Amazon Rainforest & Web Thematic Unit
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"In the end we will conserve only what we love.
We will love only what we understand.
We will understand only what we are taught."
-Baba Dioum, Senegalese ecologist

In a world bent on ecological destruction, the ability to think holistically and compassionately-to perceive the hidden connections between phenomena and their ethical implications- is critical for sustainability and survival. The development of critical thinking skills is also essential in an age suffused with propaganda and the false need for conformity.- Lowell Greenberg. See also: First Step

"Rain forests cover less than two percent of the Earth's surface, yet they are home to some 50 to 70 percent of all life forms on our planet. The rain forests are quite simply, the richest, oldest, most productive and most complex ecosystems on Earth."
(1)

This Unit Lesson is inspired by the following facts : (2)

bullet Brazil contains 30% of the world's tropical forests
bullet 5.4 million acres (estimate averaged for period 1979-1990) of Brazilian rainforest are destroyed each year.
bullet If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80-90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020.
bullet According to projections by James Alcock, a professor of environmental sciences at the Abington campus of Penn State, Amazonian rain forests could reach a "point of no return" by 2011-2016 if deforestation continues at the present rate of about one percent a year. The model further shows that rain forest in Brazil could be wiped out entirely within 40 to 50 years.(3)
bullet Forest destruction from 1995 to 2000 averaged almost two million hectares a year, equivalent to seven football field a minute, and is comparable to the 1970s and 1980s, when forest loss in the Amazon was catastrophic. See: "Smithsonian Researchers Show Amazonian Deforestation Accelerating."
bullet 6-9 million indigenous people inhabited the Brazilian rainforest in 1500. In 1992, less than 200,000 remain.
bullet In a four mile by four mile square of Brazilian tropical forest there are over 750 species of trees, 125 species of mammals, 400 species of birds and 100 species of reptiles. Most of these species are found nowhere else in the world. There are as many species of ants in a single Peruvian tree than in the entire British Isles (43).
bullet Distinguished scientists estimate an average of 137 species of life forms are driven into extinction every day, or 50,000 each year.
bullet Projected Economic Value of One Hectare in the Peruvian Amazon: $6,820 per year if intact forest is sustainably harvested for fruits, latex, and timber; $1,000 if clear-cut for commercial timber (not sustainably harvested); or $148 if used as cattle pasture. One can therefore see the unnecessary and tragic implications of deforestation to the effected nations.
bullet "A $40 billion onslaught of highways, railroads, hydroelectric projects and burgeoning population is overwhelming current efforts to promote conservation in the Amazon Forest of Brazil. If left unchecked, it will soon destroy the greatest tropical rainforest on Earth." - From a 1/24/01 Oregon State University news release/report published in Science Daily entitled, entitled, "Conservation Battle Faces Long Odds In Brazilian Amazon." 
bullet The World Wide Web is or will become the greatest vehicle in the history of mankind for planetary sharing of information and mobilization for trans-border planetary renewal and change.

"While you were reading the above statistics, approximately 150 acres of rainforest were destroyed. Within the next hour approximately six species will become extinct. While extinction is a natural process, the alarming rate of extinction today, comparable only to the extinction of the dinosaurs, is specifically human-induced and unprecedented. Experts agree that the number-one cause of extinction is habitat destruction. Quite simply, when habitat is reduced, species disappear. In the rainforests, logging, cattle ranching, mining, oil extraction, hydroelectric dams and subsistence farming are the leading causes of habitat destruction. Indirectly, the leading threats to rainforest ecosystems are unbridled development, funded by international aid-lending institutions such as the World Bank, and the voracious consumer appetites of industrialized nations. If deforestation continues at current rates, scientists estimate nearly 80-90 percent of tropical rainforest ecosystems will be destroyed by the year 2020." (4)

Recognizing the significance of the above, the unit will focus, though not exclusively, on the deforestation and destruction of the Amazon rain forest. As Roger D. Stone noted in "Dreams of Amazonia,"

"If the Amazon forest disappears, it is likely that all other tropical forests of the planet will have preceded it over the horizon. If any tropical forest in the world is redeemable, on the other hand, it is the Amazonian forest- the world's largest and least ravaged and most important." (5)

Focus on one tropical rainforest will also allow greater depth of coverage. The skills and knowledge used to understand Amazonia can be used to understand other tropical and non-tropical rain forests. Further, there are remarkable similarities in the political, social and economic debates surrounding rainforest use, whether one is discussing North America's old growth forests or the tropical rainforests of Brazil and Peru.

