Endangered Species - A Multiday Project

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Students will be able to conduct research and prepare a conservation plan for an endangered species.

Big Idea

Project based learning as a way to promote deeper learning and to develop the skills needed for success in college, career and civic life.

Project Alignment to Standards

The Endangered species project is run over the span of at least two weeks and is aimed at addressing the following standards:


  • MS-LS2-1. Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-2. Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
  • MS-LS2-3. Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-4. Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.
  • MS-LS2-5. Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

CCSS ELA/Science Literacy

  • RST.6-8.1 Cite specific textual evidence to support analysis of science and technical texts.
  • RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of that information expressed visually.
  • RST.6-8.8 Distinguish among facts, reasoned judgment based on research findings, and speculation in a text.
  • RI.8.8 Trace and evaluate the argument and specific claims in a text, assessing whether the reasoning is sound and the evidence is relevant and sufficient to support the claims.
  • WHST.6-8.1 Write arguments to support claims with clear reasons and relevant evidence.
  • WHST.6-8.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey ideas, concepts, and information through the selection, organization, and analysis of relevant content.
  • WHST.6-8.9 Draw evidence from informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.
  • SL.8.1 Engage effectively in a range of collaborative discussions (one-on-one, in groups, and teacher-led) with diverse partners on grade level topics, texts, and issues, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly.
  • SL.8.4 Present claims and findings, emphasizing salient points in a focused, coherent manner with relevant evidence, sound valid reasoning, and well-chosen details; use appropriate eye contact, adequate volume, and clear pronunciation.
  • SL.8.5 Integrate multimedia and visual displays into presentations to clarify information, strengthen claims and evidence, and add interest.

Students participating in this project are involved in practicing the following Science and Engineering Practices and Crosscutting Concepts:

  • SP2: Developing and using models - as they gather information and make decisions while creating an infographic.
  • SP4: Analyze and interpret data - as they research the different topics and analyze the information to come to a consensus.
  • SP6: Construct explanations and designing solutions - as they explain their ideas and support them using multiple lines of evidence.
  • SP7: Engage in argument from evidence - as they formulate evidence based on data and collaborate with each other in searching for the best explanation.
  • SP8: Obtain, evaluate and communicate information - as they present their work, communicating their research and engage in discussions with peers defending their arguments.

As students research an endangered species and determine what has caused to be on the endangered species list, they engage in the following crosscutting concepts:

  • Patterns: 
    • Patterns can be used to identify cause and effect relationships.
    • Graphs, charts and images can be used to identify patterns in data .
  • Cause and effect: 
    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
    • Phenomena may have more than one cause.
  • Energy and matter: 
    • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system.
  • Stability and change: 
    • Small changes in one part of a system might cause large changes in another part.

Introducing the Project

10 minutes

To introduce the project and create a sense of urgency in the students I present the following video, which is embedded in the project website.

I quote The USGS Biological Research scientists, "Endangered Species are like fire alarms. They tell us about problems in our home we call Earth. If we listen to their alarm calls, they could help us improve our lives and the health of our planet" and ask students to have a conversation at their tables about what this simile means and why it is appropriate. Then we do a quick whip-around the classroom so that students can hear each others' thoughts.

In the responses I am looking for the students to make the connection between endangered species and themselves, and why recovery efforts affect all species, not just the ones on the endangered list.

Getting Into Teams

10 minutes

Note to teachers: For this project, I group the students in teams of three. As I am forming the groups, I take into consideration the personality and ability level of the students as well as the information I know about who the student can (or cannot) work with. If you would like some more information on how I group students, I invite you read more from a prior lesson's reflection about Getting into Teams

I assign the students to their teams, and tell ask them to change seats so they can be closer to the people they are working with. I continue to navigate on the project website, and discuss with the students the expectations and rubric for the project.

In my experience of running projects with students, one of the biggest hurdles comes when there is a disconnect between what I ask students to do and what they believe I am asking them to do. So, I have learned that in order to avoid this problem, students need a constant visual reminder of the expectation. I use a new piece of chart paper to detail the expectations as we discuss them:

