supported by different kinds of animals and plants.
  • The students will learn about the concept of the food chain and the places held by different organisms on the food chain.
  • The students will learn about the roles of animals and people in the Earth’s ecology.
  • The students will be introduced to the idea that changing the environment affects the lives of the resident animals, and they will learn what kinds of human activity can change a natural environment and affect its animal life. They will apply these concepts as they do research about endangered species.
  • The students will learn why it is important to keep wild places and wild animals wild. They will learn about the roles of animal sanctuaries and the ways in which they help, or not, to maintain a natural environment for the animals.

What You Need to Do

  • Read aloud the poem from North American Indian oral history and discuss it with your students.
  • Watch Mow Wow’s animated movie with the students.
  • Follow the movie with questions, discussion, and activities.
  • Close the lesson with a poem.

Note: Our lesson is designed for easy adaptation to the age and level of your class. You can simply illustrate the points we are making, using the examples and questions we provide, or you can amend the lesson. There is a wealth of material available on the teaching of ecology and conservation, and you can expand this lesson with that material. We provide a short grade-appropriate resource list for your reference.

What You Need for This Lesson

For the activities, we recommend that you have small notebooks that can serve as journals and that your students have access to a library as well as to the Internet.

Note: Recommended books and online resources are listed at the end of this lesson.

Let's Begin!

Bringing a World to Life

The poem “Birdfoot’s Grampa” is a vivid, personalized picture that reaffirms the concept that all life has value.

Background

Joseph Bruchac has written more than 120 books for children and adults. His best-selling Keepers of the Earth: Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children and others of his Keepers series, which seamlessly integrate science and folklore, continue to receive critical acclaim and to be used in classrooms throughout the country. Tell your students about Joseph Bruchac, his motivations to write, and some of his beliefs and ideas. This selection is also a good model to follow for students interested in writing short biographies.

Joseph Bruchac describes the influence of his grandfather in his life: “My grandfather, Jesse Bowman, was of Abenaki* Indian descent. He could barely read and write, but I remember him as one of the kindest people I ever knew. I followed him everywhere. He showed me how to walk quietly in the woods […]. He told me that his father never spanked him, but would only talk to him when he misbehaved. He raised me in the same way.”

He says about himself: “My favorite subject in school changed from grade school to high school, but it was usually either history or science—if that science dealt with animals.”

“I think I always knew I would be a writer some day, but it wasn’t until I was grown and had children of my own that I turned to telling Native American stories. My Indian grandfather never told those stories to me. Instead, I began to seek them out from other Native elders as soon as I left home for college. I wanted to share those stories with my sons, so I started to write them down. My first book of stories was published in 1975.”

Bruchac discusses his writings: “I've continued to read and to listen to stories from elders. The central themes in my work are simple ones—that we have to listen to each other and to the earth, that we have to respect each other and the earth, that we never know anyone until we know what they have in their heart.”

From the biography of Joseph Bruchac provided by Scholastic Publishing at http://www.scholastic.com/teachers/contributor/joseph-bruchac.

*Abenaki: One of the Algonquin-speaking peoples inhabiting northeastern North America.

Bruchac describes the Abenaki people: The Abenaki people speak a language that is similar to that of many other Native people belonging to the larger Algonquin family. Like the other Algonquin peoples of the Northeast, our traditional culture before Europeans was based on hunting, fishing, a small amount of agriculture, and utilizing the many gifts of the forest, such as birch bark that was used for our houses and for our canoes. In the old days, we lived in relatively small communities and followed a seasonal round of migration.

Poem

frog

Birdfoot’s Grampa

The old man
must have stopped our car
two dozen times to climb out
and gather into his hands
the small toads blinded
by our lights and leaping,
live drops of rain.
The rain was falling,
a mist about his white hair
and I kept saying
you can’t save them all,
accept it, get back in
we’ve got places to go.
But, leathery hands full
of wet brown life,
knee deep in the summer
roadside grass,
he just smiled and said
they have places to go to
too.

