Module 2: Environmental Health & Sustainability

Exploring our Blue Planet

A One Health perspective includes all living things and their surrounding environment. We need to have a scientifically literate awareness of the relationships within our biosphere.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 1: Our Solar System

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


The overall theme of Module 2 is focused on understanding the wide range of ecosystems and the importance of maintaining healthy and sustainable behaviors to preserve the balance and quality of life for all living things.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Learn that understanding the size and the interconnectedness of the world requires many disciplines of study.
  • Understanding: These disciplines of study interact and contribute to each other to create a greater understanding to the world around us.
  • Skills: By doing individual and group research and through group discussion the students will practice the sharing of information. Students will also begin to recognize the variety of skills required that they may pursue to participate and contribute in the profession that is suited to them. 
  • Attitudes and Values: An attitude of cooperation and respect is important to the development of one’s understanding of the world. The importance of listening and working with others and learning from the experience of others.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Pre-Module Preparation

In order to understand our place in the world, we need to know how we got here. The Universe is AWESOME. Our task here is to help students to appreciate that the world came into existence over time and that we are a part of a larger interconnected world.

Materials: solar system props, books, and other visuals

Our Solar System: A Conversation

  • The Universe is approximately 13.8 billion years old. It expanded to include our solar system.
  • Our solar system began with the formation of the Sun, a star, when a cloud of dust and gas called a nebula collapsed under its own gravity.
  • This happened 4.5 billion years ago.
  • The Sun holds the solar system together.
  • In the solar system, particles formed clumps that collided with other particles to form bigger clumps until planets were formed.
  • One of them is Earth, the 3rd planet from the Sun.
  • The Sun provides life-giving light, heat, and energy to Earth.
  • Earth is a water world. The only planet with liquid water on its surface.
  • Seen from satellite pictures, Earth is recognized by its blue and clouds. 
  • Earth’s atmosphere is rich in life-sustaining nitrogen and oxygen.
  • It’s the only planet known to have life.
  • Earth’s surface rotates about its axis at 1,532 feet per second (467 meters per second) – slightly more than 1,000 mph (1,600 kph) at the equator.
  • Earth moves around the Sun at more than 18 miles per second (29 km per second).

What are the planets in our solar system?

  • Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Uranus, Neptune

There are 5 dwarf planets

  • Ceres, Pluto, Makemake, Haumea, and Eris.

Career Exploration: How Do We Know These Things?

Scientists learn the stories of the Universe and Earth and how life began.

Science can be divided into different branches based on the subject of study.

Here’s a list of some of the professionals-

  • Biologist
  • Astronomist
  • Physicist
  • Chemist
  • Economist
  • Archaeologist
  • Geologist
  • Anthropologist
  • Engineer
  • Writer
  • Artist

Materials: Students can use a variety of resources in the classroom and at home. Resources that are easily available. Some may include internet resources, podcasts, documentaries, and print media.

Lesson Activity

  1. These are big words to describe important professions. Have each student choose a profession and explain to the class what those professionals do.
  2. Have individuals (or small groups) take their profession and research a famous person within that profession and introduce that persona in their work to the class.

Please note: if students have not identified important females in this exercise, an additional assignment may be to find the women in these fields and why there are more men than women.

Suggested time: this can be done with research materials in the classroom or assigned as homework

Lesson Consolidation

As a large group, have students discuss how these scientists might interact and assist each other with regard to your favorite local animal species within its natural habitat.

  • Who is the favorite professional presented by our classmates?
  • How has this lesson inspired them?

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

The intention of this lesson is for the students to be able to recognize the world is an immense place and the people who help us understand the world include many different professions. Students will learn what their skills and interests are by sharing with one another the variety of skills needed to understand the world.

Have students describe representatives from disciplines other than the ones they shared and the significance of their work.

Choose a different part of the world and discuss what might be important to scientists there.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 2: Our Evolving Planet

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


The overall theme of Module 2 is focused on understanding the wide range of ecosystems and the importance of maintaining healthy and sustainable behaviors to preserve the balance and quality of life for all living things.

In this lesson, students will learn about the relationship between the evolution of species on Earth and the co-dependant relationships of species upon each other. In addition, students will learn that the evolution of human beings and the advancements of human technology has had a new and potentially devastating impact on all life.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Be able to identify the significance of evolution and the advancements of life species. Students will be able to identify previous natural extinction events. 
  • Understanding: Students will understand that human life is integrated with all other life and that the advancements of human technology have had a significant impact, both positive and negative, on the planet’s biodiversity.
  • Skills: Students will learn to apply scientific information to inform their opinions, values, and actions.
  • Attitudes and Values: We will adopt a scientific attitude toward challenging topics. Our behaviors will be informed by our relationships with others including life’s rich biodiversity. 

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Review and Making Connections

  • What are the planets in our solar system?
  • What area in science is most interesting to you? Why?
  • Imagine you are a scientist studying jaguars. List the other people and their professions with who you would collaborate. Is teamwork important? Why?

Our Evolving Planet: Every living thing on Earth changes over time and will continue to change.

  • This is known as evolution.
  • Evolution is the process of life-changing over time, from generation to generation, so slowly you can’t see it happening.  
  • It’s the result of tiny changes adding up to bigger changes.
  • It’s the process of random mutation and natural selection through which living things change from generation to generation.
  • As the planet changes, life changes.
  • Before all the life we see today other life-forms were here on Earth.
  • Charles Darwin (1809-1882) is a famous British scientist known for his theory of evolution.

When did the first forms of life appear on Earth?

  • Around 4 billion years ago the very first life-form evolved; a tiny cell.
  • It was a primitive, single-celled organism.
  • Inside the cell is a long chain-like molecule called DNA.
  • DNA is like a recipe that has the ingredients of what characteristics and traits that a living thing will have.
  • DNA contains genes. Genes are the instructions that make that living thing what it is.
  • From that first cell, other types of cells evolved.

Materials: EarthBalls, globes, atlases, maps, visuals

Extinction: A brief discussion

  • We know that some species (animals, plants, and other life-forms) have gone extinct and that new species have evolved from older ones.
  • Species: a group of living things that can reproduce with one another but not with other life-forms
  • Of all the species that have ever lived on Earth, most are now extinct.

Extinction – when a species dies out forever.

  • As living things evolve, some species become extinct or die out completely.
  • This is a natural phenomenon.
  • But… it is clear that humans have been greatly accelerating this process, especially since the mid-20th century.
  • Scientists estimate that human activities have been causing species to become extinct at hundreds to perhaps a thousand times the natural rate.
  • The genetic diversity within species has also decreased.

Earth experiences mass extinctions.

  • Mass extinction – when many species go extinct across much of the world.

What causes these extinctions?

  • A variety of reasons
        • Climate change.
        • Earth becomes too hot or too cold for many species.
        • Water levels drop and rise making life in the waters hard to survive the changes.
        • Meteorites collide with Earth.
        • In the last 500 million years, life has recovered from 5 mass extinctions.
        • Destruction and fragmentation of habitats.
        • Land is cleared for lumber, agriculture, settlement, and other human activities.
        • Global warming, pollution, overfishing, overhunting, the introduction of species into new habitats.
        • Fossil fuels for energy produced from coal, oil, and natural gas emits large amounts of greenhouse gases, the main causes of global warming.
        • A growing human population needs more natural resources that is unsustainable.
        • Our needs surpass the capacity of the Earth to regenerate them.

