Nature can fall out of balance when invasive species enter a new ecosystem. What happens to that ecosystem and its native species when that happens? This month’s STEM Tuesday theme focuses on this important issue and how scientists are studying the effects of invasive species. Here are a few books from our STEM Tuesday list and ways to explore more in the classroom.
Tracking Pythons : The Quest to Catch an Invasive Predator and Save An Ecosystem by Kate Messner
This book takes readers out on a python patrol where we meet a team of scientist studying the invasive snake. Readers also meet other invaders of the Florida Everglades. There’s technology (radiotracking), python CSI, snake autopsies (called necropsies) and a wonderful series of sidebars highlighting “How to Catch a Python.” Great photos and a Most Wanted invasive species list add interest.
Classroom activity: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is trying to save the Everglade ecosystem by removing invasive species and encouraging people to report sightings of invasive species. Have students visit the website page about making a report: https://myfwc.com/wildlifehabitats/nonnatives/report/. Ask students to research the invasive species of Florida and then create a report using the elements necessary to make it a credible one. Students can share their reports, adding some information about why that species is causing harm to the Everglades ecosystem.
Science Warriors: The Battle Against Invasive Species by Sneed B. Collard
Each of the four chapters focus on scientists studying invasive species. We meet brown tree snakes and zebra mussels, red fire ants taking over Texas, and the Melaleuca (paperbark) tree that was brought to the US and planted to stabilize soil. We see scientists doing field research and working on biological controls for invasive species. Includes a “Guide to Stopping Invasive Species.”
Classroom activity: Have students choose an invasive species from the book to study more. Then ask them to create a Venn diagram to compare and contrast the species’ native habitat to its invaded habitat. How are the two habitats different? How are the two habitats similar? Ask students to consider why that invasive species found the invaded habitat so hospitable and discuss with the class.
Alien Invaders: Species That Threaten Our World by Jane Drake & Ann Love
Each examination and image of an invader and their devastating effects worldwide is accompanied by a sidebar listing their alias, size, homeland, method of invasion, and line of attack. Besides the commonly known invaders, such as the starling, rat, and Kudzu, the book examines humans, walking catfish, yellow crazy ants, water hyacinth, mosquitos, and avian flu. Detailed sections on “Who Cares?,” “Volunteers,” and “Lessons Learned” expand the information into actions everyone can take to prevent, control, or help eliminate invaders.
Classroom activity: Ask students to research an invasive species not found in the book. Then have them create a profile of the species, just like what is in the book. The profile should include an image, alias, size, homeland, method of invasion, and line of attack.
Plants Out of Place (Let’s Explore Science) by Courtney Farrell
First, we learn what native plants are and their role in the food chain. Following chapters discuss introduced plants and how invasive species threaten the balance of ecosystems. Sidebar “mini field guides” include descriptions and range maps for some species of interest. In addition to discussing control methods, the author shows alternative uses, such as using kudzu vines to weave baskets.
Classroom activity: See if students can find an invasive plant species right in their own backyard or neighborhood. They should research invasive species of their area and then go on an invasive plant species hunt. Students can take a photo of the plant or sketch it in a journal. Then they can document the place where it was found and the number of plants found at the location. After a few finds, students can share their invasive species journal with the class.
Here are a few more general invasive species activities to try:
- Oregon State University, Stone Soup: Invasive Species and Cartooning, https://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sites/seagrant.oregonstate.edu/files/invasive-species/toolkit/stone-soup-lesson-plan-teachers.pdf
- Project Learning Tree, STEM: Invasive Species, https://www.plt.org/stem-strategies/invasive-species/
- Invasive Species Centre, Teaching about Invasive Species, https://www.invasivespeciescentre.ca/learn/teaching-about-invasive-species/
- National Park Service, Invasive Species Go-Around, https://www.nps.gov/teachers/classrooms/invasive-species-curriculum.htm
Hope these activities and resources get your students excited to learn more about invasive species!
Karen Latchana Kenney loves to write books about animals, and looks for them wherever she goes—from leafcutter ants trailing through the Amazon rain forest in Guyana, where she was born, to puffins in cliff-side burrows on the Irish island of Skellig Michael. She especially enjoys creating books about nature, biodiversity, conservation, and groundbreaking scientific discoveries—but also writes about civil rights, astronomy, historical moments, and many other topics. She lives in Minnesota with her husband and son, and bikes, hikes, and gazes at the night sky in northern Minnesota any moment she can. Visit her at https://latchanakenney.wordpress.com.