Joseph Bruchac, from “Entering Onondaga” (Keepers of the Earth, Native American Stories and Environmental Activities for Children)

Reading and Discussion

Read the poem aloud to your class and then invite your students to discuss it. In this poem, Birdfoot’s grandfather stops his car time after time, immobilized by the migration of countless toads or frogs across the road and wanting to assure them safe passage. Ask your students to describe the scene in the poem their own words. Ask if any of them have had a similar experience. Ask them to imagine Grampa’s feelings. Why is Birdfoot’s grandfather concerned for the toads? Here are some possibilities:

  • He has a love for the small creatures.
  • He has an understanding of the importance of toads in the web of life.
  • He has a respect for animal life.
  • He can imagine that a toad has its own life to live—it has “places to go.”
If you have shared the autobiographical information about Bruchac with your students, suggest to them that Birdfoot’s experience might be autobiographical—something his grandfather taught him or an incident from Bruchac’s life—or that it might reflect Bruchac’s grandfather’s beliefs. Ask your students to discuss this possibility.

Mow Wow Movie

If you have projection capability in your classroom, hook your computer up to your screen to watch the Mow Wow movie Where Do Animals Live?, which lasts less than one minute, with your class. If your classroom lacks computer capability, you can print screen shots and use these to explain the movie to your class. After watching the movie, lead your class in a discussion of it.

Where Do Animals Live?

Day and Night Movie Poster

Click here to watch the movie

Focus of the Discussion

The movie shows a number of animals enjoying life in their natural habitat and then seeking shelter in a storm. This situation offers a way to introduce students to the idea that animals live in particular habitats, and that these habitats must remain unharmed for the animals to survive. People and animals are both part of Earth’s web of life, in which all life forms have value. Below are questions that will spur student discussion. Suggested discussion points and background information related to the movie follow each question.

Note: Glossary words appear in bold.

Questions

Note: Please be aware that the questions range from simple to more complex and the more complex questions are designed to stimulate discussion.

  • 1. Describe what you see in the movie.

We see several animals (squirrel, deer, frog, and rabbit) living in their natural habitat and then seeking shelter in a storm.

  • 2. Identify each animal in the movie. Where does each animal find shelter?

• Squirrel — in trees in the forest
• Deer — under trees or shrubs
• Frog — in a pond
• Rabbit — in a burrow in the ground

  • 3. What is a habitat? What is the habitat of each animal in the movie?

A habitat is a place where an animal or a plant naturally lives or grows and where it meets its needs for survival and reproduction. We can think of the Earth as our overall habitat, the home for all living things, including people. However, we also see that the Earth includes many different kinds of environments—or ecosystems—including forests, wetlands, deserts, oceans, hills, and mountains. Within each ecosystem are many, many specific habitats. A habitat can be as large as acres of forest, where a mountain lion hunts for food. A habitat can be as small as a flowerbed, where a butterfly is busy gathering nectar.

The frog’s habitat is a pond, which could be in a woodland. The rabbit’s habitat is a grassy area in which it can burrow; this may be in the hills or fields, or even in suburban areas. Deer thrive best in areas with young forests and brush. Both rabbits and deer often inhabit “edge” ecosystems with woodlands on one side and more open areas such as grasslands on the other. Squirrels find their habitat wherever there are trees, ranging from dense forest areas to urban parks or yards.

For more in-depth information, read or share the handout “California Ecosystems and Habitats” with your students.

  • 4. What other animals might share the habitat of each creature in the movie?

A great range of animals share each habitat shown in the movie. Some of the animals also living in the pond could be salamanders, water striders and other insects, beavers, ducks and other water birds, small fish, and small aquatic snakes. Along with the squirrel in the surrounding woods live many different birds such as woodpeckers and owls. Snakes, lizards, chipmunks, and sometimes, large mammals such as bears and mountain lions also inhabit the woods. Animals in the grassy areas or grasslands could include gophers, ground squirrels, worms, coyotes, lizards, and hawks. Edge habitat could also include raccoons and possums.

  • 5. Do you think some of the animals in the movie share habitats? Which animals? Which kinds of habitats?

The deer, squirrel, and rabbit share habitats—woodlands and grassy areas that border on each other as edge habitats. The movie opens with the squirrel in a tree and the deer nearby in a more grassy area. It closes with the rabbit burrowing near some bushes as the storm approaches and the deer seeking shelter under bushes and trees close by.

  • 6. What is your habitat? Which animals, other than pets, might share your habitat?

