New Biodiversity Pathway Asks Eco-Schools (and Students) to Explore the Wild Around Them

Many schools offer hands-on laboratories for studying life on earth without even knowing it.

Just in time for National Wildlife Week, National Wildlife Federation’s Eco-Schools USA program has officially launched a new Biodiversity pathway to help schools explore their own grounds and communities and introduce their students to relationships within and across ecosystems as part of their study of the environment at large.

The pathway offers teachers and the students the tools to assess and improve biodiversity—the variety of life and its manifold relationships in small- and large-scale ecosystems–around them as an engaging complement to classroom science instruction.

Savannah Country Day School (Laura Hickey)
Students can even play a part in protecting local biodiversity by creating a Schoolyard Habitat that provides native wildlife with food, shelter, water and a place to raise young—the essential elements of habitat—or working in their community to create and certify backyard and community habitats through NWF.

Hands-on biodiversity learning doesn’t only provide a greater appreciation for life’s diversity—like many environmental literacy themes, it can broaden science education too.

A 2005 study (PDF) in Temple, TX, schools found science achievement of students who participated in a hands-on gardening program was higher than for standard science classes. A 2010 study in the International Journal of Science Education found that most students who become interested in science do so during middle school or earlier and attribute their interest to some education-related science experience, so programs like Schoolyard Habitats—and the new Biodiversity pathway–are especially vital in building a solid baseline.

Why Should We Care about Biodiversity?

Biodiversity is extremely important to people and to the health of our natural ecosystems. Here are just some of the reasons, from our online Biodiversity pathway resources:

  • Biodiversity allows us to live healthy and happy lives. It provides us with a wide array of foods, fibers and other materials and it supports the economy.
  • Without a diversity of pollinators, plants, and soils, we would have little variety in our diets.
  • Most medical discoveries to cure diseases and lengthen life spans were made because of research into plant and animal biology and genetics. Every time a species goes extinct or genetic diversity is lost, we lose an opportunity to find out if it could have provided a new vaccine or drug.
  • Biodiversity is an important part of the ecological services that make life livable on Earth. They include everything from cleaning water and absorbing chemicals, which wetlands do, to providing oxygen for us to breathe—one of the many things that plants do for people.
  • Biodiversity allows ecosystems to adjust to disturbances such as extreme fires and floods. In a forest with 20 species of reptiles, if one becomes extinct the others will likely adapt to fill the role left vacant. But if the forest had only one reptile species, there can be no adaptation.
  • Genetic diversity prevents diseases and helps species adjust to changes in their environment.
  • Diversity enriches our lives simply by existing. There are few things as beautiful, wonderful and inspiring as the diversity of life on Earth.

To find out how to become an Eco-School, visit our website. Learn more about Biodiversity, including extinction threats facing many species here. You can also read an article from National Wildlife Magazine about homegrown biodiversity through gardening or use the Biodiversity Audit (PDF) to help assess the biodiversity of the area surrounding your school.

National Wildlife Week BadgeLearn more about how you can celebrate EXTRA-ordinary species in your community and across the country during this year’s National Wildlife Week, March 19-25 >>
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Published: March 20, 2012