"Non-native," "alien," and "exotic" are terms we use to describe life forms dwelling outside their natural geographic range. Some of these species are benign. Others are harmful and take a huge toll on wildlife and human habitat. Any non-native species that lives and grows where it is unwelcome and causes ecological harm is considered invasive.
Why learn about the alien invasion? Educating youth is a critical part of national conservation efforts to raise awareness about this issue, curb the spread of alien species, and restore native species to their natural place. The learning activities in this unit do just that, while captivating students with a hands-on, inquiry-based experience and providing an avenue to learn basic skills and deepen knowledge of academic subjects, including life science, geography, history, and language arts.
We trust that your students will take these lessons to heart and become lifelong conservationists who can make responsible decisions and help meet the challenges of alien species and other ecological threats.
This learning unit is:
- suitable for use with a wide range of elementary and secondary students;
- linked thematically with the Common Framework of Science Learning Outcomes, K – 12 (Pan-Canadian Protocol for Collaboration on School Curriculum) plus regional history, geography, and language arts learning outcomes.
These guidelines are patterned after the “restoration cycle” – from gaining awareness of invasive species, to assessing their impacts in your region, to taking action to curb their spread, to conserving and restoring native wildlife and habitat. While you and your students may benefit most by using the unit as suggested, feel free to adapt the resources in ways that best meet your needs.
- Aliens Among Us
Assign this resource sheet to students as homework or as a classroom reading activity. This backgrounder outlines key terms and concepts that are fleshed out later on.
- Field Guide to Invasive Species
Conduct a class discussion on the alien invasion, its impacts on wildlife and habitat, and the need for people to become aware of and solve this ecological problem.
- Lesson 1: Native Friends, Invasive Foes
Students compare and classify native and alien species, then research and hold a classroom debate about the differences between indigenous and exotic species, their positive and negative effects, and whether their populations should be conserved or controlled.
- Lesson 2: An Unnatural History
Students investigate historical relationships between Aboriginal peoples and native wildlife, as well as intentional introductions of exotic animals and plants to North America by explorers and settlers. Students also trace the historical and geographical origins of alien species found in their own part of Canada and then share their findings in an oral presentation.
- Lesson 3: Alien X-Files or Accidental Tourists?
Students do a card-matching activity to learn how human activities accidentally transport invasive species into ecosystems. Pairs or groups explore in greater depth the introduction and spread of an individual animal or plant.
Now, your students are ready to deepen their inquiry by focusing on their own part of the country.
- Lesson 4: Alien Impacts – Assess the Mess
Students research the presence of native and non-native species in their area, the effects of exotics on local wildlife and habitat, interrelationships among plants and animals, and other observations relating to alien species. Students share their findings with the rest of the class and participate in a discussion.
- • Lesson 5: Set the Restoration Cycle in Motion
Students develop and take steps to implement a strategic plan to prevent the introduction and spread of alien species, control their populations, monitor their presence, and restore native wildlife and habitat.
- Additional Resources
For an even richer learning experience, choose from a menu of supplementary activities.
- Distinguish between invasive, naturalized, and native species.
- Become aware of the ecological value of indigenous animals and plants.
- Understand that alien species are invading ecosystems nationwide and harming native wildlife and habitats.
- Identify invasive animals and plants in a region of Canada and realize their ecological impacts.
- Trace the origins of alien species, how they entered Canada, and how they spread from one region to another.
- Recognize how human actions can encourage or discourage an alien invasion.
- Develop a sense of ecological stewardship through wildlife conservation projects.
- Grasp the significance of the “restoration cycle,” from awareness to action to recovery of areas damaged by alien species.