Your students might respond that their own house, their school, their playground, and the places they frequently visit with their family are their habitat. Discuss the idea that a town or city is a type of habitat, just as much as the more rural habitats shown in the movie. Common urban-dwelling or suburb-dwelling animals are birds such as pigeons and sparrows as well as many different kinds of insects, spiders, mice, rats, and squirrels. Help your students understand that these animals are not nuisances to people but creatures attempting to meet their own needs. Animals such as raccoons, deer, and possums have migrated into cities as their natural habitats have been destroyed.

  • 7. What does an animal need from its environment to be healthy? Are these things what you also need to be healthy?

A habitat for a land animal must include food suitable for the animal, clean water and air, and shelter. The habitat must also have the right conditions, such as nesting spots or dens, for the animal to reproduce and raise its young. Ask students to think about how the needs of an animal that lives in the water might be different from the needs of animals living on land. Even though your students’ own needs might appear to be very different from those of wild animals, explore the ways in which all creatures’ needs are similar.

  • 8. What factors (changes or events) can affect the environment or habitat of an animal?

Factors that can affect habitats include:
• Natural events, such as storms or fire
• Incursion (or invasion) of human activity: houses, roads, shopping malls, golf courses, recreational activities
• Incursion (or invasion) of non-native species introduced by humans

Explain the difference between native species—those that naturally live in a habitat—and non-native species—species that have been introduced into a habitat, that are not naturally found there.

  • 9. What happens to wild animals when their habitat is disrupted? What would happen if people entered the scene in the movie and built shopping malls, houses, and roads? What would happen if they introduced species of plants and animals from a different habitat, that is, if they introduced non-native species?

Most animals are adapted to very specific habitats, so if the habitat changes, the animal might no longer be able to survive there. If the pond is drained, the frog will have no place to live, find food, and breed. If the land is cleared, the rabbit will no longer have a burrow, and rabbits and deer won’t be able to find grass to eat. The deer may begin to graze in suburban gardens. If the trees are cut down or uprooted and removed, the squirrel will not have places to sleep or nest. If the air and water are polluted, animals, like people, can get sick. Cars might kill them if they venture onto a road. If animals and plants—non-native species—are introduced from different habitats, the non-natives could overrun the area, driving out the natives who live in a very precise balance with each other. The selection “Threats to Habitats” describes the dangers that animals could face.

Download and distribute the selection “Threats to Habitats” or read it aloud with your students.

  • 10. If a new road is built leading to an area where there is no human habitation, what do you think the results will be for the surrounding wild areas?

Roads will spur on the construction of houses, shopping centers, more roads, vehicle traffic, and other kinds of buildings. These additions could destroy the specific local habitat or aid in the introduction of non-native species.

  • 11. Is it necessary for you to have the same needs met so that you can be healthy and happy? Describe what keeps you healthy and what makes you happy. What do you do to you keep yourself healthy?

An ecosystem is an interacting system of all the living and nonliving components in a particular area. Some of California’s main ecosystems are:
• Woodlands/forests: Woodland is land that is covered with trees and/or shrubs. A forest is a particularly dense growth of trees, plants, and underbrush covering a large area.
• Hills: There are two main types of ecosystems on California’s hills: annual grasslands and chaparral (perennial low shrubs).
• Wetlands: Wetlands are intermediate between terrestrial and aquatic ecosystems; they are covered with water at least part of each year.
• Oceans: Ocean ecosystems include the shoreline and the water closest to shore and can also extend many miles out to sea.
• Deserts: Deserts are ecosystems characterized by very low and unpredictable rainfall. They can be either hot or cold.

For more detailed information, download the reading “California Ecosystems and Habitats.” Read parts of the selection aloud with your students or ask them to read the information on their own.

  • 12. Ecology describes how earth’s life forms are linked in a kind of web of life. How does each animal in the movie contribute to the web of life in its ecosystem? How do animals and plants generally contribute to the biosphere (all the ecosystems on Earth)?

Animals use the plants or other animals for food. Plants use the carbon dioxide that animals breathe out in order to grow, and animal waste products as fertilizer. In turn, plants give off oxygen, which is necessary for animals to breathe in. Many plants need animals, or insects, to pollinate them or carry their seeds. More generally, a diversity of plant and animal life helps create a stable, resilient ecosystem and, ultimately, the biosphere.

Have your students consult “Facts about Animals” to learn about each animal’s habitat and needs and then discuss how that animal contributes to the ecosystem.

  • 13. What is the importance of a healthy ecosystem?

