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by | December 20, 2021

Invasive Species Education: Getting Content into Classrooms

Invasive species impact us all. From where we choose to live to the food we eat, the way we play outdoors, and even the way we make our money, invasive species influence every aspect of our lives – whether we realize it or not.

That may seem like an overwhelmingly gloomy thing to say right up front, but, on the flip side, invasive species provide a great if not unexpected opportunity for kids to learn about broader ecological and social concepts. Dialogues around species competition, biodiversity, ecosystem disturbance, human impacts on the environment, diversity and inclusion, and community involvement naturally arise in teaching about invasive species.

For students, learning about invasive species can also infuse a sense of relevance into classroom learning. In engaging students in real-world issues, they discover connections between what they learn in school and what they do when they’re not in school.

Yet, invasive species concepts remain a rare subject matter in schools. The Kenai Peninsula Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area (KP-CISMA) partners want to change that.

Kids attending KWF summer camp take part in an invasive species matching game.
Kids attending Kenai Watershed Forum summer camp take part in an invasive species matching game.

To kick off our efforts to boost engagement with Kenai Peninsula schools and funded by the US Fish and Wildlife Service, KP-CISMA partners at Homer Soil and Water Conservation District and the Kenai Watershed Forum recently developed resources to help teachers bring invasive species topics to their classrooms.

First, a resource list. The resource list is a comprehensive, go-to guide cataloguing existing Alaska-specific or Alaska-relevant invasive species curricula, lesson plans, educational videos, teacher kits, and more. Invasive species professionals headed into classrooms as guest speakers may also find the list helpful in identifying age-appropriate content for students.

To address some gaps in educational materials, the KP-CISMA created a mini-curriculum for middle school students. These lesson plans integrate a variety of academic disciplines while addressing four essential questions: 1) What are invasive species? 2) Why are they a problem? 3) How do they spread? and 4) What can we do about it?

screenshot of intro video
Homer Soil and Water Conservation District invasive species professionals introduce lesson plans to students through short, pre-recorded videos.

Each lesson pairs a pre-recorded, interactive video introduction (think virtual guest speaker) with a hands-on activity – students invent an invasive species, create posters, and run around (carefully!) pretending to be one of Alaska’s native salmon species or invasive northern pike. While we designed the curriculum with middle-schoolers in mind, we’ve also included suggested modifications for other age groups.

The video/in-class activity model provides flexibility for teachers and KP-CISMA partners. Teachers can opt to use the lessons as-is, or pick and choose from the material. The virtual introduction can be replaced by a real-life, in-class guest speaker who works as an invasive species professional. And the entirely virtual option allows us to bring content to classrooms when logistics limit in-person visits (e.g., following COVID-safe protocols or engaging with schools in remote areas).

Guest speaker teaching about invasive species in classrooms.
Kenai Watershed Forum attends a European Black Slug “bustin'” event at the Whittier School and gave a hybrid presentation (in-person AND via Zoom) about Invasive Species issues in Alaska.

Invasive species are an increasingly important issue in Alaska. Thinking big picture and beyond present-day, education – particularly of young people – will prove essential in preventing new species from being introduced and reducing the spread of invasive species already present in Alaska.

Teachers provide the knowledge that inspires young minds (and, through them, their friends and families) to take action, make informed choices, and choose environmentally responsible behaviors. The attitudes of today’s young people will inform and direct behaviors of all of us, tomorrow and beyond.

We’re excited to pilot our new lessons in classrooms this upcoming spring! If you’re a teacher (or know a teacher) who might be interested in test running one or more of the lessons, let us know! Email Jen Chauvet at jen@homerswcd.org to learn more.

You can find the teacher resource list and other educational materials on the Resources page of our website: https://kenaiinvasives.org/resources/

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