Service Learning about Wildlife Conservation in Grade 9 Biology

Students learn about MISO research methods in Grade 9 Biology. 


by LeeAnne Lavender,

Service Learning Coach

At the beginning of the 2020/21 school year, Concordia biology teacher Mary Penny stopped me in the hallway to discuss an upcoming unit about wildlife conservation. The unit was already well-planned and crafted, and Ms. Penny was keen to add more real-world learning into what she was doing. Very quickly, we hatched a plan to embed a service learning cycle into the unit, and the outcomes were excellent in fostering deeper learning for students.

As a way to assess student knowledge about wildlife conservation, Ms. Penny and Mr. Gordon (both grade 9 biology teachers) had organized a summative assessment where students would choose an endangered animal or organism and, based on what they learned about conservation principles and habitats in the unit, design an enclosure and method to preserve that animal/organism. Based on this assessment, and on what was being taught in the unit, a service learning cycle was created.

First, students learned about MISO (Media, Interviews, Surveys and Observations), an active research method used in a service learning cycle to get students engaged with primary sources and empathy interviews. Based on the animal/organism each student wanted to focus on for their summative assessment, they were tasked with reaching out to NGOs and arranging interviews to learn more about current conservation efforts, and to assess sustainable and viable options for the conservation of their animal.

Ms. Penny and Mr. Gordon were collaborative and positive about the MISO work, and invited me to come to their classes to introduce MISO and to help students understand how to prepare to conduct a successful interview.

The students were surprised and thrilled to get responses from many NGOs about their projects, and most students were able to engage in a Zoom or email interview with conservationists working in the field. Some organizations that responded and participated were: Wild Cats Conservation Alliance, WCS Tiger Program, Snow Leopard Trust, Sea Turtle Conservancy, SEE Turtles, Oceanic Society, US Fish and Wildlife Service, Red Panda Network, Rainforest Trust, Endangered Wolf Center, Marine Mammal Commission, American Bird Conservancy, Flora and Fauna International Indonesia Program, Helping Rhinos and the Nature Conservancy.

It was an incredible range of experts that the students were able to interview! They met with me and their teachers in advance of the interviews, seeking help with constructing questions and establishing approaches to ensure successful experiences. Some of the students were a little nervous to talk with professional conservationists, and all came away inspired by what they learned and more confident about their communication skills.

Next, students planned for their final projects, this time with a special bonus. Wildlife conservationist Dr. Paula Kahumbu, the leading voice for elephant conservation in East Africa, agreed to listen to the students’ ideas, so the students had a real audience for their assessments, and a way to share their ideas with a conservationist working in the field. They were hopeful that some of their ideas could be viable and put to use in some way in real-world conservation efforts.

As the students finalized, their enclosure projects, they also prepared 2-minute Flipgrid videos for Dr. Kahumbu. The videos were based on elevator pitches where the students introduced themselves, summarized the highlights of their ideas and plans. The best videos were curated and prepared for Dr. Kahumbu via the Flipgrid platform. You can check out the videos here:

The whole experience was a rich one for students, and there’s the possibility of building on this in the years to come in terms of the students sharing their learning with the broader community.