so instructors should prompt them to think about other types of
organismal interactions that might be relevant to the focal species’
There will also be a generalization of aquatic habitats, resulting
in students reasoning that as long as there is water to live in, any
aquatic species can live there (e.g., “They just need clean water.”).
This reasoning reflects a lack of distinction between microhabitats
that are relevant to endangered species’ conservation, so the instructor will need to ask probing questions that challenge this overgeneralization, such as, “Humans are a terrestrial species, but does that
mean all you need is land to survive? Can you just as easily live in
a prairie and on top of Mt. Everest; they’re both terrestrial?”
Similarly, students will use the terms “adapt” and “evolve” in
ways that indicate they believe that individuals can evolve or that
adaptation is a matter of choice or free will. Again, the instructor
will need to ask probing questions, such as, “If you were forced
to live on Mt. Everest, would you be able to, for example, extract
more oxygen from the air, by trying really hard?”
When misconceptions such as these are common, the instructor will likely need to pause the small group discussions to hold
question-driven, whole-class discussions that pose these types of
questions to students and compel clarification ecological or evolutionary concepts that are relevant to the discussions. The power
of this Habitat Suitability Analysis lab for developing students’
concepts about ecology and evolution lies in these small-group and
whole-class discussions, interspersed with instructors’ probing
questions that challenge ecological and evolutionary misconceptions. The manipulation of maps to identify a region to protect
for a particular endangered species is simply the activity that necessitates exploration of ecological and evolutionary ideas, which is
what allows for conceptual development.
Using map layers, watershed maps, watershed water quality
descriptions, and species profiles created on the pre-lab assignment,
students aim to identify two regions that they would propose be protected in order to preserve their endangered species. Specifically,
students identify the watershed, county, and directional descriptions
of landmarks or names of stream segments to include or exclude.
For example, a group might conclude, “We recommend the NE corner of ABC County in the XYZ watershed, extending from Shire
Creek west to Ironfoot Lake for protection of the alligator snapping
turtle.” Students identify the data that supports their decision and
then, after synthesizing all available information, create a presentation explaining why they chose the area(s) for protection.
The pre-lab assignment and field trip reflections provide initial indication of prior knowledge of ecological and evolutionary principles
as they are applied to conservation problems. A majority of the formative assessment occurs as the lab instructor circulates during the
lab activity, asks probing questions, and facilitates whole-class discussions that challenge students’ thinking about ecological and evolutionary mechanisms.
Pre-lab assignment and in-lab worksheet questions are designed
to prompt students to provide reasoning regarding conservation
challenges requiring basic ecological and evolutionary knowledge,
which allows the instructor to identify naïve conceptions and biases
about endangered and threatened species, limiting factors and their
importance, and conservation. Students are also asked in the pre-lab
assignment to explain what they found most interesting or surprising during their information gathering. Interestingly, in our course,
many students were unaware that species living in their own state
and local ecosystems were endangered (Figure 1).
Figure 1. Sample responses to an item on the pre-lab assignment that prompted students to reflect on what surprised them
regarding endangered and threatened species in their state. Permission to use students’ written work was obtained following
Institutional Review Board protocol.