Grouped in small research teams, students will simulate a trip to Madagascar through the Water in Africa resources and other related websites. Using online research, students will explore the effect of slash-and-burn agriculture on Madagascar's people, environment, and lemurs. Students will prepare technology-enhanced presentations of their findings and develop viable alternatives for responsibly using and protecting Madagascar's natural resources.
One class period a day for two to three weeks
Geography, technology integration
How do people affect and change the environment?
How can we balance our need to use natural resources with preserving these resources?
Why is it important to know how we impact our resources?
Pictures and reference books on Madagascar and lemurs
Student e-mail accounts
Electronic presentation software such as HyperStudio or PowerPoint
Madagascar Environment/Agriculture Stories
Teacher copy of Madagascar/Agriculture Stories (highlighted) (PDF or RTF)
Madagascar links (PDF or RTF)
Photo-Essay Guidelines (PDF or RTF)
Evaluation Rubric (PDF or RTF)
Geography Standard 4—Understands the physical and human characteristics of places
Benchmark—Knows the causes and effects of changes in a place over time
Geography Standard 14—Understands how human actions modify the physical environment
Benchmark—Understands the environmental consequences of people changing the physical environment
Benchmark—Understands the ways in which human-induced changes in the physical environment in one place can cause changes in other places
Geography Standard 16—Understands the changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources
Benchmark—Understands the reasons for conflicting viewpoints regarding how resources should be used
Technology Standard 3—Technology productivity tools—Students use productivity tools to collaborate in constructing technology-enhanced models, prepare publications, and produce other creative works.
Benchmark—Apply productivity/multimedia tools and peripherals to support personal productivity, group collaboration, and learning throughout the curriculum
Technology Standard 4—Technology communication tools
Students use telecommunications to collaborate, publish and interact with peers, experts, and other audiences.
Students use a variety of media and formats to communicate information and ideas effectively to multiple audiences.
Benchmark—Design, develop, publish, and present products using technology resources that demonstrate and communicate curriculum concepts to audiences inside and outside the classroom
Technology Standard 5—Technology research tools
Students use technology to locate, evaluate, and collect information from a variety of sources.
Students evaluate and select new information resources and technological innovations based on the appropriateness for specific tasks.
Benchmark—Collaborate with peers, experts, and others using telecommunications and collaborative tools to investigate curriculum-related problems, issues, and information, and to develop solutions or products for audiences inside and outside the classroom.
National Science Education Standards
Content Standard F: Science in Personal and Social Perspectives
- Conduct research to discover why Madagascar's rain forests have declined, how the loss of Madagascar's rain forests has affected the island's water and soil resources, and h ow the people of Madagascar might preserve their natural resources while using them for food and a livelihood.
- Synthesize information and draw conclusions about people affecting the environment and balancing resources and needs.
- Complete a technology-enhanced project to present their information.
Note: This activity is planned for a two-hour block or two class periods.
1. Post and pose the first essential question: How do people affect and change the environment? Engage students in dialogue and record examples generated through class discussion.
2. Show students pictures or props of lemurs (see the additional resources sections for suggestions). Explain to students that these unique animals, found only on Madagascar and the Comoros Islands, are seriously endangered. Explain that lemurs live in the quickly disappearing rain forests of Madagascar, meaning that their habitat is also endangered.
3. Post and pose the following question: How have traditional agriculture methods affected Madagascar's people and its vegetation, water, and soil? Discuss the question with the students to discover what they already know about Madagascar.
4. Divide students into research teams to "visit" Madagascar through the Peace Corps Water in Africa site, reading from the stories about Madagascar in the section "The Environment and Agriculture." Ask the students to work together to better understand why deforestation is occurring and what effects it has on people and the environment. (These stories do not have information on lemurs. However, they will provide students with a clear picture of ways in which people are impacting the environment where lemurs live.)
5. Have students take turns reading the vignettes aloud to their research group or partner. Ask the students to pause occasionally to share their findings with the class and then to read on. If some groups finish early, have them explore the other Madagascar stories and pictures on the Peace Corps site, especially those that address the use of water for irrigation and rice paddies.
6. Toward the end of class, have teams meet, discuss, and record what they have learned about how traditional agriculture methods affect Madagascar's people and vegetation, water, and soil. Have teams share their findings with the class.
7. Assessment Check-Point: Instruct students to answer the following questions independently on a piece of notebook paper. Collect and review to assess understanding thus far.
—How have people affected and changed the environment in Madagascar?
—Why have they changed it?
What are the observable effects of the changes?
Note: This activity is planned for a two-hour block or two class periods.
1. Post and pose the second essential question: How can we balance our need to use natural resources with preserving these resources? Refer students to the examples they shared while discussing how people affect and change the environment. Ask them to think about those examples as they engage in a discussion about the balance between using and preserving natural resources. Record their responses.
2. To further focus the discussion, ask students to consider how the resources of Madagascar could be both used and preserved while providing the Malagasy with food and a livelihood and the lemurs with habitat.
3. Assign students to meet in their research teams. Provide eathem with copies of the Madagascar Environment and Agriculture stories. Make sure the students have highlighters. Ask them to study the stories for specific details about some of the Peace Corps Volunteer concerns about Madagascar's soil and water resources related to deforestation, and how resources in Madagascar can be both used and preserved. (See the highlighted teacher copy of Madagascar and Agriculture stories (PDF or RTF) for reference.) Now, as a class, read the stories aloud and agree upon areas to highlight.
4. Conduct a discussion based on the questions you posed and student observations. Help students to explore reasonable solutions to the deforestation dilemma, keeping in mind that they must begin by helping the Malagasy people make a living and have enough to eat.
