InTeGrate Modules and Courses >Changing Biosphere > Instructor Materials: Module Overview
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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The materials are free and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
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Instructor Materials: Overview of the Changing Biosphere Module

Module Goal: Students will evaluate recent human influences on the biosphere in the context of the geologic record.

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.

These materials have been reviewed for their alignment with the Next Generation Science Standards. At the top of each page, you can click on the NGSS logo to see the specific connections. Visit InTeGrate and the NGSS to learn more about the process of alignment and how to use InTeGrate materials to implement the NGSS.

NGSS in this Module

The Changing Biosphere Module aligns well with the NGSS Cross cutting concpts: Patterns, Cause and Effect, and Stability and Change, as well as the NGSS Diisciplinary Core Ideas: The History of Planet Earth, Earth's Materials and and Human Impacts on Earth Systems, Middle level and High school teachers could adapt the module to focus more on process and less on content. In this module the students have the opportunity to work through patterns in historical data, learn how the Earth system opperates, use fossils to analyze possible cause and effect changes in a system as well as how change impacts stability in systems, and the human impact on the Earth system as cause and effect of evironmental changes. Students analyze changes found over time in horse fossils and use systems thinking to infer the relationship between climate change and evolution. Students draw conclusions about the impact of human activity on the stability of the Earth system and associated future impacts to the Earth's system.

Summary

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.

Unit 1Introduction to the Geologic Timeline & Mass Extinctions

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.

Unit 2Causes of Mass Extinction

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.

Unit 3The Interconnected Nature of the Atmosphere, Hydrosphere, and Biosphere

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.

Unit 4Impacts of Environmental Change on Organisms: Horses

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.

Unit 5The Sixth Extinction

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.

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These materials are part of a collection of classroom-tested modules and courses developed by InTeGrate. The materials engage students in understanding the earth system as it intertwines with key societal issues. The collection is freely available and ready to be adapted by undergraduate educators across a range of courses including: general education or majors courses in Earth-focused disciplines such as geoscience or environmental science, social science, engineering, and other sciences, as well as courses for interdisciplinary programs.
Explore the Collection »