Materials: props, papier-mâché animals, books

Dinosaurs: There were over a thousand dinosaur species. 

  • Dinosaur, a BIG reptile, is an animal species that is now extinct. 
  • Where did they live?
  • What did they eat?
  • What happened to them? One theory is that around 65 to 66 million years ago, after living on Earth for at least 230 million years, a meteor the size of a mountain slammed in Mexico’s Yucatán Peninsula. The atmosphere was filled with gas, dust, and debris that drastically changed the climate.
  • Dinosaurs were not able to survive.
  • This led to their extinction. 

T-Rex drawings

Lesson Consolidation: Are we experiencing a mass extinction today?

Experts claim Earth is currently experiencing a biodiversity crisis because of our activities. 

  • Biodiversity, or biological diversity, is the variety of living things in a given place – a small stream, a desert, all the forests in the world, the oceans, or the entire planet. Biodiversity is the variety of life that depends on each other. All living things are ultimately dependent on the Sun for energy and on Earth’s minerals and nutrients for survival.

Biodiversity is important to the health of the world’s ecosystems.

  • Ecosystem – different communities of living things and their environments, as well as their many interactions.

All living things, even humans, are dependent on others for their survival. When our communities are healthy, we are able to do better from environmental stresses and recover more quickly. When we respect the living things that are around us, they help us! Insects and birds pollinate our crops. Rainforests contain chemicals that are produced by other living things and can be made into medicines. We don’t want our rainforests destroyed! There is still so much we don’t know about all of these natural treasures. And the beauty nature presents to us, every day, is a good enough reason to do our best to learn about and protect it. 

Ask yourself

  • Do we want to live in a world with fewer plant and animal species? 
  • Do we want the forests to be cut down?
  • What do we lose when species become extinct?
  • Is it ok to rely on zoos to see the magnificent animals?
  • Do museums hold all the information we need?
  • What about the discovery of new medicines, of fossil records?
  • What are our daily actions that may contribute to species loss?
  • What can we do better?

Materials: papier-mâché props, etc.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Through discussion, written assignments, and artistic expression, students will demonstrate an understanding of evolution, extinction, mass extinctions, and human contributions to the rapidly changing world.

Students will be able to write an essay that demonstrates the mastering of the assessment prompts. Students will demonstrate the ability to engage in the discussion of the unit objectives. Students shall demonstrate creative and artistic examples of their new learning.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 3: A Safari through Time

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


The overall theme of Module 2 is focused on understanding the wide range of ecosystems and the importance of maintaining healthy and sustainable behaviors to preserve the balance and quality of life for all living things.

In this lesson, students will be able to apply knowledge gained in previous modules to the development of the great apes and human beings.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Students will be able to identify the variety and development of the great apes within the broader evolutionary process. 
  • Understanding: Homo sapiens and other branches of human development fall within the evolution of the great apes.
  • Skills: Students will be able to discriminate between the vast evolution of Earth, life, and the short period of human existence.
  • Attitudes and Values: Students will demonstrate an appreciation for the short period of human life on Earth and the immense impact of human activity and technological development and how our behavior will affect the future.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning

Kids' Art



Review and Preparations

  • We can ask ourselves why the living world has changed so much and so often. And how did these changes happen?
  • Who remembers when the first forms of life appeared on Earth?
  • Who is the famous scientist known for his theory of evolution? Charles Darwin (1809-1882) a British scientist. 
  • Share some of the ways you are protecting the other living things, biodiversity, around you? What can you do to encourage others?

“But where do gorillas come from?” was a question the team and I frequently received. And a great question! Considering we put a lot of focus on the protection of the critically endangered mountain gorilla we wanted to answer their question thoughtfully and well. So we decided to start at the very beginning. What sort of animal did it evolve from? And what does it mean to be a great ape and share so closely our DNA? Hence this lesson, A Safari through Time.

We made signs signifying periods in our evolutionary journey. Our first Earth was made from dried banana leaves which ended up crumbling as it became a nice home for mice when stored away. Then we made a big ball of wire and papier-mâché and painted it blue. Finally, from Orbis World Globes, a large Earth which we inflated and was really exciting to use. Cloth from the local market served well for the path. All kinds of props, such as papier-mâché animals, make the safari very engaging for the students.

Hook: Preparing for our journey

  • Today we are taking a safari. A safari is a journey. It comes from the Kiswahili language spoken in Africa.
  • We begin at the formation of Earth and continue all the way up to the present day. That’s a long walk!
  • We will see how every living thing changes over time and will continue to change. Evolution
  • We will learn about the 5 mass extinctions and their possible causes. Who remembers what caused the dinosaurs to become extinct?
  • We will have short discussions at each sign.
  • Let’s go outside and gather at Planet Earth.
  • Keep in mind….
      • Landmasses, which we call continents, are shifting.
      • Life forms are evolving.
      • When we stop at 8 million years ago, we will see the 5 Great Apes evolve.
      • Evolution doesn’t stop today or tomorrow.
      • Evolution will continue happening forever.

Outside of the Classroom

The Precambrian began when Earth formed 4.5 billion years ago. 

The Precambrian is the earliest of the geologic ages. Geology is the scientific study of the rocks that make up Earth’s crust.

  • The Precambrian lasts to 542 million years ago.
  • It begins with the formation of the Sun when a cloud of dust and gas called a nebula collapsed under its own gravity.
  • Earth and the rest of the solar system were formed.
  • Refer to Lesson 1 – Our Solar System.

The Very First Forms of Life 

Around 4 billion years ago, the very first forms of life appeared on Earth.

  • Prokaryotic cells are considered to be the first living organism on Earth as they are the simplest form of life.
  • The tiny single-cell is very primitive in structure and function.
  • From that first cell, other types of cells evolved.

Paleozoic Era: Cambrian, Ordovician, Silurian, Devonian, Carboniferous, and Permian Period

The Cambrian Period began 543 million years ago

  • Most landmasses are gathered in the south.
  • There is no life on land but…  life is happening in the warm, shallow seas.
  • From the very first single cells, now animals and algae (plant-like organisms that use the sun’s energy to make food) are evolving.
  • Ancient relatives of corals, sea stars, and insects are in the seas. 
  • Nearly all the major animal groups living today first evolved during this period.

The Ordovician Period began 490 million years ago

  • Life in the water continues to evolve.
  • The number of animal species tripled.
  • The first animals with backbones swim in the oceans.
  • Nautiluses and corals swim and live on the ocean floor.
  • For about 30 million years, species diversified.

Mass Extinction #1

  • The first mass extinction occurred at the end of the Ordovician Period and before the Silurian Period.
  • Between 465 and 443 million years ago.
  • Lasted 22 million years.
  • 70% of all species were wiped out.
  • Why? Massive glaciation locked up huge amounts of water. Water turned to ice. Earth drastically cooled.
  • Sea levels dropped.
  • Species in their shallow sea habitats could not survive.

The Silurian Period began 443 million years ago

  • Waters are warming after Mass Extinction #1.
  • A variety of life forms thrive.
  • A diversity of fish swim the waters.
  • A variety of corals, sponges, mollusks, arthropods, and other life forms live in massive reefs on the seafloor.
  • On land, the first land plants have evolved! 
  • Plants with leaves and woody trunks.
  • Things are getting greener and greener.
  • Continents that once were separate have come together along the equator and in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Devonian Period began 417 million years ago

  • Beautiful coral reefs thrive.
  • Life takes its first steps on land from the water.
  • Some of the fish in the waters have grown stumpy fins that they use for ‘walking’ through shallow, swampy waters.
  • Have these fish evolved into new animals? 
  • The fins evolve into limbs and they take their first steps onto land!

