Ecology Disrupted - Bighorn Sheep and Their Environment

American Museum of Natural History
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Activity , Article , Lesson/Lesson Plan
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be "fully aligned," the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



Ecology Disrupted is an online, ecology-based curriculum authored by educators at The American Museum of Natural History. Bighorn Sheep, containing five lessons, is one of three units within this curriculum. The lessons are designed to support students in three-dimensional learning as they learn about human impact on bighorn sheep and, in the last lesson, design potential solutions to other specific ecological disruptions caused by humans. Students engage in scientific practices as they consider whether these populations will remain stable and the different factors that influence this stability. The lessons bundle nine performance expectations from three different NGSS topics: HS-LS2 Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems (the perspective of this review), HS-LS3 Inheritance and Variation of Traits, and HS-ESS3 Human Impacts. Teachers are encouraged to modify the lessons and/or use parts of the unit to best meet their students’ learning goals. All of the Ecology Disrupted curriculum is explicitly aligned to the NGSS, and comes with instructional support, student handouts, extension activities, videos, and assessments. The online materials are also available as downloadable files.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This performance expectation is strongly supported by the last lesson, which the authors state will take 90 minutes. Teachers will want to provide students with enough time to digest the given information, ask their own questions, and do additional research prior to designing solutions. The different ecological disturbances can be assigned to different groups; each group can design a proposed response to the environmental issue and share their results with the whole class. Peer reviews of each group’s work will support the additional practice of obtaining, evaluating, and communicating information.

HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Clarification Statement: Examples of changes in ecosystem conditions could include modest biological or physical changes, such as moderate hunting or a seasonal flood; and extreme changes, such as volcanic eruption or sea level rise.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
All of the lessons in this unit are framed by the guiding question, “How might highways built to connect people in Los Angeles and Las Vegas affect the bighorn sheep?” Using bighorn sheep as a foundational example, the authors provide students with data from current research about bighorn sheep, information about the bighorn sheep’s environment, and ways that people’s decisions have impacted this environment. Students use the data and information to create graphic organizers and maps. Students then make claims and use the data to support their claims, as they reason about this authentic case. They have opportunities within the lessons to share their information in jigsaw groups so that they can evaluate and provide feedback. Throughout the lessons, other authentic cases are provided to extend and engage students’ thinking and help them refine their claims. The authors also provide extension activities so that students may continue their investigation into different kinds of interactions and conditions in familiar local environments.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
Using the research data and information included in the lessons, students make claims and use the data and information to support their reasoning. Graphic organizers are provided to help students gather information. However, teachers may want to support the claim, evidence, and reasoning model with their own handout that helps students structure their arguments. Students may share their arguments with each other and modify them based on peer feedback and review. Lesson 4, “Representing and Making Meaning from Genetic Data” is one place where the authors suggest that students use a jigsaw format to present their arguments to one another.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
If the students do all the lessons, then by the time they do lesson 5, they will be able to design and evaluate solutions to the real environmental issues presented in the lesson. Teachers may want to make this lesson even more authentic by selecting a local species that students may know. By engaging in peer evaluation and review, students can refine their proposed solutions.

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
All of the lessons contain questions that can be used or not used, at the teacher’s discretion. Because this resource is rich in research data and other information, students should be encouraged to ask their own questions and seek answers that will ultimately help them design a solution to the impacts that people have on the different species (and their respective environments) presented in the last lesson. The authors suggest that students write down their questions as they engage with the materials and that these questions be posted. They encourage teachers to have the class refer back to the questions often throughout the unit and check them off as they find answers. During the last lesson (Ecology Disrupted: Unexpected Consequences of Human Daily Life On Habitat and Populations) students may also ask questions of each other to help advance the explanation of the phenomena, to determine relationships, or to even challenge the data.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
As mentioned earlier, teachers may want to extend the last lesson to consider ways that humans are impacting the students’ local environment. Ask the students to look around their neighborhood, town, or city, and see if they can identify additional ways that humans are impacting their local environment. Students should be encouraged to be explicit about how the human impact they identify impacts local species.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Bighorn Sheep is includes information and data about ecology, behavior, and genetics to help students understand human impact on the complex interactions that affect these populations. All throughout the lessons, students consider if the ecosystems being studied are stable. Teachers will want to encourage the students to think about complexity, and that ecosystem stability is not a linear causality. Students should be encouraged to consider a variety of ways that humans may impact the different species under consideration as they ask questions and seek answers about ecosystem stability.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Every case within this unit looks at human impact. Teachers may want to emphasize the discussions and extensions to the lessons that encourage students to think about human impact in their own local environments.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
When students are studying bighorn sheep, teachers may want to ask them to consider this issue of stability and change. Using the data and information provided, students can construct explanations of how these populations change and how they remain stable. What do humans do that influences how a population changes or remains stable? In the last lesson, teachers may also want to ask students to consider this question again and apply it to the particular species they are investigating.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lessons within the Bighorn Sheep unit fit well together to target a set of performance expectations that provide students with rich opportunities to engage in three-dimensional learning as they learn about the phenomenon of human impact on natural populations. Students develop multiple practices, such as asking questions, constructing explanations, designing solutions, and engaging in argument from evidence as they use authentic data and information about current environmental issues affecting ecosystem stability. The crosscutting concept of stability and change links all the lessons together as students use their understanding in ecology, genetics, and earth science to ultimately design solutions to mitigate human impact.

  • Instructional Supports: Ecology Disrupted uses authentic, accurate data and information to engage students in meaningful environmental issues that result from human disruption of ecosystems. The authors include suggestions within each lesson for how to connect instruction to students’ local environments. The lessons are constructed to elicit evidence of prior learning and to build upon the knowledge constructed in each lesson. Teachers may want to visit the webpage, “Before You Begin” ( ) to access two instructional videos - “Why Use Ecology Disrupted” and “How To Use Ecology Disrupted.” (The same information is also provided in downloadable PDFs.) These videos suggest ways for teachers to link student engagement across lessons and strategies for helping students make sense of phenomena. Each lesson in this unit has its own webpage, and provides a lesson plan and all materials for the lessons. Suggestions are made for linking the lessons to one another as well as connecting the lessons to other authentic environmental issues. In the instructional support videos and accompanying texts, the authors state that teachers can modify the materials to best fit their students’ learning styles and abilities. Guidance is provided for differentiated instruction; additional information is available to support students that may need extra help, and extensions are offered for students with high interest. Information is provided to both students and teachers in multiple formats.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Most lessons elicit direct, observable evidence of students engaging in three-dimensional learning. Teachers are provided with many options for formative assessments, and two different assessments are provided to use at the end of instruction. Answer keys are provided for all lessons and for the two final assessments.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technological interactivity is not a requirement for teachers and students to use this unit. However, the website, videos, and all downloadable materials are easily accessible and work smoothly.