Ecology is the study of ecosystems and their features and interactions among ecosystems. The healthy interaction of all the forms of life in an ecosystem is often called the web of life. The health of an ecosystem is important to everything in it because every part of the ecosystem is dependent on every other part, directly or indirectly. If one part of the web of life is damaged, everything else will eventually be affected to some degree. For example, if the water is polluted, the plants might not grow, the animals that eat the plants won’t have food, and then the animals that eat the plant-eating animals won’t have food. Plant-eating animals, or herbivores, keep the plants from taking over, and predators, or animals who hunt and kill other animals for food, keep the plant-eaters from multiplying to the point where there is not enough food for all of them. Scavengers such as vultures and insects, and even the fungi that decompose waste organic matter, are critical in keeping waste from accumulating to dangerous levels.

Working together, the parts of an ecosystem keep life in balance. And every ecosystem on Earth is ultimately related to all the others, so healthy ecosystems are necessary for life on Earth—the biosphere—to continue. If the balance is seriously disrupted, plants and animals might no longer be able to live in their ecosystems and might become endangered or even extinct, never again to live on Earth.

Read “The Web of Life,” a selection from Earthbook for Kids by Linda Schwartz, aloud with your class or ask your students to read the selection on their own. Discuss the theme and content of the selection.

Download and give your students the worksheet “Insects and the Web of Life.” Students will learn about the Sioux’ viewpoint about the importance of all creatures, even the smallest ones, and then do research about the place insects hold in the web of life.

You might want to introduce your more advanced students to classical literature through Virgil’s poem “A Place for the Bees” from Book 4 of his Georgics. Virgil (70 BCE–19 BCE) is considered the greatest ancient Roman poet. His Georgics comes from the Greek “On Working the Earth” and consists of four books that focus respectively on raising crops and trees (books 1 and 2), livestock and horses (book 3), and beekeeping and the qualities of bees (book 4).

“A Place for the Bees” paints in idyllic language the ideal habitat for these insects from the classical standpoint and graphically describes the greatest dangers to their survival. It would be interesting for the students to compare those descriptions with their ideas about bees, the predators that threaten their survival, and their ideal habitat.

Click here to download a worksheet containing the poem “A Place for the Bees” and questions about the poem.

  • 14. What is the food chain? Where are we, as humans, on the food chain and where are the animals shown in this lesson? Which animals do you think are predators? Are we predators?

The food chain, also called the food network or the tropic network, is a system of checks and balances that describes the feeding patterns in an ecosystem. At the top, or beginning, of the food chain is the sun, which makes plants grow. Next on the chain are the plants. Plants are producers, living things that obtain their nutrition from nonliving matter, such as soil and minerals. Next on the food chain are the consumers. These are living beings that feed on the producers—they include humans and animals. Animals who eat only plant life are called herbivores, and animals that eat other animals are called carnivores. Animals who eat both plants and animals are called omnivores. Humans—unless they are vegetarians—are classified as omnivores. The carnivores are higher on the food chain than the herbivores because they consume the herbivores for food. At the bottom, or end, of the food chain are the decomposers. These are living organisms such as fungi and bacteria that feed off dead plants and animals and reduce their remains to minerals and gases to return to the soil. And then the cycle starts all over again!

Some of the wild animals we are familiar with or who come to our backyards are predatory animals, or predators, who eat smaller animals and insects. The smaller animals and insects they eat are their prey. Predators help control the population of rodents, and insects. Birds of prey (such as hawks and owls) eat smaller animals that they hunt (such as mice, squirrels, and smaller birds). Birds, for example, consume thousands of insects each year. Think of how many bugs there would be if there were no birds! If there were no wolves or cougars, there would be too many deer. Predators make sure that there are not too many animals crowded in a habitat so that there is sufficient food for everyone.

We humans have the responsibility not to abuse our power. We need to respect animals and their habitats, and if we raise farm animals, we must be compassionate and responsible toward them.

Download and distribute the diagram “The Food Chain” to discuss its components with your students.

Following the discussion of the food chain, have your students use the worksheet “Plants and Animals on the Food Chain” to classify and describe animals they are familiar with.

  • 15. How can an ecosystem be important for people? How can people be valuable parts of an ecosystem?