Mass Extinction # 2

  • Occurred in the Late Devonian Period around 360 million years ago.
  • Lasted for around 10 million years.
  • About 75% of all species were wiped out. 
  • Why? Continents are found over the South Pole again.
  • The pole is cold year-round. But now when it snows, the snowfall accumulates on land.
  • This buildup of snow forms glaciers, which grow as they freeze, using up more and more water from Earth’s oceans.
  • When this water freezes, sea levels drop.
  • With lower sea levels, life in the shallower oceans might not have been able to survive.
  • Their habitat may have disappeared.

Carboniferous Period began 354 million years ago

  • A cluster of continents stretches almost pole-to-pole.
  • Sharks, a fierce predator with sharp teeth, have evolved and are still swimming in oceans today.
  • Forests cover the continents.
  • The forest floor is littered with decaying leaves making a nice habitat for living things to thrive.
  • Tall ferns and trees grow.
  • Insects become the first flying animals.
  • The continents closer to the equator are tropical and warm.

The Permian Period began 290 million years ago

  • All the continents have drifted together.
  • A giant supercontinent – Pangaea – has formed.
  • Earth has many different environments on Pangaea.
  • Dry deserts to lush forests.
  • AND, the age of reptiles begins.

Cambrain Period

Ordovician Period

Mass Extinction #1

Silurian Period

Devonian Period

Mass Extinction #2

Carboniferous Period

Permian Period

The Mesozoic Era: Triassic, Jurassic, Cretaceous

Mass Extinction #3

  • The worst mass extinction.
  • Did global warming cause it? 
  • Volcanic eruptions have been releasing enormous quantities of lava and gases for many years.
  • These gases trap heat in the atmosphere, causing temperatures to warm around the world. 
  • Over 90% of animals in the water become extinct.
  • 80% of animals on land suffer extinction. 

The Triassic Period began 248 million years ago

  • The supercontinent Pangaea reaches its largest size.
  • Now it begins to break apart.
  • Late in the Triassic period, one or more groups of reptiles evolve into dinosaurs.
  • Dinosaurs will be the dominant animals on Earth for the next 160 million years.

Mass Extinction #4

  • It’s the end of the Triassic Period.
  • From around 225 million to 206 million years ago.
  • Reasons may be similar to Mass Extinction #3.
  • Climate change.
  • Global warming.
  • Earth was very warm.
  • Species not adapted to high temperatures would have suffered.
  • As many as 95% of plant species could not survive.
  • And when plants start dying out, the animals that eat them suffer.   

The Jurassic Period began 206 million years ago

  • Flowers
  • Plant-eating dinosaurs
  • Stegosaurus. Length: 20 feet head to tail
  • A different group of reptiles develops into the first mammals. 
  • These mammals are small and are active at night.

The Cretaceous Period began 144 million years ago

  • More reptiles. Crocodiles, turtles, lizards, and snakes.
  • Meat-eating dinosaurs
  • Tyrannosaurus rex. Length: 42 feet (over 12 meters head to tail)
  • They are the only carnivorous (meat-eating) dinosaurs in a world of plant-eaters.
  • Modern-day birds evolved from these dinosaurs.
  • Plants provide shade, shelter, and food.
  • Flowers bloom!
  • Plants with flowers, called angiosperms, protect their seeds inside a fruit. Modern-day examples are apples, peaches, and peanuts.

Mass Extinction #3

Triassic Period

Mass Extinction #4

Jurassic Period

Cretaceous Period

Mass Extinction #5

  • 65 million years ago.
  • A gigantic meteorite collided with Earth.
  • All dinosaurs, except for the birds, are gone.
  • Half of all life on Earth has been wiped out.
  • The giant marine reptiles that swam the seas are gone.
  • Pterosaurs, the winged reptiles in the skies, are gone.
  • Massive quantities of dust and other particles filled the atmosphere.
  • These particles probably changed the climate.
  • They might have blocked the Sun’s rays making things very cool.
  • Or they might have trapped heat and gases close to Earth’s surface, warming things up.
  • Large volcanoes have been erupting almost nonstop for a few million years, pouring out lava and gases.
  • These gases could also have trapped heat close to Earth’s surface.
  • Crocodiles, lizards, and other reptiles survived, but reptiles will never again rule without the dinosaurs.

The Tertiary Period began 65 million years ago

  • The world is very warm.
  • A tropical planet.
  • Spiders and insects crawl around.
  • Mammals such as the camel replace the dinosaurs.
  • Flowering plants appear.
  • Earth is very warm.
  • Crocodiles, turtles, and fishes are in the waters.
  • Palm trees and other plants make up tropical forests.
  • Birds and insects fly through the air

For the rest of our journey, we’ll pay a lot of attention to the evolution of mammals. You will see familiar forms such as horses, camels, cats, dogs, and others. The primates and the great apes! We are mammals, primates, and great apes!


  • Mammals replace dinosaurs.
  • Around 40 million years ago, mammals are able to evolve into large plant-eaters and predators. 
  • A mammal similar to today’s rhino, almost the size of an elephant, evolves.
  • Small horses, no bigger than dogs.

Mass Extinction #5

Tertiary Period

Tertiary Period

Tertiary Period

Primates Small mammals evolve into a group called primates.

  • Key characteristics: forward-facing eyes, eye-sockets, grasping hands, nails, fingerprints, and large brains and interesting cultures.

The Great Apes Evolve

  • Small primates begin to come down from the trees to look for food on the open plains of Africa.
  • Great apes evolved from primates and are known for their large size and intelligence.
  • Unlike monkeys, apes don’t have tails.
  • Apes are divided into the greater and lesser apes. 
  • Lesser apes include the gibbons and Siamang.
  • Greater apes include 6 species of nonhuman great ape – two gorillas, two orangutans, Chimpanzee, and Bonobo.

Orangutan evolved 8 million years ago

  • 2 orangutan species: the Bornean (pongo pygmeaeus) and the Sumatran (pongo abelii)
  • Live in Southeast Asia on the islands of Borneo and Sumatra
  • Known as “people of the forest.”
  • Red-brown shaggy fur, very long arms, cheek pads and throat sac, and beard.
  • Tree-living. Active during the day.
  • The longest childhood of any nonhuman animal, spending their first 8 years with their mother learning survival skills.
  • Threatened by their last remaining forest being destroyed.
  • People and orangutans share 97% DNA.

Gorilla evolved 6 million years ago

  • Gorillas live in tropical rainforests of Central Africa.
  • 2 gorilla species: Western Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla) Subspecies: Western Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla gorilla)
    Subspecies: Cross River Gorilla (Gorilla gorilla diehli) Species: Eastern Gorilla (Gorilla beringei) Subspecies: Eastern Lowland Gorilla (Gorilla beringei graueri) Subspecies: Mountain Gorilla (Gorilla beringei beringei)
  • Walks on all fours
  • Widespread logging destroys their rainforest home. Hunting. Outbreaks of Ebola virus, a disease that kills virtually all apes it infects, including humans.
  • See Module 3 for our mountain gorilla study. 