  • Decide on an endangered species to focus on (SP2). I point out that there is an extra bonus for choosing an unconventional species. I state that what I mean by this is that we all know about tigers, pandas and whales, but little is said about the Tahoe stonefly, the gooty spider, the red-headed vulture or the axolotl - which I used to catch as a child like my students might have with tadpoles. Yes, less cuddly but just as important.
  • Discuss and agree upon the role you will each take. Each student takes a specific role (Ecologist, Zoologist or Conservationist), and works specifically on gathering the information relevant to his/her role. "I am responsible for keeping notes and having URL's handy throughout the research. I know that the success of my team depends on my ability to handle my role responsibly. My information will be needed in the final product, and I will not have time to "go searching" for missing pieces."
  • Meet with the other experts in my group, and share the information I gathered. If my group has questions about my research, it is up to me to find the answers and share them with the group. (SP8)
  • Listen to the research of other members of my team, ask clarifying questions and take notes. If there is something I don't understand, it is up to me to ask. (SP7, CCC Cause and Effect)
  • Work together on developing a plan to bring our chosen species back from the brink of extinction. The 5 minute presentation of our recovery plan needs to address specific questions and is aimed at convincing a group of congressmen that our chosen species deserves special attention. (SP8) Make sure to look at the rubric.
  • Work together to develop an infographic that highlights each student's contribution to the recovery plan. The infographic is visually appealing and requires no clarification or added information from us. (SP4) Make sure to look at the rubric.
  • Actively participate during recovery plan presentations, listening respectfully to each other and considering my classmates point of view. Read and discuss all infographics and give appropriate feedback. (SP8)

Project Time Table

20 minutes

Once expectations are clear, the students and I work as a whole group to develop the project timetable. The project timetable is included in a project management sheet (PMS).

I have the students agree on a manager for the project, who is responsible for updating the PMS with the links to the research documents and final products that must be submitted during the course of the project. The PMS acts as a central location for all documents and gives me easy access to the work in progress.

The timetable usually looks something like:

Day 1: Decide on an endangered species to focus on and assign roles. 

Project manager adds team information to the project management sheet. (Day 1 PMS

Day 2-5: Student researchers become experts in their agreed upon topics. As we develop this timetable, I ask the students about ways where they could all have access to each other's work and keep track of what is done, looking for them to suggest a Google doc or application that can be shared between team members. (Ecologist, Zoologist, Conservationist)

Day 6: Team members come together and share their work with each other. Each student has 15 minutes to share. As that student is sharing, the two listeners are highlighting/ underlining/ identifying the key points they want to address in the recovery plan. Look at the rubric so we can decide what information still needs to be gathered and by whom. Watch as students talk to each other about their research. Notice how the students' opinions affected their choices.

Day 7: Watch the infographic videos embedded on the project website. Work on recovery plan and presentation - Remember the presentation cannot be longer than 5 minutes. Verify work with rubric in hand.

Day 8-10: Each day, one member works on infographic, while the other two work on recovery plan and presentation. Verify work with rubric in hand. In the following video, notice how, with a little bit of prodding, students can talk confidently about the species they chose.


Day 11: In class presentations

Day 12: Voting with evidence based writing.

* SEN presentations: Student exhibition night presentations. (Note to teachers: At my school, we have quarterly student exhibition nights. These are evening events that are open to the public where students present their work.) 


Project Work Days

50 minutes

In order to hold students accountable for the daily work, a member of each team ("Press Secretary") has the responsibility of picking up a copy of the daily work report.  The agenda for the first project work day is:

1. Meet with team to determine goals for the day. "Press Secretary" writes these down on the daily work report sheet. (5 minutes)

2. Once goals are determined, students work independently/collaboratively and perform the tasks required to meet the goals. (40 minutes)

3. Meet with team to review/write down accomplishments, next steps and questions or concerns on the daily work report sheet. (10 minutes)

4. Before leaving, the "Press Secretary" submits the daily work report to the teacher. (1 minute)

On all subsequent days, the "Press Secretary" also picks up the previous day's daily work report, and the team spends 5 minutes taking action on the feedback provided.

Providing Timely Feedback and Project Submissions

One of the key components of this type of project is that the students need to receive timely feedback on the work they are doing. The way I handle this is through the daily work report. Every evening, while the project is running, I go over each team's daily work report and offer suggestions, request a draft is submitted for feedback to myself or to peer editors, invite members of the team to a meeting on the next day, etc. (DPWR 1DPWR 2DPWR 3) This really depends on what was reported - sometimes no feedback is necessary other than "keep doing what you are doing". But it is important to say something, daily so that they know their daily work is monitored and supported.

This daily summative assessment allows me to keep track of where everyone is and helps to identify potential problems and correct them before presentations.

As we get close to presentation day, I create a Google document with each team's species. I request that all submissions (recovery plan presentation and infographic) be included in this document. This gives us a way to organize all digital documents in one central location for easy access during presentations.