People are as dependent on the ecosystems in which they live as are any other species: ecosystems provide our food, our water, our shelter, much of our energy, and the materials from which we make our clothing and build our buildings. Something that has long been known to the Native Americans but has only recently become general knowledge is the importance of many plants, and even some animals, as medicines. For example, the rosy periwinkle, a flower that is native only on the island of Madagascar, has been found to be a powerful anti-cancer drug. But, aside from their practical use, ecosystems also give us pleasure for their beauty and opportunities for recreation and allow us to feel our kinship with all of nature.

People can be valuable parts of an ecosystem by treating all parts of it with respect—for example, not destroying ecosystems needlessly, damaging them with pollutants, or overusing them for our own purposes. Human disturbance is the greatest cause of extinctions today.

  • 16. What is the importance of wild animals and wild places? Why is it important to keep animals wild?

Wild places, and the living things in them, are natural parts of the biosphere. Wild animals belong in their natural habitat because it is the environment in which they thrive best and because they keep the habitat and larger ecosystem in balance. Wild places and animals also provide an opportunity for people to appreciate a beauty that is different from what we can create. Ask your students to imagine what their world would look like if all the wild places and creatures were gone. Then ask them how they would feel about it.

  • 17. What is the importance of the great variety of animals and plants on Earth?

The great variety of living things that inhabit the Earth is known as Earth’s biodiversity. Biodiversity is important for all the reasons explained in Questions 11, 12, and 13 above—this is why we must care about the extinction of any species. Additionally, beyond its practical importance, Earth’s biodiversity is inherently important—all the myriad life forms on Earth are wondrous just for themselves. As the prize-winning biologist E.O. Wilson has written, “The loss of millions of plants and animals decreases the world’s biological diversity. . . [and] as diversity declines, we not only lose the beautiful colors, songs, tastes, scents and textures of the plants and animals around us, we also reduce the collective ability for life on Earth to adapt to changing conditions. . . [And] we diminish ourselves and the relations with which we share this planet.” (Edward O. Wilson, “Threats to Biodiversity,” Scientific American 261, No. 3 (September 1989: 108–116).

Ask your students if they know of any animals that have gone extinct. They will mention dinosaurs; saber-tooth cats and mammoths are some other extinct early animals your students may have heard of. They will probably be surprised to learn that it is not just exotic animals from long ago that have been lost. In 1914, the passenger pigeon, which had numbered in the millions in North America in the 17th century, went extinct as a result of overhunting. Extinction is still happening; many living creatures and plants are endangered today. Ask students to talk about why it matters that some animals are gone from the earth forever. What can people do to help prevent animals and plants from going extinct? If students have trouble thinking of things, remind them of what they have learned in this lesson about habitat destruction and people’s role in ecosystems.

Note: This is a good juncture in which to ask your students to use the “Endangered Animal Report” worksheet to learn and report about an animal species in possible danger of extinction. The worksheet is also available as part of Activity 9.

Closing Poems

Read the following poems by Joseph Bruchac to your students. Have your students talk about their reaction and their feelings about the poems. You may also ask for student volunteers to read the poems aloud. Ask your students if any of them know about Sitting Bull, the Lakota Sioux chief, and Walt Whitman, the nineteenth century American poet, mentioned in the third poem “Walking.” Ask the students to comment about a theme that is common to all three poems and then have them write a short essay about that theme.


squirrel

I bend my head
to listen
to the song of small things.

(Joseph Bruchac from “Entering Onondaga”)


birds

Near the Mountains

Near the mountains
footsteps on the ground
sound hollow

as if to remind us
This earth is a drum.

We must watch our steps closely
to play the right tune.

(Joseph Bruchac, from Near the Mountains, White Pine Press)


rabbit

Walking

We need to walk
to know sacred places.

Healthy feet feel the heartbeat
of our Mother Earth,
Sitting Bull said long ago.
Walt Whitman knew that, too.

When we go by wheel
we roll over the land
as if it were nothing
but miles left behind.

When we go by air
we cut off our vision
and even our spirits
may take so long
to catch up to our bodies
that our eyes will be empty
of all but flight.

We need to walk
to remember the songs,
not only our own
but those of the birds,
those kept in the arms
of the hills and the wind.

We need to walk
to know sacred places
those around us
and those within.

(Joseph Bruchac, from No Borders, Holy Cow Press)

Note: Click here to listen to Joseph Bruchac read this poem aloud.

Spelling, Vocabulary, and Writing

Suggested vocabulary words can be found in the Mow Wow Glossary. These words can be used to help your students understand the lesson but are not necessarily tailored for spelling practice. Each word can be written on a flashcard and discussed as a class.