Chimpanzee evolved 4 million years ago

  • Live in communities of up to 100 individuals.
  • Currently found in 21 to 22 African countries.
  • Active in the daytime. Sleeps in nests in trees.
  • Use many kinds of tools.
  • Share about 99% of the DNA with humans.
  • They have more in common with us than with gorillas or orangutans.

Bonobo evolved 2 million years ago

  • Pan paniscus
  • Chimpanzees and Bonobos diverged between 1.7 to 2.7 million years ago. 
  • Compared to the chimpanzee, they are lighter weight and more slender, longer limbs, black skin, red lips, hair has central parting on top.
  • Like chimpanzees, they share about 99% of the DNA with humans.
  • Lives only in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
  • The trade in chimpanzees and bonobos has been illegal since the 1970s.

Great Apes
Orangutan, Gorilla, Chimpanzee, Bonobo, Human





The Quaternary Period began 1.8 million years ago

Our safari is almost over. Life as we know it has almost arrived. 

  • At the beginning of the Quaternary Period, a great ice age swept across the planet and it’s cold!
  • Ice Age!
  • Massive glaciers cover much of Earth.
  • There is a lot of snow. As the snow builds up, it forms massive glaciers that spread pole to pole.
  • Mammals still thrive.

Quaternary Period

Hominids: You and Me

  • 6 to 2 million years ago, early humans (hominids) evolved.
  • That’s when we split from our closest relatives, chimpanzees and bonobos, to become what we are today.
  • We evolved in the same way all animals evolved.
  • Our hominid ancestors’ bodies, brains, and behaviors evolved in certain ways.
  • It’s interesting to compare a human skeleton to a chimpanzee’s skeleton. We see the basic things that make us, hominids, and apes different.
  • For one thing, hominids are bipedal. We are built to walk on two legs all of the time. Apes can move bipedally, but most of the time they walk on all fours. 
  • Modern humans, Homo sapiens, is the youngest hominid species
  • We, modern humans, have been around for only approximately 200,000 years.

Mass Extinction # 6 ?

  • Many scientists and citizens think it is going on right now.
  • Species are dying out because of things that human beings are doing. 
  • Loss of biodiversity.


We have the ability to care for and protect our planet!

  • Today, we play an important part in Earth’s evolving planet.
  • For the first time in Earth’s history, species are dying out because of things that human beings are doing. 
  • We humans can do amazing things.
  • We paint pictures, write poems, and plant trees.
  • Unfortunately, some of the things we do are destructive.
  • We drive cars that pollute the atmosphere. We cut down forests that other animals call home.
  • By doing these things, we are causing many species to go extinct.
  • BUT, because we are human beings, we have the ability to figure out how to make changes that can make a difference.
  • We have the ability to study and understand the diversity.
  • We are also a part of Earth’s diversity.
  • We are one species of the millions that have lived on Earth since life first appeared almost 4 billion years ago.
  • We are simply one part of that story.

Lesson Activity: A time for contemplation and art after our big exciting journey. Draw the five great apes.

Lesson Consolidation Our safari through time has taken us through the vastness of evolution to the development of the great apes to know where gorillas come from.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Students will demonstrate a mastery of the origins of gorillas as a part of the larger evolutionary process. Students will demonstrate that human beings share this process as a member of the great apes.

Student values and behaviors will reflect that we have been on Earth for a but a blip of time but our actions have had profound effects on not only our evolutionary relatives but on Earth’s biodiversity as a whole.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 4: Introduction to World Geography

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


In this lesson, students will learn the language, developments, and characteristics of World Geography.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Students will be able to identify the division of the world by hemispheres and the north/south division of the Equator.
  • Understanding: Students will understand their location in the world as well as why their location has its own characteristics.
  • Skills: Students will be able to use a compass and explain why locations around the world have specific characteristics based upon their locations.
  • Attitudes and Values: Students will recognize that different locations have different definable characteristics and, as a result, will suffer different effects from Climate Change. Students will be able to identify what and why are the characteristics of their own regions as well as the care required to preserve them.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Review and Making Connections

Was it interesting to learn that our continents were not always in the position where they are now? Our planet has changed. Life on Earth has changed. Things continue to change. How are we a positive effect on those natural changes?


  • When first looking at a map, locate the compass.
  • The compass tells you in what direction north is and how to orient yourself.


  • Let students familiarize themselves with the Tropical Rainforests of the World map.
  • The globe can be divided in half two ways.
  • Each half is called a hemisphere.
  • When it is divided at the equator the Southern and Northern Hemisphere are created.
  • Stick laminated cards on the mat: Northern Hemisphere, Southern Hemisphere

Materials: map showing the tropical rainforests of the world, laminated hemisphere cards, EarthBalls, globes

Relative location: How do I get to Volcanoes National Park from Kigali to visit the mountain gorillas?

  • Relative location tells where a place is located in relation to other places.

Example: North America is north of South America. Mexico is south of the United States.

Lesson Consolidation

Students have learned the divisions of the world by on globes and maps and will be able to identify their location, the development of World Geography, and the implications of geography on local environments.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Students shall demonstrate the use of a compass. Students shall, through written assessment, group discussion and creative art endeavors, demonstrate an understanding of the development of World Geography including contemporary Equatorial and Hemispheric locations. Students will identify their locations and the impact on their local environment due to Geographic location.

Students shall gain an appreciation for their local environments as a result of geographic orientation. Students will learn the value and significance of differing environments throughout the world. Students will recognize that changing geography has created new environmental challenges throughout history.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 5: Continents

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


In this lesson, students will learn that the world is divided into smaller regions know as continents. Each continent has developed cultures that have shared and unique characteristics.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Students will learn the names and locations of the continents of the world.
  • Understanding: Students will understand that the continents each contain differing geographies with both distinct and shared characteristics. Each continent has beautiful flora and fauna that exist nowhere else.
  • Skills: Students will be able to identify the locations of the continents as well as their relationship to one another.
  • Attitudes and Values: Students will recognize that the world can be divided into continents which have important differences and similarities.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Review and Making Connections

  • Ask students to use relative location to describe where one continent is in relationship to another continent.
  • Name the city in which you live in relation to another bigger city.

Lesson Activity: Mapping the Continents and Journey of Discovery

Large landmasses are called continents. Using our The World mat with laminated cards and coloring worksheet. Locate the smallest land area to the largest. Note to facilitator: please accentuate of discovery that you think would be of most interest with regard to culture, please, and flora and fauna. Decide what cultural influences, geographic, and flora and fauna are of most interest and import to your classroom situation.

Find Australia

    • Population #6 – 20,434,176
    • Size/area – 2,967,909 square miles (7,686,884 square km)
    • Makes up almost 5% of Earth’s land area
    • What is unique about the people who live in Australia? What animals are special? Is there something special in the ocean?

Find Europe

      • Population #3 – 729,871,042 (including all of Russia)
      • Size/area – 3,997,929 square miles (10,354,636 square km)
      • Makes up almost 7% of Earth’s land area
      • Europe is peopled by a variety of cultures. What influences have they had upon each other? What are the important European discoveries that led to world exploration and the intermingling of peoples? 

Find Antarctica

    • Population #7 – No permanent residents but up to 4000 researchers and personnel in the summer and 1000 in the winter.
    • Size/area – about 5,500,000 square miles (14,245,000 square km)
    • Makes up almost 9% of Earth’s land area
    • What is unique about Antarctica? 

