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Understanding the Mountain Pine Beetle

LESSON OVERVIEW: A tiny beetle is wreaking havoc throughout the forests of western North America. Not since the early 1980s has there been such an explosion of Mountain Pine Beetle. Warmer winters and hotter summers are allowing beetle populations to expand faster and further than has been previously noticed.

This lesson was developed for high school environmental science courses (both AP and regular) and taught during an ecology unit. Students are involved in inquiry as they develop research questions and investigate a significant problem that is affecting western forests. Students report to their peers about what they learn in their research.

Driving Question:

Why are our forests changing?

Grade Level

9-12 (could be adapted for middle school)

Learning Objectives

  • Understand general Mountain Pine Beetle ecology.
  • Demonstrate an understanding the effect of Mountain Pine Beetle on forest health.
  • Understand the influence of climate on Pine Beetle population
  • Understand the influence of humans on climate change
  • Understand the influence of forest management practices on forest health

Lesson Time

Five 50-minute periods

Climate Literacy Principles

  • 3.  LIfe on Earth depends on, is shaped by, and affects climate
  • 7. Climate change will have consequences for the earth system and human lives

Standards Addressed

  • High School: LS2, LS9, ES4
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About the Authors

These Making the Global Local teachers teamed up to share their expertise and collaborate in developing and piloting a reform-oriented lesson about pine beetles in Colorado's forests for 9th - 12th grade science students (adaptable to middle school).

  • Melissa Barker, High School Biology and Environmental Sciences, Alexander Dawson School
  • Jim Moulton, Physics, Geology and Environmental Sciences, Longmont High School
  • Barbara Keith, Physics, Biology, and Environmental Sciences, Silver Creek High School
  • Cheryl Manning, Earth Science and Environmental Sciences, Evergreen High School

These problem-based lessons were developed through an innovative process that brought together teachers, scientists and science education faculty for Making the Global Local (MGL),a teacher professional development workshop hosted by CU-Boulder in July 2009. Developing and teaching of the lessons is centered around a single driving question that students explore, discuss and answer. While addressing a variety of Colorado content standards, the lessons also seek to localize climate change for Colorado middle and high school students. MGL teachers then took their newly developed lessons to test and refine them in their own classrooms during the Fall 2009 semester.

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