Endangered Species Project connects students with wildlife experts

The Endangered Species Project is a major academic focus of the eighth grade year as well as an outstanding example of project-based learning at KCD. Throughout the six-week project, students approach the study of their endangered species from a variety of disciplinary perspectives, then integrate that work into a final project presentation.

The project is the major focus of eighth grade English, science, history, and computer classes during the spring. According to computer teacher Sarah Shartzer, one of the goals of the project is to spur students to make meaningful connections across the disciplines; throughout the project, students are encouraged to consider the connections between these different areas of study and to connect them to their particular animal.

Endangered Species Project

Ms. Shartzer sees the project as the culmination of the skills that students have been developing during their years in Middle School. Skills such as conducting in-depth research, time management, connecting classroom learning to real world issues, and critical thinking about complex problems are key aspects of the unit. “In many ways, we also see [the project] as preparation for the kind of academic work that’s expected in the Upper School,” Ms. Shartzer explained.

According to the eighth grade teachers, the requirement that students correspond with a wildlife expert about their animal is one of the more unique and rewarding components of the project. Students discuss strategies for making contact in English class, where they also learn about email etiquette. This year, our students were especially fortunate to find an engaged and enthusiastic group of correspondents. Kendall Jackson, for example, found that her initial contact, the Youth Education Coordinator at the Feline Conservation Foundation, was able to put her in touch with other authorities, providing additional resources for Kendall’s study of the Guiña.

Ayah Kutmah found a generous and enthusiastic correspondent in Dr. Robert Schneider, the Director of Boston University’s Center for Ecology and Conservation and an authority on the Sri Lankan Petite Shrub Frog. “Every time I came up with a question,” Ayah recalled, “he was willing to take the time to answer me.” Dr. Schneider was so impressed with this student-directed aspect of the project that he sent the following kudos to Ms. Shartzer: “First, let me say thanks to you for getting your students engaged in a project on endangered species . . . Second, I wanted to let you know that it was wonderful to correspond with Ayah about the Sri Lankan frogs. She showed a lot of initiative in reaching out to me with questions, and it is great that you encourage your students to do so.”

Throughout the project, students are challenged to engage with the complex relationships between governments, local communities, and the local biosphere that inform environmental policy. For many of our students, this broader perspective proves to be a memorable outcome of the project. “The most important thing I learned,” said Lilly Brice, “is the importance of paying attention to the bigger picture going on around us.” Ayah Kutmah agrees that the project has encouraged her to approach problem-solving in a more complex way. “Your plan has to consider not only the animal,” she said, “but the other things that are going on in the country and community.”

In addition to their final presentation, students complete a number of other projects, including a fictional travelogue for English class and an informational pamphlet for science. Click the images above to see some outstanding examples of student work. To learn more about the Endangered Species Project, visit the project website.