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Taking an Animal Census: Inviting Threatened or Endangered Species to Live In Your Area
by Belinda Jones, Earthwatch Educator Fellow

Grades: 3–8

Time: daily data collection, biweekly analysis, for six-months

Abstract: Students will conduct an animal census in a designated research area over a six-month period to determine what types of species are present, in what numbers, and what they are eating. Students will analyze collected data in order to form a hypothesis concerning how to attract certain threatened or endangered species, for example the red-cockaded woodpecker, to the research area.

Goal: Students will understand the competitive, interdependent, cyclic nature of living things in an environment.

Performance Indicators (objectives & measurement): The student will:

  • use maps, globes, charts, graphs, and other geographic tools including map keys and symbols to gather and interpret data and to draw conclusions about physical patterns.
  • know ways that plants, animals, and protists interact.
  • know that living things compete in a climatic region with other living
  • thing and that structural adaptations make them fit for an environment.
  • know that green plants use carbon dioxide, water, and sunlight energy to turn minerals and nutrients into food for growth, maintenance, and reproduction.
  • know that some organisms decompose dead plants and animals into simple minerals and nutrients for use by living things and thereby recycle matter.
  • know that animals eat plants or other animals to acquire the energy they need for survival.
  • know that organisms are growing, dying, and decaying and that new organisms are being produced from the materials of dead organisms.
  • know that variations in light, water, temperature, and soil content are largely responsible for the existence of different kinds of organisms and population densities in an ecosystem.
  • understand and uses the tools of data analysis for managing information.
  • identify patterns and makes predictions from an orderly display of data using concepts of probability and statistics.
  • use statistical methods to make inferences and valid arguments about real-world situations.

Background Information: Students will need to know how to mark a waypoint on the GPS and rename it.

  • Each student will need
  • knee high rubber boots
  • Clipboards
  • Digital Cameras
  • GPS devices
  • Data collection worksheets
  • Surgical gloves
  • Surgical masks
  • Sieves
  • Calculators

Instructional Procedure: Introduction: Have the students simply observe a research area, and come back to the class with descriptions of the animals and plants they saw there. Encourage students to ask questions about the area, its plants, and animals. Tell students that for the next six months they will be conducting field research and analysis just like the scientist from National Geographic so that we can answer all of their questions. Tell them that our main goal will be to find out exactly what types of species there are in the research area, in what numbers, and what the animals are eating. Explain that once we know this information, we will be able to form a plan for encouraging more habitation from threatened or endangered species.

Activities: Teach students to use a GPS in order to "mark" the locations of animal sightings, and key food sources as waypoints. Use the waypoints to create focaling locations and transects. Have students help to generate a daily schedule for data collection, alternating assignments of focaling and walking transects. Explain that when walking a transect, students are to always walk in the same direction, recording any animal sightings as they go. Explain that students who are focaling must sit quietly and record all animal activity. Explain the importance of collecting animal scat in order to analyze what the animal has been eating. Explain the importance of safety procedures such as wearing surgical gloves, and sealing the scat into zip lock bags. Tell students that they are to write the GPS location that the scat was found at, and the date that it was found on the zip lock bag with a permanent marker. Biweekly students will use calculators to compile and analyze their data. Encourage students to look for patterns.

Closure: After six months of data collection and analysis, ask students to form a hypothesis concerning a method for attracting threatened and endangered animals to our research area. Put the plan into effect, and continue to collect data. Publish your research findings on an Internet web site. The web site should include photographs of students doing fieldwork, graphs, charts, maps, a description of the project, hypothesis, and conclusion.

Assessment: Students will be assessed weekly on their level of participation and involvement in the project. Teachers will assess students' daily data collection sheets for accuracy, legibility, and thoroughness. Data analysis will be graded for accurate arithmetic, and validity or "sensibleness" of their conclusions.

Connection to Other Content Areas: Writing: Students could write reports on the animals they have observed, or descriptive narratives on the species of animal that they would become if they were given that opportunity for one day. Students could write letters to researchers studying animals in our research area, or researchers doing animal census research

Extensions: Students could also conduct an animal census in their own back yards. Data sheets and biweekly data analysis could be turned in as homework grades or for extra credit. Students could enlist their parents help in creating an optimum habitat in their yard for threatened or endangered species.

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