Mountain Gorillas, Natural Resources, and People

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Students will read an article about mining that impacts the endangered mountain gorillas in order to create a persuasive argument for how to help.

Big Idea

Natural resource issues, animal welfare, and the most ordinary elements of our daily life (cell phones, Playstations, laptops) are all connected. Students can understand this and it's an important part of developing world citizenship.

Taking Action

15 minutes

My students are participating in the Go Bananas! Challenge created by the Cincinnati Zoo.  They host this contest every year so I hope that you are also able to participate!  

Students and community groups are challenged to collect as many cell phones as possible so that the coltan used in the capacitors can be recycled, thus potentially diminishing the current mining demand in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  Currently, demand for this mineral is very high, as it is in most electronic products.  Australia is the top producer but the DRC has approximately 60% of the world's total quantity of this highly prized natural resource.  In the war-torn DRC, coltan mining is often hosted by warring factions.  In addition to the grave human cost, it also occurs in the area that is also home to the last mountain gorilla populations in the world.  There are approximately 800 mountain gorillas left and there are none in captivity; they don't survive.

The students were immediately captivated by this project because it's something they can take action on, they have an understanding that we are part of a society that is creating this demand, and because they have an innate affinity for animals and a compassion for endangered species.

Researching Mining Near Mountain Gorilla Habitat

50 minutes

I do not allow students to independently search for articles on coltan because it is at the core of some very violent conflicts in the eastern provinces of the Democratic Republic of Congo.  My students understand that the internet is a privilege and that violating a directive not to search will cause them to lose internet privileges.  We talk about internet safety and filtering content on a daily basis and they completely understand.  I am not the only adult that talks to them about this.  In a complicated world, they need to start learning young that we have a choice about what we choose to read and view and we must be mindful of how it will affect us.  

This is the article I asked the students to read about coltan.  Some of them read it in its original form and I used rewordify for a few of them.  An article of this level gets somewhat corrupted when rewordify ties to simplify it so I make sure to check passages for clarity and I either retype sentences or help students work through occasional garbled phrases.  Overall, it's a reasonable tool, and when young children are reading content that will never be written at their level, it's one way to make it accessible.  

 Here is an article on tantalum (coltan) that will provide great background for you, the teacher.  I read some of it out loud to my class, paraphrasing heavily.

 Here is an example of student notes that demonstrates that, given support, they are able to pick out details from an above-level scientific article.

Here is another example of student notes.  Note-taking is a complicated skill and the misconceptions in this student example are valuable teaching points.

Taking the Next Step

7 minutes

Students meet briefly with a partner from a different team and discuss what they felt were the most important details they learned today.  I encourage them to differentiate between interesting facts (in a video, a gorilla eats Pringles as a reward) and significant facts (mountain gorillas cannot survive in captivity).  They briefly share their ideas about how they are thinking of presenting this information to an audience beyond the classroom.