Find South America

    • Population #5 – 379,919,602
    • Size/area – 6,880,706 square miles (17,821,029 square km)
    • Makes up almost 12% of Earth’s land area
    • South America has wide-ranging topographical and other physical features. As a result, South America also has a fascinating range of flora and fauna. Discover everything from Patagonia, the Galapagos Islands, the rainforests, and the Amazon River Basin.

Find North America

    • Population #4 – 522,807,432
    • Size/area – 9,361,791 square miles (24,247,039 square km)
    • Makes up almost 17% of Earth’s land area
    • Who are the indigenous peoples of North America? What are the controversies regarding other people who discovered the continent? Bering Strait? Pacific Sea crossings? Vikings?

Find Africa

    • Population #2 – 1,108,500,000 (Over 1 billion)
    • Size/area – 11,677,239 square miles (30,244,049 square km)
    • Makes up almost 20% of Earth’s land area
    • Can you recall the earliest hominid history out of Africa?
    • What would you find on an African safari? 

Find Asia

    • Population #1 – 4,055,000,000 (Over 4 billion)
    • Size/area – 17,139,445 square miles (44,391,162 square km)
    • Makes up almost 30% of Earth’s land area
    • Asia is an immense continent. Vast distances created unique ecosystems throughout Asia as well as fascinating trading opportunities. What cultural interactions do you find most interesting?

Lesson Consolidation

The world is divided into 7 continents arranged by geographic location. The continents are related to and separated from each other by significant geographic oceanic features.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Students will be able to identify the 7 continents on a map. Students will demonstrate through written assessment, group discussion, and artistic invention the locations and relationship between the continents of the world.

Students will create art objects showing significant features of each of the continents. Students can illustrate or describe in discussion or in writing the physical and geographical relationships between the continents of the world.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 6: Oceans

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


In the previous lessons, students explored the geography of the continents and are familiar with a variety of geographic terminology.

In this lesson, students will develop an understanding and appreciation of the importance that oceans represent to the biodiversity of the planet.

Note to facilitators: Work in partnership with local educators and opportunities in the community. There may be local aquariums, aquatic wildlife research labs, and post-secondary institutions that may offer outreach tours and video conferencing interviews with students (e.g., as well as nature cameras and documentaries that also provide additional opportunities for students to learn about the oceans. Further, it is important to augment this lesson with local and community references, including wetlands, bogs, and marshes, local rivers and lakes, and ocean shores if applicable. Students in land-locked communities will benefit from virtual tours and other video resources as well as identifying local keystone marine species. Curating a variety of marine biology books and resources from the local library for students to browse will be helpful.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Identify and label significant features of Earth’s oceans.
  • Understanding: Compare geographic and environmental characteristics of the oceans and aquatic life.
  • Skills: Explore the relationship between oceans and being One Health aware.
  • Attitudes and Values: Show concern and respect for marine biology and the wellbeing of the oceans.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Introduction: Create a Water Cycle Model 

Note to facilitator: This activity will require 24 hours to observe the full simulation of the water cycle. There are many variations, including using pop-bottle terrariums to show how water is cycled in the ecosystem. The importance is using a sealed container to represent that all water on Earth is in a finite quantity that is cycled. 

Water is the most important feature on Earth. All life on Earth began in ocean waters and evolved over millions of years. The same water the dinosaurs drank and swam in is the same water we drink, use to wash and cook, and swim in today.

Popcorn Question: Where might we find water on our planet?

  • Oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, ponds
  • Ice shelves, icebergs, glaciers
  • Rain, snow, sleet, hail
  • Clouds in the sky (water vapor makes up less than 1% of all gasses in the atmosphere)
  • Water exists as a solid, liquid, and gas

The Water Cycle explains how the “finite” amount of water on Earth is able to be reused over and over again. Chances are, the water you are drinking was already consumed and passed by at least 7 different living beings throughout the history of Earth.

The Sun’s energy warms water in a solid or liquid state to evaporate into a gas. This vapor comes from ponds, lakes, streams, and oceans, as well as from the moisture in forests, wetlands, and farms.  Water vapor is in the air all around us and is in the air that is closest to Earth. Water vapor moves through the air. Clouds are pockets of air that have so much water vapor in it that we can see it. The water vapor then precipitates back to Earth. Sometimes that water falls back onto the oceans came from a lake, and ocean waters fall back on cities many miles/kilometers away.

Constructing a Model of the Water Cycle

These models can be built individually or in pairs. Students can also draw features of the water cycle on the plastic bags. Taping the bags to a window will speed up the evaporation of water.

  • Fill a dixie cup ⅓ to ½ full of water
  • Place the cup into the corner of the bag
  • Seal the bag tight, representing the entire biosphere of Earth
  • The following day, some (if not all) of the water will have evaporated out of the cup, condensed onto the surface of the bag, and collected in the bottom. 

This part of the lesson could take more than 30 minutes depending on how many water cycle models are being built, and how many extensions are being included. It is recommended to redo this activity several times.

Materials: recyclable or re-usable cups, water, small re-closable plastic bags, tape, permanent markers that can be used on the plastic bags

Possible extensions:

  • Use an ice cube in a cup to represent the impact of global warming on the Arctic and Antarctic ice shelves.
  • Use a clear cup and heavily saturated salt water. Salt crystals will remain in the cup once all of the water is evaporated.
  • Light a match and extinguish it inside the bag before sealing the bag. Be sure to remove the matchstick from the bag and try to capture as much smoke inside the bag. The smoke will act as microscopic particles for the water to condense on and will produce a simulated cloud inside the bag.

Hook: Fast Facts about the Ocean

These fast facts can be shared by printing them onto small cards and passed out for students to share aloud with the class, or remodeled to be a quiz show type of activity.

  • Oceans make up more than 70% of the Earth’s surface
    • Alternate activity – provide students with an index card, and ask them to make a fold to divide the card into two parts. The size of each part represents what they think is the amount of land on Earth and the other portion is what they think represents the amount of water on Earth
  • Carl Sagan, an astronomer, coined the phrase “Pale Blue Dot” in a photograph of Earth taken from the Voyager 1 probe as it passed Saturn’s rings, 5.95 billion kilometers away. The water on Earth gives it the blue color as seen from space.
  • All of the oceans are connected and separate the large continental land masses
  • There are underwater currents that move and mix the water in each of the oceans as well as mixing the oceans together. 
  • The total area of the water is 361 million square kilometers.
  • The deepest part of the ocean is 10,911 meters (35,797 feet) below the surface of the ocean, in the Pacific Ocean, named the Mariana Trench.
  • Plantlife in the ocean produces more than 50% of all of the oxygen gas we breathe. The gas rises up as microscopic bubbles, releasing the oxygen into the air once it reaches the surface of the ocean.
  • There are underwater mountains, caves, caverns, and the ocean floor is made up of sand.
  • Ocean water is saltwater, whereas lakes and streams not connected to the ocean often are freshwater.
  • There is more diversity of living species in the oceans than on land, and the area and depth of the oceans mean that there could be hundreds of thousands of other living species that marine biologists have not yet discovered or seen in these habitats.

Suggested time:
10 minutes

Students can use a variety of resources, including internet resources, podcasts, documentaries, and print media to create their own fast facts and add to the list.

