Eastern Hellbenders and Appalachian Streams and Rivers: Biology, Ecology, and Conservation

This free comprehensive set of five state-standards-aligned lesson plans and activities are for middle and high school teachers throughout Appalachia (PA, VA, WV, KY, NC, TN, and GA).  We highlight the critical need for lifelong environmental stewardship in local rivers and streams by introducing students to important ecological and biological topics ranging from speciation to watersheds, to food webs and endangered species, using the Eastern hellbender salamander as a focal species.  All lesson plans follow the 5E format and include all materials needed for instruction.


Teacher Resources:

Target: Grades 6 -12

These lesson plans are geared toward students in 9th grade, but science standards for 6-12th grade are also included, with the intention of allowing teachers to adapt plans for either older or younger students with only minimal modifications.  State standards for seven states in Appalachia (and within the range of the Eastern hellbender salamander) are included (PA, MD, WV, VA, KY, TN, NC).

Overarching Unit Objectives:

These lessons provide teachers with standard-based activities and materials that highlight local species and ecosystems, with the purpose of instilling in students a sense of urgency regarding the conservation of freshwater habitats in Appalachia.

Lesson 1: General Ecological Concepts

Summary: This lesson introduces the Eastern hellbender salamander and uses this species to emphasize important ecological concepts such as predation, competition, ecological niches, and life history.

State Standards:  PA   MD   KY   WV   VA   NC   TN

Hellbender Jordy_sm
Lesson 2: Speciation and Diversity in Appalachia

Summary: This lesson highlights the diversity of Appalachian species, particularly salamanders, explores how speciation occurs through geographic isolation, and introduces different ways that species diversity can be measured.

State Standards:  PA   MD   KY   WV   VA   NC   TN

Spotted, Jefferson, and Marbled salamanders posing all together
Lesson 3: Appalachian Watersheds and Connectivity

Summary: This lesson focuses on connectivity of aquatic and terrestrial habitats through the watershed concept, and encourages students to identify ways that humans impact local waterways.

State Standards:  PA   MD   KY   WV   VA   NC   TN

river system_smaller
Lesson 4: Stream Food Webs

Summary: This lesson covers trophic relationships in streams, defines important sources of nutrients in stream food webs, and asks students to explore food web resilience in the face of multiple stressors.

State Standards:  PA   MD   KY   WV   VA   NC   TN

American toad (Anaxyrus americanus, formerly Bufo americanus) ba
Lesson 5: Human Impacts and Appalachian Stream Conservation

Summary: This lesson focuses on local threatened and endangered species and identifies challenges and successes by reviewing case studies in stream and river restoration.

State Standards:  PA   MD   KY   WV   VA   NC   TN

Freshwater thick-shelled river mussel on a close up horizontal p