Where appropriate for the age and grade level of your students, do a spelling and writing exercise with the Mow Wow Glossary words below and other words used throughout the lesson. This exercise builds vocabulary as well as spelling and writing skills for your ELLs (English-language learners) and allows all students to practice spelling the glossary words as well as other words pertaining to the themes of urban wildlife, the food chain, and the “web of life” learned throughout the lesson in the worksheets accessible below.

Click here to download a worksheet in which your students can work out a crossword puzzle after reviewing the definitions of the glossary words in class. Make sure to print the puzzle worksheet on three separate pages—one for the puzzle, one for the ACROSS and DOWN clues, and the third page for the key.

More advanced students could answer in-depth questions based on the Mow Wow movie and the classroom discussion following the movie. You might want your students to work in pairs to answer the questions.

Click here to download a student worksheet containing questions about animals in the natural world and the importance of wild places.

Activities

  • 1. Have your students keep a science journal and then share some of it with the class. Here are some questions to help them get started: What is your favorite natural place? A local park? Your backyard? A state or national park you visit? A beach? What kinds of animals do you see there? Remember that spiders and insects are also animals. What kinds of plants grow there?

    Instructions for the students include: Keep a journal for a week, observing and describing who lives and what grows in this favorite place of yours. Remember that when you visit and observe this natural place, you are visiting the homes of other creatures. Be careful not to hurt the plants and animals. And do not take the animals from their homes.

  • 2. Ask your students what they can do to help injured wildlife. Have the students work in small groups to do research online or at the library about local wildlife organizations, sanctuaries, and shelters and the work they do to help wildlife in the community. Then each group can present a short report to the rest of the class about the group they studied.

    Other options might be to plan a field trip to such an organization or invite a representative of that organization to visit the class. Have the students work in small groups to do research about the organization, either online or at the library, and draw up a list of questions to ask the representative visiting the class or the staff at the organization. Review the questions as a class before the field trip or the representative’s visit.

  • 3. Have your class write a script for a movie that features a California habitat such as a desert, a wetlands area, and so on. Ask the students to enact the movie. They might want to make animal masks out of paper bags for the enactment. Ask them which animals would be in the movie.

    Ask the students where these animals live and where they find shelter. Are they nocturnal or active during the day? Do they have clean water to splash in, clean air to breathe? How do they interact with each other? How do they communicate with each other? What might they “say” to each other?

  • 4. Have your class identify a new local building development—a shopping center, golf course, housing tract, and so on. Ask the students which animals and plants will be affected by the new development project. Ask them to think about where animals will go if they lose their homes to this new expansion and urbanization.

  • 5. Have your students imagine they are wild animals and write an essay. Here are some ideas to help them get started: Imagine that you are a wild animal. Describe your habitat. What might cause your habitat to be disturbed? Describe what happens when your habitat is disturbed. What would you (as the animal) do in response to the disturbance?

  • 6. Have the class discuss why it is not a good idea to take animals home from wild habitats, or why it is not a good idea to adopt exotic pets such as large snakes or wild cats. Ask your students what would happen to a wild animal if they brought it to their home, even if that wild animal were a baby. What would it eat? How would it react to being away from its normal environment? What would it do if it were frightened? How would the rest of the habitat be changed by its absence?

  • 7. Tell your class that frog and toad populations around the earth are declining drastically, partly from disease and also as a result of air and water pollution and global warming. Scientists see the frogs as like “canaries in a coal mine,” or indicators of the state of the environment—a decline in their health signals an imbalance in the health of the earth’s ecosystems.

    Have your students discuss this idea. Perhaps they would like to study frogs as a class project. They could consider questions such as: Which frogs are disappearing, and where do they live? What are some explanations that scientists have given as reasons for the decline? Why is the disappearance of frogs important? What could people do to try to stop the frogs from dying and becoming extinct?

  • 8. Tell your students about the work of biologist E. O. Wilson, who has been compiling what he calls the “Hundred Heartbeats Club”—a list of species with one hundred or fewer individuals alive on earth, and hence that number of heartbeats away from total extinction. Some of the club’s members are the Javan rhinoceros, Philippine eagle, Hawaiian crow, Spix’s macaw, and Chinese river dolphin. Ask your students to do research about these animals and present pictures of them and facts about them to the class.