Lesson Activity: Mapping the Oceans

Note to facilitator: Have students use the maps from the previous lesson, rather than making new ones. Students could be divided into groups for a jigsaw activity, where each group makes a short presentation to share information about a specific ocean with the rest of the class. Provide different visualizations of maps that show the Pacific Ocean as a whole section, rather than split.

Find the Pacific Ocean

  • Occupies about 1/3 of the globe.
  • It is greater in extent than the total land area of the world. 

Find the Atlantic Ocean

  • Is just over half the size of the Pacific and is the second largest of the world’s oceans.
  • It reaches from the Arctic Ocean in the north to the Southern Ocean in the south.

Find the Indian Ocean

  • The Indian Ocean is just under half the size of the Pacific and is enclosed on 3 sides by the continents of Africa, Asia, and Australia.

Find the Southern Ocean

  • Oceania – Only 33 million people live in the landmass that borders the Southern Ocean here
    • 20 million of them in Australia, 
    • 7 million in New Zealand
    • 3 million in the islands of the South Pacific

Find the Arctic Ocean

  • Smallest and shallowest of the world’s oceans.
  • Almost completely surrounded by North America, Europe, and North Asia.

If using the jigsaw activity, then add an additional 30 minutes to this activity. Students should be given 7-10 minutes to do some small group reading of curated materials and prepare a short presentation for the class. 

Materials: maps of Earth to label the oceans and continents, colored pencils

A floor puzzle of Earth that has the names of the continents and oceans can be used as a learning center to support this lesson.

Lesson Activity: The Blue Whale

This can be used as a model for students to select their own species (plant and animal) of marine life. Students can make and submit their own entries to a class set of marine life biodiversity cards. These cards can then be used for a variety of organization and classification activities. Students will explore a broad range of biodiversity concepts in Module 3.

The Blue Whale (Balaenoptera musculus) is the largest animal on Earth and travels through all of the oceans, except the Arctic Ocean, and is most comfortable in deep waters.

Evolutionary Story of Whales: Whales started out as hoofed predators on land that evolved so they could spend time on land and in the water. Then whales became more specialized for life in the sea. And evolved eventually into modern whales. Whales spend a lot of time underwater. They still have many of the features of their ancestors, such as the lungs.

  • Is a mammal, like humans, and has similar features including sensory organs, vertebrae, and gives birth to its offspring like other mammals.
  • An adult blue whale can be almost 30 meters long.
    • It can be 88.5 – 130 tons (80,000kg – 118,000kg; 177,000 lbs to 260,000 lbs), depending on which ocean it lives in.
    • The heart of a blue whale is the size of a small car, about 180 kg (397 pounds)
    • Discussion prompt: how long is 30 meters? How heavy is 397 pounds? Making real world connections helps students visualize the size of a blue whale (e.g., you and 70 friends could hold hands and make a ring around a whale from head to tail)
  • A group of whales is called a pod.
  • It eats millions of krill, tiny shrimplike creatures, in a day.
    • A baby blue whale drinks more than 375 liters (100 gallons) of milk from its mother a day.

Lesson Consolidation: Discussion and Demonstration

Being One Health Aware means understanding and appreciating how everything on Earth is connected. The water cycle shows how water vapor evaporates from oceans, lakes, rivers, streams, and from the land, and precipitates down somewhere else. All five oceans are connected as one big body of water that is constantly mixing as the water flows across the planet. Our classroom and community is connected by all of the people in it, and sometimes it feels like communities in other countries are not connected to us. Water connects all of us, and we have a responsibility to do our part to conserve water and keep our oceans clean.

  • Place the large dish in the center of a table where all students are able to knock the table, or on the floor in the center of a circle where the students are all standing.
  • Especially when it comes to water and our oceans, what happens on one side of the planet has an affect on all of the water. 
  • Place a significant quantity of food coloring or ink in the corner of the dish. Try to keep the water as still as possible.
  • Now something happened over here, and it looks like something has been added to the water. You might think that the water on the other side is unaffected. Remember that all the oceans are connected, and that the water cycle connects all the water on the planet.
  • Have students knock on the table, or jump up and down to represent the waves and mixing of ocean waters.
  • Eventually, what happens in one part of the planet affects us all. We are all connected

Materials: a large shallow container, like a ceramic oven dish, food coloring

Extension: Water Monitoring

Introduce the students to testing the water in their community. Identify a body of water near to monitoring throughout the seasons. Back in the classroom, analyze and interpret the results.

Extension: In the water! Take a field trip with the students to clean and safe water sources. Open up a world of discovery and new skills.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Biodiversity of small and large species allow students to make scalar/proportional comparisons of themselves to other species. As it is difficult for some students to conceptualize “how big” or “how small” something might be, the class community should work together to help make mathematics/proportional reasoning connections to themselves and others.

The Blue Whale is an important species of ocean life because it is the largest, and yet one whale will eat one million krill a day to stay healthy. The size difference between the smallest creatures to the largest creatures in the ocean is very large. Use a variety of resources to create a similar ocean-life profile for another living species in the ocean.

Use found objects at home to create models to demonstrate your understanding of the differences between the size of the oceans and continents, or a variety of species living in the ocean. For example, if a large table at home represented the Pacific Ocean, what furniture would you use to represent the other oceans? Be ready to share your explanation with a classmate.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 7: Tropical Rainforests of the World

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


In this lesson students, will develop an understanding and appreciation for the Tropical Rainforests throughout the world. Tropical Rainforests have an outsized influence upon the entire planet.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Students will learn to identify where tropical rainforest exist throughout the world. Students will learn to identify the characteristics of a tropical rainforest. They will be able to identify important flora and fauna of the tropical rainforests throughout the world.
  • Understanding: Students will gain an understanding of the significant influences that rainforests have upon the world. They will appreciate the extent of rainforest biodiversity and the significance of bio-dependence. Students will learn the effects of human intervention and exploitation of tropical rainforests around the world
  • Skills: Students will be able to identify rainforest regions on a map or globe. Students will be able identify flora and fauna of tropical rainforests. Students will demonstrate an understanding of biodiversity and interdependence of flora and fauna in the tropical rainforest.
  • Attitudes and Values: Students will learn of the significance and beauty of tropical rainforests as well as the importance of protecting the remaining rainforests of the world. Students will learn the importance of tropical rainforest restoration.

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning



Review and Making Connections

  • Remind students of the continents and oceans studied in the previous lessons.
  • We are an interconnected system: both the land and sea ecosystems.
  • Ecosystem: A community of interacting plants and animals, small and large, within their particular environment
  • The land and sea contain amazing biodiversity. 
  • Biodiversity is the name for all living things—like plants, animals, and fungi— found in an ecosystem.
  • Rainforests have a high level of biodiversity.

Hook: Fast Facts about Rainforests

In the previous lessons, on a world map, we located the equator, northern, and southern hemispheres.

Many rainforests are concentrated around the equator and found between the Tropic of Cancer and the Tropic of Capricorn. These tropical regions receive a lot of sunlight. A wide variety of animals live in the rainforest. Scientists estimate that 70-90% of life in the rainforest is found in the trees, making this the richest habitat for plant and animal life.

