Following is a selected project highlight from the Share with Wildlife mission to assist all New Mexico wildlife in need, no matter what species.

Teaching Students How Wildlife Researchers Study Wildlife

Asombro educator goes over habitat associations of different animals. (Ginny Seamster)

Asombro educator goes over habitat associations of different animals. (Ginny Seamster)

How do scientists gather data on different animals? What are some species found in the region of New Mexico we live in? What about animals that live in nearby mountainous areas? These are some of the questions around which educators with the Asombro Institute for Science Education have developed a new environmental education module (i.e., multiple lessons) and that Asombro will be working with second grade students in southern New Mexico to answer. The module includes three lessons. Two focus on surveying the students’ schoolyards to determine which species of wildlife are present based on direct detections and animal sign and determining what would need to be added to the schoolyard for one of the focal species from the classsroom lesson to be able to survive there. The classroom lesson focuses on introducing the students to several Species of Greatest Conservation Need found in the Chihuahuan Desert and Arizona/New Mexico Mountains ecoregions in New Mexico and approaches that wildlife biologists use to study these species.

Asombro educator reviews lesson focal species. (Ginny Seamster)

Asombro educator reviews lesson focal species. (Ginny Seamster)

Asombro educators explain camera trap station. (Ginny Seamster)

Asombro educators explain camera trap station. (Ginny Seamster)

After determining what animal sign or actual animals they can find in their schoolyard in a preliminary lesson, in the classroom-based lesson, students are asked to associate a variety of different animals with different habitat types. The lesson then focuses in on the Chihuahuan Desert (where they live) and on the Arizona/New Mexico Mountains ecoregion (which includes the Sacramento Mountains and the Gila region in southern New Mexico). Species that the students are asked to “look” for using models of field survey methods employed by wildlife biologists include the Bald eagle, Gila trout, Peñasco least chipmunk, and Sacramento Mountain salamander. Methods include setting out camera traps to detect mammals; looking through binoculars to find birds; setting out cover boards to survey for amphibians and reptiles; and using seines to capture fish. The students visit different stations where they get to determine which of the focal species could be detected using the techniques being simulated, and in the focal ecoregion, at that station. They get a species card at each station that they can later color and trade with their classmates and that they reference in a final lesson when considering what habitat element(s) would need to be added to their schoolyard for one of the species on the cards to survive there.

Students explore desert coverboard station. (Abigail Miller)

Students explore desert coverboard station. (Abigail Miller)

Asombro has started implementing the new lessons with second graders, including students in Las Cruces. They will continue to modify the activities as needed based on feedback from the students’ teachers. Preliminary feedback from August 2022 is very positive; teachers strongly agreed that the module increased students’ science content knowledge, helped students better use scientific practices, and got students excited about science. Teachers also indicated that no improvements to the lessons were needed. The hands-on activities that Asombro has developed are a creative way to get students thinking about and looking for wildlife and considering the importance of protecting the areas that wildlife need to survive without the complications associated with field trips and taking students off school property. These lessons should make for an excellent addition to the growing portfolio of science-related activities that Asombro offers for students in southern New Mexico.

Students “seine” for fish. (Abigail Miller)

Students “seine” for fish. (Abigail Miller)

Learn more about the non-profit Share with Wildlife program of the New Mexico Department of Game and Fish, supported exclusively by donations.