Extinction! Coming soon to a planet near you?

There’s been a lot of high-profile announcements and reports being issued this year about climate change, and NPR is currently getting ready to do a year long series on the effects of climate on people and vice versa. As I was riding to work this morning, listening to the first report in the series about how countries and communities along the Prime Meridian are already feeling the effects of prolonged droughts, I got to thinking about how I taught biomes, climate, and biospheres last year.

As the Earth’s climate changes (notice, I’m going to remain politically neutral and not use the term Global Warming) groups of people and organisms have had to adapt. Whether it be increased cooling, warming, droughts, severe weather, or flooding, everyone can accept the fact that the Earth’s climate has changed in the past, is currently changing now, and will change again in the future. I taught my unit on biomes and climate as though they were static environments (interactions and fluctuations occur within, but in the end the climate and populations of animals remain steady thanks to checks and balances). I didn’t even think to talk about how these environments might intermingle, become altered, or even transform into other biomes completely due to changes in the Earth’s climate.

Which leads to the interesting site about extinction at the PBS website. Apparently, there have been five mass extinctions in the history of the planet (periods of time in which large amounts of plants and animals become extinct), and many scientists are now debating if we’re getting ready to enter the 6th major extinction, and whether or not it’s going to be an extinction caused by human activity, rather than the natural processes of the Earth. I was also clued into an article over at MotherJones entitled “Gone” (thanks Anna) that says many scientists in the World Conservation Union predict up to 40% of Earth’s species, both plants and animals, are at risk. Now, I’m not one to have a quick knee-jerk reaction to such numbers (they seem alarmingly high), but upon reading the article I had to question how other educators might be teaching their students.

Are other elementary and secondary educators relying too heavily on the static information in textbooks, or would a journey down to the computer lab, or pulling up a few websites in the classroom add a bit more discussion, and a lot of questioning and learning to the process? I know that I’ll definitely be trying to pull more real-world conversations and debates into my lessons given the resources available online, and I’m wondering if it wouldn’t be good for others to be doing it as well in order to further make learning in the classroom more closely model learning in the real world. Or am I the only one still teaching Science in a bubble?


  1. Given the speed of change in Science and the often horribly glaring errors in textbooks, I’m trying to advocate for a “no textbook” approach to teaching. Not only would you cover topics with more depth, but you would also be able to teach internet research skills and internet validity recognition, as well.

  2. One of the benefits that teachers in private or home school environments is the freedom that you describe. They aren’t as hampered by bureaucratic decisions (including textbooks) that public educators face. I don’t see why creative public school teachers, as long as they don’t stray from the overall official learning objectives, shouldn’t have that same freedom.

    In fact, given how quickly scientific understanding is changing, it would seem that the likelihood of any science textbook being able to keep current is slim to none. But, this also means that today’s declarations of extinction also have to be viewed in the context of potential modifications to our understanding. After all, dire predictions of global cooling just a few years ago have become dire predictions of global warming today. Dire warnings of animal fats of 20 years ago have become dire warnings of transfats. We must be careful to introduce some caution with the current.

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