  • The largest rainforest in the world is the Amazon rainforest.
  • Tropical rainforests have been home to great civilizations who developed complex societies and made great contributions to science and art. (Maya, Incas, Aztecs)
  • They faced environmental problems similar to what we face today. Excessive forest loss, soil erosion, overpopulation, lack of water, etc. 
  • Today, people still live in the rainforest and rely on their surroundings for food, shelter, and medicines.
  • They have a great understanding of the ecology of the rainforest and of medicinal plants used for treating illness.
  • Rainforests have important biological corridors – like paths – for animals moving on land, water, and air. The Panthera visual shows the jaguar historic range compared to the current range. Jaguars require corridors to survive.
  • Today, rainforests cover only 7% of Earth’s land surface.
  • Rainforests are being destroyed.

Rainforests provide much of the oxygen we breathe.

      • sunlight is converted to energy by plants through photosynthesis.
      • energy is stored in plant vegetation which is eaten by animals.

Discussion: What are the layers of a rainforest?

A rainforest comprises of layers-

  • emergent layer
  • canopy
  • understory
  • shrub layer
  • forest floor 

Each layer has a slightly different environment.

The emergent layer

  • Is made up of the tops of the tallest trees.
  • These treetops rise above the canopy level and are widely scattered.
  • The environment has strong winds, heavy showers, and extremely warm temperatures.

The canopy

  • Scientists can study the canopies with rope bridges, ladders, and towers.
  • Consists of closely spaced, tall trees that have flattened branches at their crown.
  • Vines, lianas (large woody vines that grow out of the forest floor and climb by winding around tree trunks), and epiphytes (plants that grow on branches or trunks) are found on the trees.
  • In México, it is illegal to sell epiphytes such as orchids.
  • Humid.
  • Most plant and animal life are found in the canopy.
  • Monkeys, frogs, lizards, birds, snakes, sloths, and small cats.
  • Most of the food these animals eat can be found in the canopy.
  • Scientists estimate that 70-90% of life in the rainforest is found in the trees, making this the richest habitat for plant and animal life.
  • During the day, the canopy is drier and hotter than other parts of the forest, and the plants and animals that live there are specially adapted for life in the trees. For example, because the number of leaves in the canopy can make it difficult to see more than a few feet, many canopy animals rely on loud calls or lyrical songs for communication.
  • Gaps between trees mean that some canopy animals fly, glide, or jump to move about in the treetops.
  • The canopy offers new sources of food, shelter, and hiding places, and provides another world for interaction between different species. For example, there are plants in the canopy called bromeliads that store water in their leaves. Animals like frogs use these pockets of water for hunting and laying their eggs.

The understory

  • Consists of the trunks of canopy trees, young trees, and shrubs.
  • The environment has high humidity and a constant temperature.
  • Animals living in the understory tend to be suited for moving through tightly knit areas.

The shrub layer

  • Where most of the medicinal plants can be found.

The forest floor

  • Little light reaches the forest floor.
  • Fungi, mold, bacteria like the humid conditions of the forest layer.
  • Ferns and decaying leaves are found on the floor.
  • The environment is warm and damp.
  • Includes rivers and lakes.
  • Where decomposition takes place.
  • Decomposition is the process by which decomposers like fungi and microorganisms break down dead plants and animals and recycle essential materials and nutrients.
  • Many of the largest rainforest animals are found on the forest floor.
  • Some of these include elephants, tapirs, and jaguars

Canopy Crane Access System

Canopy Crane

Canopy Walk

Canopy Walk

A sloth in its canopy home.

Activity: Animal and Plant Cards

More types of animals live in rainforests than in any other habitat! 

Distribute plant and animal cards and allow time for the students to talk with their classmates. Some animals may be unfamiliar, that’s ok, look at its shape and form.

In your rainforest home…

  • where do you spend most of your time?
  • in the canopy?
  • on the forest floor, under the forest floor?
  • Do you move between various forest layers?
  • Why do you spend most of your time in the understory layer?
  • How do you move from one layer to the next? Climb, fly, jump?
  • How do you communicate with your family?
  • What are your calls of danger?
  • What do you eat? Is that food available year-round?
  • Who eats you? Who are your predators?
  • Are you spreading seeds from the plants that you brush up against? Or by eating and then passing through with your droppings?
  • How do you care for your young? 
  • Do animals and plants like you live in other rainforests or is this rainforest very special to species like you? Why?
  • What happens if your rainforest home is destroyed?
  • Will you be able to survive?
  • Will you find a new forest home? Will it be safe?

The students can stick their cards on the mat in the layer it is usually found in its rainforest home. Do they want to approach the felt mat mimicking the way their animal moves?

Felt mat. Laminated plant and animal cards with velcro on the back stick to the mat.

Destruction and Deforestation: Why are rainforests being destroyed?

  • Humans are the main cause of rainforest destruction or deforestation.
        • we cut down forests
        • wood for timber to build houses
        • wood for making fires
        • agriculture for both small and large farms
        • grazing land for cattle
        • road construction
        • climate change with stronger storms and fires
        • oil drilling and mining
        • inappropriate tourism practices
        • what are other reasons?

A student illustration of rainforest destruction.

Lesson Consolidation: Healthy ecosystems benefit us all no matter where we live.

Save Rainforests

  • Teach others about the importance of the environment and how they can help save rainforests.
  • Restore damaged ecosystems by planting trees on land where forests have been cut down.
  • Encourage people to live in a way that doesn’t hurt the environment.
  • Establish parks to protect rainforests and wildlife.
  • Support companies that operate in ways that minimize damage to the environment.

Students make their own rainforest plant and animal cards.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Students will demonstrate an understanding of the relationship between the layers of the rainforests through discussion, written, and creative artistic expressions. Students will demonstrate the significance of tropical rainforests to world ecology.

Students will be able to express an understanding of the importance of tropical rainforests to the larger world ecology.

Students will demonstrate an understanding of tropical rainforests and the importance of preservation and restoration.

Module 2 - Environmental Health and Sustainability: Exploring our Blue Planet

Lesson 8: Becoming Trees & Planting Trees

Big Idea

Our behavior affects the quality of life of all living things. We must take time to understand and appreciate the rich biodiversity in our community and across the planet in order to have a positive relationship with the natural world.


The overall theme of Module 2 is focused on understanding the wide range of ecosystems and the importance of maintaining healthy and sustainable behaviors to preserve the balance and quality of life for all living things.

In this lesson, students will develop an understanding and appreciation for the hidden life of trees.

By the end of this lesson students will:

  • Knowledge: Students will learn the requirements for the healthy life of trees. Students will learn the component parts of trees how they grow and their requirements for life.
  • Understanding: Students will learn that trees lead lives beyond common understanding. They have relationships and communication between each other and the microorganisms of their environment. Trees and a variety of species are interdependent. 
  • Skills: Students will learn that trees require biodiversity and will learn to plant trees with careful consideration of the greater environment.
  • Attitudes and Values: Trees have experienced significant exploitation by human beings.  Trees require nurturing and appropriate care to thrive. The thriving of trees is necessary for One Health.
Play Video

Lesson Supports

Artifacts of Learning

Bird Houses



Review and Making Connections

What are some of the effects of human intervention and exploitation of tropical rainforests around the world?


People and animals need trees! Trees are a natural resource that can be renewed by the planting of trees and replacing the trees that are harvested for use by people, but first, let’s learn to protect the trees we already have!

  • In contrast, Non-Renewable Natural Resources include fossil fuels such as coal, natural gas, oil, nuclear energy. Fossil fuel is formed from fossils of plants and animals and cannot be replaced once they’ve been used. 