The ecological issues effecting the Amazon are planetary in scope (species that are forever lost from the face of the Earth, forest destruction, the Greenhouse problem, loss of water sheds, destruction of farm land and top soil, destruction of ancient cultures and loss of nature's pharmacopoeia). Hence, there is no better tool to learn, share information and organize than the Internet. Therefore, in the social democratic context of learning, sharing and taking action, basic Internet browsing and hypertext skills will be taught. The teacher, at least for this unit, will serve as Web Site editor/moderator and will maintain a table of contents/site index and regulate addition of new pages. Eventually projects and questions (see below) might be added from students or concerned individuals throughout the world. The web site itself may become part of a larger school-wide project or national effort linked to a museum or archive. The site itself may at some point require a full time webmaster managing projects, finding resources, and creating archive pages which link resources and analyze them. Effective use of the Internet as a research tool will be evidenced in the students work (hypertext essays, group presentations, resource lists and critiques, etc.) and will be an important part of the rubric. Finally, the teachers primary role will be as a facilitator and evaluator of students.

This powerful Unit Lesson Plan will encompass multiple strands from the California K-12 History-Social Science Framework, including: Basic (and Advanced) Study Skills, Critical Thinking Skills, Participation Skills, Cultural Literacy, Ethical Literacy, Historical Literacy, Geographic Literacy, Sociopolitical literacy, etc. It is also consistent with the English-Language Arts Framework, incorporating meaningful reading activities, involves use of listening, speaking, reading and writing skills, encouraging daily writing, use of spelling and grammar conventions and portfolio collection. The Unit is reconstructionist in emphasis, culminating in lessons that ask students to consider ways they can make a difference either by changing their lifestyle or organizing, writing, etc. The entire project will be shared by the entire world and will solicit world-wide feedback, hence helping to transform world consciousness. The unit lesson plan is constructivist in nature, encouraging students to construct their own meaning and take responsibility for what they produce, since everything they produce will be available for millions of people to read and comment on. The unit is integrated, content based and sequentially organized. It uses varied teaching strategies and is highly relevant to functioning in modern society. It takes advantages of the bilingual skills of students and encourages bilingual students to use their bilingual reading and writing skills to contribute to the overall effort. All students, regardless of English proficiency will be encouraged to make contributions. The World Wide Web is international in scope and there is a diversity of resources the students can utilize from countries throughout the world.

bullet Integrated Amazon Rainforest Unit
bullet Environment
bullet Global Warming
bullet An Open Letter to the Religious Community
bullet Journey into Amazonia
bullet

 

Animals of the Rainforest
On Environmental Education, From Aldo Leopold, A Sand County Almanac, (New York: Oxford University Press, 1966) 222-223

"Conservation is a state of harmony between men and land. Despite nearly a century of propaganda, conservation still proceeds at a snail's pace; progress still consists largely of letterhead pieties and convention oratory. On the back forty we still slip two steps backward for each forward stride.

The usual answer to this dilemma is 'more conservation education.' No one will debate this, but is it certain that only the volume of education needs stepping up? Is something lacking in the content as well?

It is difficult to give a fair summary of its content in brief form, but, as I understand it, the content is substantially this: obey the law, vote right, join some organization, and practice what conservation is profitable on your own land; the government will do the rest.

Is not this formula too easy to accomplish anything worthwhile? It defines no right or wrong, assigns no obligation, calls for no sacrifice, implies no change in the current philosophy of values. In respect to land-use, it urges only enlightened self-interest. Just how far will such education take us?"

1 Rain Forest Action Network , "Rates of Rainforest Loss". Source: Deforestation Rates in Tropical Forests and Their Climatic Implications
2 Miller, Kenton (1991). Trees of Life. Boston: Beacon Press pp. xv-xxi.
3
National Geographic News, "Loss of Amazon Rain Forest May Come Sooner Than Expected."
4 Rain Forest Action Network , "Rates of Rainforest Loss". Source: Deforestation Rates in Tropical Forests and Their Climatic Implications
5 Miller, Kenton (1991). Trees of Life. Boston: Beacon Press p. 53.

 

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