5. As a class, make a list of the reasonable, realistic solutions that have emerged from the class discussion. Steer students into keeping their solutions based on what they have learned from the Volunteer stories, as opposed to broad, unrealistic solutions, such as shipping food to the population so they don't have to cut down the forests.
1. Explain to students that now that their research teams are equipped with background knowledge of the situation in Madagascar, these same teams will be "virtually visiting" Madagascar through additional books and websites. As evidence of their journey, they will be making a photo-essay (PDF or RTF) so that their team can share their research findings with others.
2. Describe the photo-essay project to the students. Tell them that their goal is to combine pictures with first person captions and explanations in the form of a photo-essay, using electronic presentation software. As they find images and information appropriate for the essential questions, they should save the images. The images will be shown to others in the group by sending them as an attachment to an e-mail with suggestions for captions. E-mails should be sent to one or two people in the group selected to format the photos using electronic presentation software. All students will share in the creative process.
3. At this point, give each student a copy of the Photo-Essay Guidelines (PDF or RTF) and Evaluation Rubric. (PDF or RTF) Carefully go over the handout with students, beginning with the content background and the description of the photo-essay project. Make sure they understand the questions they are to answer, and how they are to use both the essential questions and the guiding questions more specific to Madagascar. Go over the language and technology requirements. Allow time for students to ask questions and assign roles in their groups. Ideally, one or two students will be in charge of formatting the information in the electronic presentation software, with two or three students simultaneously researching and e-mailing information and images to the student in charge of formatting.
4. Ask students to look at the rubric (PDF or RTF) that will be used to assess the finished photo-essay projects. Make sure they understand the descriptors, the rating scale, and how the rubric will be used.
5. After groups have had time to work out their roles, allow them to share with the class how they plan to proceed.
Day 4 (Until Complete)
1. As an advance organizer, e-mail students a copy of Madagascar-related Links (PDF or RTF) or save it to a public drive for easy student access.
2. Have students refer to the Madagascar Environment and Agriculture stories to find examples of narration they can quote from in their first-person captions and explanations. Suggest that they look for descriptions of deforestation and its effects, descriptions of flooding, and so on.
3. Have students search the Water in Africa Madagascar images for pictures they could include in their presentation. For example, people planting rice, rice fields being prepared, irrigation ditches, people using natural water sources.
4. Refer students to the Madagascar-related Links (PDF or RTF) and tell them that "MG" is the Internet abbreviation for Madagascar. Either e-mail the document as an attachment to students or save it to a public drive for student access. The Madagascar links are organized according to subtopic, to correlate with the questions students are exploring.
5. Once students have explored this resource thoroughly, you may wish to have them conduct their own searches for images and captions. Students can find great examples of rice terraces, burning forests, sediment-laden rivers, and more on the Internet.
6. Finally, have students review their presentation progress and refine, proofread, and make necessary technical adjustments.
Note: At the end of each research session, review with research teams what they have learned.
For example, ask students to share what they learned about water and rice in Madagascar. Ask them how rice production and increased irrigation might help make the Malagasy people less dependent of slash-and-burn practices. Ask students to explain how they better understand the effects of deforestation on Madagascar's environment and why it is that Malagasy people must currently depend upon slash-and-burn agriculture.
It is sometimes helpful in open-ended activities such as this to have each student evaluate their use of class and lab time on a scale as follows:
3: Very productive;
2: Somewhat productive;
1: Fairly unproductive.
Discuss roadblocks, obstacles, successes, and discoveries. Have students share what is working in their group and what they need to work on. This kind of ongoing assessment and open discussion is one way to assess progress on the photo-essay. Remember also to review the rubric with students to remind them of the importance of cooperation.
Once students have completed their presentations, they should be given time to practice presentation delivery. When students are prepared, hold a Madagascar Forum, in which research teams share their presentations. Share with an outside audience such as other grade levels, parents, local environment groups or clubs, high schools, and colleges. Have each research team individually assess its participation and performance in final products using the photo-essay rubric (PDF or RTF). Students should place their rating (5–1) in each box. Collect rubrics and add your assessment feedback in each category by placing a score of 1 to 5 adjacent to the students' ratings, based on your observations.
Keep up-to-date with Dr. Pat Wright's efforts to help Madagascar's lemurs and environment by sending an e-mail from the class to Dr. Wright.
Have a fundraiser to adopt a lemur as a class project.
Have students conduct research on environmental issues in their own areas and compare similarities and differences between these issues and those in Madagascar.
Have your librarian help your class find out more about Madagascar and lemurs through books and videos.
About the Author
Michelle Abernathy-Tabor is a sixth-grade teacher in western Washington. She enjoys teaching at the middle school level because students at this age are full of energy for life and are interested in the world around them. Michelle spoke of her work with this unit in the following reflection:
"My class has been instrumental in helping to make this unit its best. It was around the third or fourth day that we discovered that our goals weren't quite connecting. One student approached me and said that it was getting too complex to try to tie everything in. I had been doing a lot of thinking about our progress thus far and had come to the same conclusion. I was excited to brainstorm with students about how to resolve this. We discussed the problem and then I listed the cycle I envisioned on the board. It became clear that water was an important connection, but by spreading students too thin, we had missed the real way in which water connects to the unit. We got sidetracked on daily usage and we got a little sidetracked on lemurs. I refocused, ran off copies of the environmental/agriculture stories only, and then as a class we read the stories and highlighted only the parts that contained references to natural water sources: sediment-filled rivers, erosion, streams drying up, silted rice fields from flooding rivers, etc. It quickly became clear that we couldn't discuss deforestation without discussing its effects on water. And we couldn't discuss saving the lemur habitat without coming up with solutions to help people create sustainable crops. It has really been fun for me to collaborate with my class on this unit. A learning experience for us all, for sure!"