  • 9. Give your students the worksheet “Endangered Animal Report.” Ask them to choose an animal in possible danger of extinction, do research about that animal, and complete the report by following the steps outlined in the worksheet.

  • 10. Ask your students if they know of any endangered species, plant or animal, in their local community or nearby and what they could do to make others aware of this species. Why is this plant or animal important to the local habitat? To learn more about the species, students can then to research in the library and on the Internet. Their final step would be to create and maintain a Facebook page to alert their friends to the plight of the species and efforts, if any, to save that species.

Mow Wow Glossary

aquatic – growing or living in or frequenting water

biodiversity – all the different life forms in a habitat or on Earth

biosphere – the totality of all the ecosystems on Earth; all the organisms on Earth and their interactions with each other and their environments

bird of prey – a meat-eating bird (as a hawk) that feeds partly or completely on the animals it hunts; vulture

burrow – a hole or excavation in the ground made by an animal (as a rabbit) for shelter and habitation; to make a burrow

carnivore – on the food chain, an animal who eats only meat

consumer – on the food chain, a plant or animal that requires complex organic compounds for food that it obtains by preying on other living things or eating particles of organic matter

decomposer – an organism (as a bacterium or a fungus) that feeds on and breaks down dead plant or animal matter

ecology – the study of the interaction of Earth’s organisms with each other and with their environments

ecosystem – an interacting system of all the living and nonliving components in a particular area

endangered species – any species that is in danger of extinction in all or most of its range, or whose numbers are so small that the species is at risk of extinction

extinct – no longer existing or living on Earth

food chain – a system of checks and balances that describes the feeding patterns in an ecosystem; also called the food network or the tropic network

grassland – land covered with herbs (as grasses and clover) rather than shrubs and trees; an ecological community in which the characteristic plants are grasses

habitat – the local environment in which an organism lives

herbivore – on the food chain, an animal who eats only plants

native species – a species living or growing naturally in a particular region

non-native species – a species that is introduced in a particular region that does not live or grow naturally in that region

omnivore – on the food chain, an animal who eats both meat and plants

predator – on the food chain, an animal who lives by killing and eating other animal

prey – on the food chain, an animal hunted or killed by another animal for food

producer – on the food chain, a living thing (such as a green plant) that makes its food from simple inorganic substances (such as carbon dioxide and nitrogen), many of which are food sources for other organisms

scavenger – an organism (such as a vulture or hyena) that usually feeds on dead or decaying matter

species – a category of biological classification for a group of organisms having common attributes; these organisms are potentially capable of interbreeding

terrestrial – living on or in land

web of life – the interaction of life forms that keeps life on Earth in balance

woodland – land covered with trees and shrubs; forest

Suggested Online Resources

Kidport Reference Library, Science, Food Chain:
http://www.kidport.com/RefLib/science/FoodChain/Foodchain.htm

Kidport Reference Library, Science, Endangered Animals:
http://www.kidport.com/RefLib/science/Environment/EndangeredAnimals.htm

Kidport Reference Library, Science, Animal Adaptation:
http://www.kidport.com/RefLib/science/Environment/AnimalSurvival.htm

Kidport Reference Library, Science, Pollution:
http://www.kidport.com/RefLib/science/Pollution/Pollution.htm

Lindsay Wildlife Museum:
http://wildlife-museum.org/

The Beauty of Pollination:
http://www.ted.com/talks/louie_schwartzberg_the_hidden_beauty_of_pollination.html

Suggested Books

Earthbook for Kids, Linda Schwartz

Keepers of the Animals, Michael J. Caduto, Joseph Bruchac

Keepers of the Earth, Michael J. Caduto, Joseph Bruchac

California Plants and Animals, Stephen Feinstein

Microhabitats, Jill Bailey, Malcolm Penny

This Planet Is Mine, Mary Metzger, Cinthya P. Whittaker

Food Chains and Webs: From Producers to Decomposers, Louise Spilsbury, Richard Spilbury

Note: The books listed above are not available in Spanish-language editions.

Exploring Ecosystems with Max Axiom, Super Scientist (Graphic Science), Agnieszka Biskup and Tod G. Smith

How Ecosystems Work, Julie Lundgren

Will We Miss Them? Endangered Species (Nature’s Treasures), Alexandra Wright

Disappearing Wildlife, Angela Royston

Note: These four books are available in Spanish-language edition.