Trees benefit us all

  • Trees sustain human and animal life.
  • Sustainable – a condition that’s able to exist and can continue without help.  Example: sustainable land use involves exploiting or using natural resources without destroying the ecological balance of a particular area.
  • Trees absorb carbon dioxide and release oxygen.
  • We do the opposite, we breathe in oxygen and breathe out carbon dioxide.
  • Trees help cool the Earth by giving off moisture in the air which means more rain.
  • Trees act like huge pumps to cycle water up from the soil back into the air.
  • Trees make the soil more fertile for the food we grow and for animals to feed.
  • They help prevent desertification – the process of land becoming increasingly dry until almost no vegetation grows on it, making it a desert.
  • Trees give us shade, serve as windbreaks, and provide us with fruits. (Think of the tropical cacao tree which produces cacao beans for us to make chocolate!)
  • Acorns which are seeds for oak trees are an important food for dear, turkey, squirrels, and chipmunks.
  • Trees supply us with wood that we use to build houses, make furniture, build fences, and burn for fuel.
  • Did you know dead trees promote biodiversity? Nature’s recycling process. Rotting wood attracts organisms like bacteria and fungi that break down the bark into nutrients the soil can use to grow new trees. The space left by a fallen tree opens up the dense forest floor to let in light for new and different seedlings to grow (Refer to a previous lesson Layers of a Rainforest)
  • Dying trees provide habitat for animals. Hollowed-out sections are home to raccoons, screech owls, insects, fungi, and many other living things. 

Look around you. What is your favorite tree?

  • Ask people in your area where trees used to grow when they were young. What happened to those trees and forests?
  • Growing trees from locally gathered seed is best.
  • Indigenous trees are best adapted to the climate and soils where they have evolved resistance to disease and fungal attack. They originate in and are typical of a region or country 
  • Planting indigenous trees permits the conservation of a multitude of other living things.

Let’s BECOME trees! 

Find space to stand in the classroom or outside near some trees.

  • Our feet are firmly planted on the top layer of the soil.
  • Are dried leaves resting near you? Is there a process of decomposition happening on the forest floor? Is it damp? How does it smell?
  • Look at your feet. Look at the trees.
  • Do trees have feet?
  • Trees have roots. Wiggle your toes.
  • Pretend your feet and toes have become the roots.
  • There is a whole network underneath the top layer of soil.
  • A network similar to the roads in a city with cars zooming here and there.
  • Feel how your roots are interacting with the roots of the tree next to you. And soaking up the delicious nutrients the soil feeds you.
  • Are you the same species of tree as your neighbor? Are you older? Younger? Will you help your neighboring tree? How
  • Now moving toward the energy of the sun, upward, our bodies are the trunks of a tree.
  • Our skin is the bark. What are the textures and repeating patterns of your surface? Do insects crawl about? Does it tickle?
  • Our arms are branches.
  • Fingers are leaves. Big leaves? Small? Colorful? Will you drop to the ground soon? Will the wind carry you away?
  • What animals enjoy eating from your branches? Do they rest there for a while?
  • It’s beginning to rain. Tiny water drops bounce upon your fingers/leaves. 
  • The wind is getting stronger. How much do you sway? Is your trunk steady or thinner and more flexible?
  • How do you feel during different seasons?
  • Leaves slowly turn back to fingers, branches to arm, trunks to our bodies, roots to feet and toes.

Materials: stuffed toy animals, monkeys swinging from branches, birdhouses, insects, snakes, music with sounds of rain, wind, sun, blizzard, music player & speakers

Lesson Activity: Planting Trees

Our objectives:

  • Reforestation – to replant an area with trees because the original trees have been cut down
  • Create animal habitat – animals will feed from the trees, rest, and create homes
  • Soil erosion control – heavy rains and wind will wash away the soil if a network of roots have been removed
  • Beautification, responsibility, and respect – honor trees and plants as we do with animals. 

Prepare the planting sites

  • Try to plant at the beginning of the rainy season so the seedling has plenty of water to get established.
  • Clear away invasive vegetation

Plant the seedlings

  • Dig holes much wider and deeper than the roots – at least 30 cm wide and 30 cm deep.
  • Cut and peel off whatever is containing the seedlings. Dispose of wrappers by recycling or reusing them.
  • Put thorny branches and woven cages around each seedling to protect it from grazing animals.

How to control insects

  • Keep the area around your seedbed clear of other vegetation that offers the insect pests food and shelter.
  • Grow insect-repelling plants like pyrethrum, garlic, and chilies around the beds.
  • Pick insects off seedlings when you see them.
  • Many natural predators in the nursery help control pests. Spiders, lizards, snakes, frogs are among the many natural helpers that can control pest problems.
  • Birds that don’t damage seedlings but eat insects that attack them are helpful.

What is Agronomy? The science of soil management and crop production, in harmony with environmental and human values.

Note to facilitator: your location provides a species-specific environment. Work with your students on the important biodiversity of your area.

Through agronomy, conservation has an intimate relationship to the land; agronomy provides people with a link to the fertility of Earth in the protection of natural resources.

What is the importance of soil? And what is it?

  • It is where we sit, we walk, and everything is on soil except what is in the sky.
  • Plants receive nourishment from the soil.
  • A mixture of rock particles, decayed organic matter, minerals, water, and air
  • It allows the growing of the forests, which brings rain, and air purification that is the air we breathe in order to stay alive. Oxygen.
  • We grow our food from the soil.
  • Soil is a natural body composed of minerals and organic material.
  • It is the top layer of Earth’s surface consisting of rock and mineral particles mixed with organic matter.

How is soil made? It takes place when many things interact, such as air, water, plant life, animal life, rocks and chemicals.  It is made up of many things such as weathered rock and decayed plant and animal matter.

How do plants help the soil grow? Plants attract animals and when the animals die their bodies decay. The decaying matter makes the soil rich. This continues until the soil is fully formed. The formation of soil happens over a very long period of time. It can take 1000 years or more.

Soil nutrients depletion: With the use of heavy fertilizers (chemical fertilizers), farmers are able to produce what appear to be healthy, nutritious crops. The problem is that the plants are highly deficient in key nutrients. After years of over-farming and heavy fertilizer use, the soil loses all of its good, wholesome virtues – vitally important soil microbes that break down.  

Activity: Let’s test soil for its moisture content and reaction.

  • Moisture meter: helps us to know if the soil is dry or wet. It reads from 0 to 10. If the arrow is between 0 – 4, the soil is very dry. If the arrow is between 6 – 10 it is very wet which is not unfavorable for plant development. The best moisture reading is when the arrow is between 4 – 6.
  • Soil pH – moisture meter: it has two uses, it shows us the soil reaction (pH) if the soil is acidic, basic, or neutral and this helps us choose which plant to sow.

Lesson Consolidation

This lesson investigates the indigenous, domesticated plant species, and invasive species in an environment providing a balance between human needs and protecting the native biodiversity is essential.

Assessment Prompts

Attitudes and Values

Intention of the Assessment

Examples of how students can demonstrate their learning

Students will demonstrate an understanding of proper planting techniques for both domesticated species and the reintroduction of native species. In this lesson, the actual planting of appropriate species will provide evidence of knowledge of appropriate forest management.

Students will demonstrate sensitivity to both human needs and protecting Earth’s biodiversity. They will actively participate in reforestation activities.

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