By Rachel Gosine Smith, Middle School Science Teacher and Jeanne Dodds, Endangered Species Coalition Creative Engagement Director
One of the most critical pieces in addressing endangerment of global species is to develop and apply innovative conservation solutions. Innovative solutions to the accelerating loss of species are rooted in creative, outside the box thinking – while still being practical and attainable when applied to conservation problems in the real world. The recent IPBES report on biodiversity indicated that “transformative change” is needed to address the crisis of biodiversity loss. Innovative conservation solutions are just that: a change in the way we think about and approach conservation.
Among the current, urgent problems faced by species is the ecologically and culturally damaging impact of palm oil production. Palm oil is a product derived from unsustainable deforestation and replacement of biodiverse systems with a monocultural (single species) crop. Instead of unknowingly participating as a consumer of a product harmful to the environment and people, what if when buying products at the store you had an app to tell you whether the product contains palm oil or palm oil derivatives, allowing you to make informed choices and communicate your concerns about palm oil production?
At Brentwood School in Los Angeles, California seventh grade science students created an innovative solution to address this conservation challenge and many others. In a ground breaking project, Endangered Species Shark Tank, students delved into the fascinating world of endangered species and the issues these species face in the wild. Students began their exploration in creating conservation solutions by applying creative thinking and brainstorming strategies.
During Phase I (the creative thinking phase) students brainstormed in their project groups to discuss and research one species from the six priority endangered species groups identified by the Wildlife Conservation Society. The six groups are: big cats, tortoises and freshwater turtles, whales and dolphins, elephants, sharks and rays, and apes. After extensive online research, students revisit with their group and collaboratively choose one species from the six priority groups list to focus on. Next they create a Public Service Announcement highlighting information about the species, the threats faced by the species in the wild and current conservation methods that are currently being undertaken by different national and global organizations to protect and recover the species.
During Phase II of the project, students are challenged to devise their very own solutions to help solve the root causes of the species endangerment or decrease the rate at which these animals are becoming endangered. The students devised brand new, realistic solutions to help save innovative ideas to shine through! The students’ ideas were pitched to a panel of judges, (The Sharks), in a Shark Tank style format. The purpose of presenting to the judges is to develop public speaking skills as well as encouraging students to defend their stand on the different endangerment issues that these endangered species face in the wild. The judges’ questions allowed students the opportunity to share information from their research and showed students’ familiarity with current conservation methods. For the students, it was a riveting experience.
You can see some of the incredible solutions that the students created here:
This project could not have happened without Brentwood School’s Belldegrun Center for Innovative Leadership, and the assistance and support of the Middle School Curriculum Innovator and Collaborator, who helped suggest creative brainstorming strategies, as students incorporated Brentwood School’s BCIL core leadership skills into this project. The core leadership skills that were addressed included: innovative problem solvers, inspired community builders, and adept communicators (students shared potential solutions with mentors, obtained feedback, and then iterated to improve their proposals).