As habitat fragmentation continues to increase across the globe, it has become even more imperative that younger generations gain a firm understanding of how habitats are fragmented by human development - particularly roads. The recent influx of funding for wildlife crossing infrastructure, along with heightened attention to this issue worldwide, has created a watershed opportunity to share the message of safe passage with new audiences.
In 2020, ARC Solutions and Rocky Mountain Wild recognized the synergy between pilot educational initiatives each had created on the topic of habitat connectivity and wildlife crossings, and partnered to combine the most powerful, adoptable and flexible components of their separate modules into a new, unified educational framework. The resulting curriculum allows students to learn about the need for animal movement in local habitats and use critical thinking skills to evaluate and analyze solutions to wildlife vehicle collisions and habitat fragmentation.
Inspired in part by a conceptual framework developed during the National Science Foundation’s Research Experience for Teachers Program at the Western Transportation at Montana State University, the two original modules were co-created by local K-12 educators who pilot tested the lessons in their classrooms. Rocky Mountain Wild and ARC Solutions took these nascent modules and combined them, removing duplication and ensuring the remaining components were relatable, flexible, and comprehensive. Three external educators - all experienced science educators from Colorado and Montana - provided feedback from a curriculum design perspective on content, approach and alignment with the Next Generation Science Standard (NGSS). Three interdisciplinary experts from the ARC partnership - including a former educator from the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative, and a retired road ecologist and a retired engineer from the United States Forest Service - provided feedback from a scientific perspective to align biological and technical content.
The finalized curriculum consists of four core lessons, plus a range of extensions that allow deeper mathematical/STEM integration and hands-on learning opportunities. The four core lesson titles (posed as questions to align with Next Generation Science Standards) are as follows:
- Why do animals need to move within their habitats?
- Are wildlife able to move within their habitats?
- How do roads impact wildlife?
- What can humans do to help wildlife cross roads?
Extensions and hands-on opportunities include:
- Studying wildlife in the surrounding area, using wildlife cameras whenever possible.
- Collecting and analyzing data on where wildlife are crossing roads.
- Evaluating competing solutions.
- Researching specific species and their need for movement.
Next steps will focus on certification and further dissemination of the curriculum. Through this process, project partners will continue to make improvements and bring on additional partners that will continue to help strengthen the curriculum’s reach, efficacy, and impact.