Which Strategy is Best to Ensure the Conservation of Endangered Species?

This example was compiled by Susan Musante, AIBS, based upon a lesson titled "Can Captive Breeding Save Species?" published by the National Geographic Society on their Xpeditions website, available for free at https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/captive-breeding-species-survival/.
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Students learn about endangered species and actions humans have taken to address the issue of endangered species. The Xpeditions lesson has students think about their experiences with zoos, learn about the reasons for captive breeding, and come up with an opinion about the role of zoos and aquariums in addressing this issue. The additional activity in the Teaching Materials section has students learn about a controversy within the scientific community regarding the captive breeding of tigers. Students will read articles written by the scientists, develop an opinion, discuss the issue with their classmates, and draw a conclusion based upon additional information they have researched.

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Learning Goals

From the Xpeditions lesson titled "Can Captive Breeding Save Species?":

"Students will
  • discuss their feelings about zoos;
  • discuss the reasons why some species are threatened with extinction;
  • research and answer questions about captive-breeding programs and species-survival plans; and
  • write reports assessing the success of species-survival plans for four species."
If instructors choose the additional activity described below, students will learn about the scientific controversy surrounding wild tiger conservation. They will need to read articles written by scientists on the topic, develop an opinion based upon what they have read, conduct further research on the topic, and collaborate with their peers to reach consensus. Instructors may also want their students to write a brief paper to describe their position, based upon scientific evidence.

Context for Use

The activities in this example are appropriate for upper level high school biology or other life science courses and introductory undergraduate life science courses. Students will need to have prior experience with zoos and instructors may want to poll their classes to learn the extent to which students are familiar with zoos and their missions. Students will also need access to the articles listed below. According to the lesson on the Xpeditions website, the "Can Captive Breeding Save Species?" activities will take 2-3 hours. The additional activities can take up to two class periods, depending upon whether it is done completely in class or assigned as a take-home activity.

Description and Teaching Materials

The lesson titled "Can Captive Breeding Save Species?" published on National Geographic Society's Xpeditions website is available for free at https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/captive-breeding-species-survival/. It contains all of the information needed for instructors to engage students in this issue in their class.

If instructors wish to extend the exploration of this real-world issue with their students, they can use this additional activity:
1. Introduce the issue of captive breeding and endangered species as a contemporary relevant concern faced by the scientific discipline by having students read the following as part of their homework (or in class, depending upon time available):
2. Then pose a question to the class (e.g., How will tiger conservation best be achieved?) and ask the students to think of an answer based upon the articles they read. Have the students write down their opinion.
3. Ask the students what else they might need to know to be able to substantiate their opinion. Guide them to understand they will need scientific facts to comprehend the issue. Provide them with information or make information available to them to answer their questions about the issue. This can also be assigned as research to be done outside of class and brought to the following class.
4. Ask the class to use what they learned in class to discuss the issue in small groups and come up with a view or resolution of the issue.
5. Present the set of guiding rules (in the How to section of this module) for discussing the issue as a hand-out or projected on a screen.
6. Give students ample time in class to resolve the issue. Periodically ask the students about their progress and whether a resolution is near.
7. Guide a discussion with all students, allowing them to reflect on the issue.
Instructors can also have students write a short position paper, supported with scientific facts.

Teaching Notes and Tips

There is no universal formula for using real-world issues in the classroom. The Xpedition lesson provides one approach to engage students in the issues surrounding captive breeding and zoos and the Teaching Materials provides another strategy. Regardless of which activities are used with students, time in class should be made available for the students to reflect upon their resolutions to the issue. During this time, it is important that the instructor explain the relationship between the issue and the concepts covered in class. Feedback for the take-home assignment can be presented to the whole class based on a synopsis of the student reports. Any student arguments or disagreements should be directed back to the facts related to the issue. Instructors can share their viewpoints as long as they explain how they use the facts to come up with their view or resolution.


The Xpedition lesson includes instructions and a rubric for assessing the students' position papers. Assessing other aspects of student learning will depend upon the goals instructors have for using the lesson.
For more information on assessment:
  • SERC's On The Cutting Edge: Professional Development for Geosciences Faculty has a terrific suite of resources on assessment. Go to Observing and Assessing Student Learning to learn about the different types of assessment and techniques for finding out what your students are learning as you use new teaching approaches.

References and Resources

There is a list of "Related Links" at the end of the lesson: https://www.nationalgeographic.org/activity/captive-breeding-species-survival/.