Educator Spotlight: Finding Solutions for Invasive Species

High school biology teacher Beth Quinones worked with a team of educators to engage students in researching invasive species, developing a management plan, and communicating the plan to their target audience. Beth and her collaborators brought in invasive species professionals to deepen students’ understanding of the issue and organized a community event where students shared their management plans and calls to action.

Beth Quinones teaches high school biology and forensics at Sycamore High School in Cincinnati, OH. Photo by Stacy Snyder

Tell us about the invasive species project you designed for your National Geographic Educator Certification capstone. How did you capture students’ interest, and how did they explore this topic?

Invasive species are continually impacting the Midwest and Cincinnati area. In a former classroom, I had a huge infestation of Asian Lady Beetles that would swarm a few times a year, coming out of our light fixtures and flying around during class. I used this example as a conversation catalyst because it personally affected my students. I then asked them to research a different species and determine a way to manage it using ties to biological mechanisms. 

Students first established whether the species was in fact an invasive species. Next, they formulated a management plan geared toward a specific audience of their choice. Preventative measures, educating the public, and management with physical or chemical treatments were all options students discussed. Through this process, students discovered how strategic communication and marketing can engage an audience.

I felt it was very important to give students voice and choice about what they researched and how they presented their findings. As the project progressed, students adjusted their thinking, management strategies, and presentation strategies based on peer review and interactions with invasive species professionals. 

Students developed creative ways to share their ideas for managing invasive species, which they presented during a community event. Photo by Beth Quinones

How did you collaborate with other educators and bring in invasive species professionals to implement this project? 

I worked with three other teachers: Mary Palmer, Jennifer Scheidler, and Amanda Vilardo. We agreed on a set of guidelines and then tweaked checkpoints and classroom interactions to suit the needs of our students. Fifteen biology classes took part in the project, with some focusing on invasive species and some adapting the project to address threatened and endangered species.

As a team, we were able to divide some of the behind-the-scenes work. One teacher organized our exhibition day and invited community members to attend. Another brought in professionals to share current management strategies in use for invasive species that are problematic in our area, and even on our school campus. These professionals included a university professor who researched invasive species at a molecular level, an extension agent who dealt with eradication at a regional level, a lawyer who dealt with litigation at the state level and an education director at a local nature center. Their presentations helped students connect the project to real-world issues and experiences.

You mentioned students adjusting their project strategies based on peer review. Can you share how you built in these peer review opportunities and why you emphasize iteration?

As a scientist I believe, and model for students, that science is public (should be shared) and tentative (always changing). We designed peer review opportunities to provide constructive criticism that promoted revisions to original ideas. Example review strategies included gallery walks where peers left post-its with comments and questions, as well as tuning protocols to invite and structure feedback.

The idea of creating a management plan that someone else might use was a foreign concept to our students. Brainstorming as a class helped relieve their anxiety over designing a management plan. While students knew they would ultimately be competing for audience attention while exhibiting their ideas, they also saw that each project was unique and they could support each other’s ideas.

Students reviewed and gave feedback on their peers’ ideas as they developed their projects. Photo by Beth Quinones

Educators: Download full lesson plan here.

How did students work to align their marketing plans to the motivations of their target group to help encourage people to take action?

We spent two days talking about audience focus and the best way to achieve results. For example, do you educate the young in hopes that they educate their parents? Do you address the invasive species professionals and write a peer reviewed journal article containing management strategies? Do you target the adult consumer who is impacted by the invasive species? We had some fabulous discussions and every student suggestion was explored. Students then chose what direction they wanted to take with their marketing plans.

What kind of impact did this project have on students?

Students were invested and engaged in this project. It gave ownership to their ideas and validated the idea that they can affect change within their own community. Two years later, students still talk about how this experience was transformative to their personal ideals of conservation, marketing, and management.

Interested in joining Beth as a National Geographic Certified Educator? Learn more at NatGeoEd.org/Certification.

This interview has been edited and condensed.

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