Instructor Materials: Overview of the Changing Biosphere Module
Module Summative Assessment: Write an essay in which you compare and contrast current human-caused extinctions with one of the past mass extinctions events of your choosing in terms of 1) evidence, 2) magnitudes, and 3) causes. When you discuss the causes, be sure to explain any important interactions among Earth's spheres.
This module is designed to make students aware that organisms and the environment are intertwined and have been since life began on our planet. The module thus begins with lessons from deep time and brings these ideas forward to provide a long-term perspective on the role of humans in altering our biosphere, both directly and indirectly via alteration of Earth's other major systems.
How can geological events help us understand events occurring on human timescales?
In this unit, students will learn that the fossil record contains evidence for huge changes in biomes. Students will create a scale model of the timeline. They will also examine data showing changes in the number of families of marine organisms over time and describe patterns shown in the data, including five mass extinctions.
What caused previous mass extinctions?
Students will work in groups to examine and discuss the causes of past mass extinctions using a jigsaw approach. Specifically, students will examine the evidence for and effects of flood basalt eruptions and asteroid impacts at the ends of the Permian and the Cretaceous Periods, and compare these mass extinctions with the ongoing mass extinction.
How do these different components of the environment interact and change one another?
In this unit, students will explore different historical and modern examples of the ways that changes in the diversity of organisms on Earth can be influenced by, and in turn influence, changes in the atmosphere and hydrosphere. Students will create concept maps of these changes. Students will analyze figures that address current, applied biological and environmental topics and apply what they have learned about scientific argumentation to critically examine the relationships between research questions, data, and claims.
How does the environment impact the diversity and distribution of organisms?
In this unit, students will explore changes in biodiversity through time using one group of animals, the Equidae, as a case study. They will use data to investigate the relationship between environmental conditions and Equidae morphology, diversity, and distribution through time. They will also connect the history of Equus (modern horses) to the controversial issue of Bureau of Land Management roundups and wild horse protection in North America.
How are humans causing a sixth mass extinction? How can we conserve biodiversity?
Students will read an article about the sixth extinction, discussing evidence for and causes of current and future extinctions. Through a role-playing activity, students will then compare and contrast the sixth extinction with prior mass extinctions in terms of causes and magnitudes and evaluate conservation strategies.
Making the Module Work
To adapt all or part of the Changing Biosphere Module for your classroom you will also want to read through
- Instructor Stories, which detail how the Changing Biosphere Module was adapted for use at different institutions, as well as our guide to
- Adapting InTeGrate Modules and Courses for Your Classroom, which outlines how to effectively use InTeGrate modules and courses.