Making a "Stink" about Extinction
Previously in our Geology Unit, we had discussed Geologic Time and how the Earth's history, going back 4.6 billion years, was far too long for any human to imagine. We learned that Earth's history can be divided into geologic timespans called eons, eras, periods, and epochs (in that order from largest to smallest), but that an epoch, for example, does not correspond to any set number of years. Instead, different geologic times as separated by changes in the Earth (for instance, changes in climate or biodiversity, such as the Cambrian Explosion).
Some of the most significant events signaling changes on Earth were the Mass Extinction Events, of which there have been 5 major ones (the most recent being the death of the dinosaurs). But some geologists, biologists, and ecologist argue we are currently, right now, in the midst of a 6th mass die-off, and that dramatic action should be taken to avoid further damaging fragile ecosystems! Over the next few days, we're going to examine that argument and the evidence behind it in order to host a classroom debate and publish our own Opinion-Editorial pieces online in defense of our positions.
The following assignment was posted to our Google Classroom:
1) Carefully read the article from the New York Times (available at http://nyti.ms/1FNVUCe). As you read, be sure to document and record any important thoughts, questions, ideas, terms, or concepts.
2) Take a look at the accompanying Infographic (available at http://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2012/06/01/opinion/sunday/are-we-in-the-midst-of-a-sixth-mass-extinction.html?_r=0 )
3) Discuss at your table your initial impressions:
- First, identify the author's thesis.
- Then, consider the author's purpose - is he trying to inform, persuade, or both?
- Do you believe the Earth is currently facing a Mass Extinction Event (like the one that killed the dinosaurs), or is that too strong of a statement?
- Is the author guilty to sensationalism or is this a valid, real concern?
- What are the key pieces of evidence the author uses to support his argument?
- Did you consider the source of the article? What is the website and who is the author? Does he appear to be credible/reliable, or biased?
- Should action be taken to prevent species extinction, and if so, at what cost to humans? Is it worth losing money, jobs, or some quality of life to prevent more life from going extinct?
4) Next, visit the BBC website, http://www.bbc.co.uk/nature/history_of_the_earth#extinction_events, and carefully read through each of the "Big Five Mass Extinction Events" in chronological order. Record important information (including what sorts of lifeforms were affected, how widespread was the die-off, and most importantly - what do scientists believe the be cause of the extinction?) Construct a chart in your notebook comparing this key information.
5) When you get to the most recent extinction event, the Cretaceous-Tertiary (or "K/T") event, head over to this website to conduct a more in-depth investigation into the evidence: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/extinction/dinosaurs/index.html
(Note: You can explore in full-screen, but be warned that not all the links might work: http://www-tc.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/extinction/dinosaurs/dino.swf) Once again, make sure you are documenting all the important evidence so that we may draw conclusions afterwards.
6) Finally, in your groups, take a look at this roundtable discussion among experts (available online at http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/extinction/massext/statement_02.html). Take turns reading each expert opinion, paying close attention to their evidence and reasoning. Then, take a closer look at at least 2 student questions asked of the experts here: http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/evolution/extinction/massext/discuss_01.html
7) Looking over all the evidence you have collected in your notebook, consider once again whether you believe the Earth is currently facing a Mass Extinction Event. Begin to Brainstorm and Outline for an Argumentative Essay defending your position.