African Lions: Modeling Populations

Concord Consortium
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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.


Average Rating

3 (1 reviews)

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Most Recent Review

4 Simple and effective

Great at teaching concepts of • Population, ecology, immigration and emigration, exponential growth (J-curve), logistical growth (S-curve), limiting factor, density dependence factor (food, space, water, disease, predation), density independent factor (weather, natural disasters), carrying capacity. Only takes 45 minutes.


This online interactive lesson uses skills in calculation, estimation, and graphing to explore factors that influence change in two populations of different scales: lions in the Ngorongoro Crater of Tanzania, Africa, and bacteria within a petri dish. At the end, students are asked to use what they have learned to predict human population growth. As students progress through the twenty frames of this activity, they are challenged to make predictions, consider cause and effects, and consider factors that contribute to both stability and change in populations. Using multiple choice questions to check understanding at key points within the activity, student progress is supported and scaffolded. Incorrect responses to MC questions are explained. Opportunities for students to share their thinking and to defend their predictions with peers are natural extensions of this activity. Although students can write their responses to a few questions within this activity, these responses are not saved nor are they evaluated. A lesson plan, student assessment sheet, and targeted standards are provided at:

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-LS2-1 Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on quantitative analysis and comparison of the relationships among interdependent factors including boundaries, resources, climate, and competition. Examples of mathematical comparisons could include graphs, charts, histograms, and population changes gathered from simulations or historical data sets.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include deriving mathematical equations to make comparisons.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This interactive activity provides students with multiple opportunities to estimate values, graph their understanding of how a population grows, and to consider the factors that influence the rate and stability of growth. Additional opportunities to support and defend their explanations with peers would increase the engagement and learning of this exercise.

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
Each place in this activity where student graph their predictions or decisions are natural places for peer discussion, review, and defense. Students have opportunity to construct explanations, and to review and revise their explanations; extensions of individual responses would include working as teams or sharing their thoughts in other ways with their peers. Making their thinking explicit and sharing their thinking with others will help to deepen their understanding and their engagement.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Peer discussion/explanation/defense of ideas about potential density independent and density dependent limiting factors of both populations is a natural extension of this activity. Discussion could also involve the bacterial population and what factors would increase or decrease the rate of growth.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The exercise does an excellent job of making the comparisons between the populations of two different scales. Encourage discussion among students about how the two populations compare. Explore the significance of the differences in scale. Other CCC that are supported with the lesson and which could be extended are cause and effect and stability and change.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Activity strongly integrates multiple practices, DCI, and CCC.

  • Instructional Supports: The first two frames of the activity lay out the purpose and provide an opportunity for students to identify which part of the activity interests them the most. The activity contains 20 frames; students cannot move forward unless they correctly respond to the prompt in each frame. (However, they also cannot move backward.) If they answer a question incorrectly, they get a response that explains why the answer is not correct and they are prompted to try again. Students can respond to most prompts either by graphing or writing their response. However, the written responses are not evaluated nor saved. They can revise their graphical predictions. The two references given at the end of the activity are not directly related to the topic and may be considered inappropriate for some high school students. Possible concerns would be vocabulary, length of passage, and graphic descriptions of lions fighting and people harmed by lions. A possible alternative resource that students may find helpful to read prior to doing the activity may be found at the Animal Diversity Web : Students may find it particularly helpful to know more about the reproduction of lions prior to starting the activity; knowing how often females have cubs and how many cubs are usually born per litter would be very helpful in making predictions. Another approach would be to have a class/group reflection time upon completing the exercise so that students can consider what information would have been helpful to know in order to answer the questions more accurately. At certain points I felt more information would have been helpful to understand the question. For example, what were the ages and sexes of the twelve lions left at the end of the disease outbreak?

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Although the MC questions are well supported and correct responses are indicated, the written responses are not evaluated. The written responses would provide a better opportunity to reveal students’ understanding. It may be worthwhile for students to record their answers to these questions in a different mode, such as a Google doc. No support for these questions is provided to either the teacher or the students. That said, there is an assessment sheet provided for the activity which may be found at:

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Most technology components work well. Drawing a line on the graph takes a little practice, and it may be difficult for some students to make a straight level line when indicating carrying capacity. However, the coordinates of the two end points are provided which helps students to make the line level. This particular aspect is also another strong connection to the math component of the lesson.