New Perspectives on THE WEST
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1. The Railway
2. Mark Twain
3. Native
4. African-
5. Images of the
6. Writings of the West
7. Fragile Western Biome
8. Water Use
9. Infectious Disease
10. Natural Disasters

The Fragile Western Biome

9-10 Grade

Throughout this lesson, students will discover the impact of American westward expansion, in particular the mining industry, on the ecosystems of the West.

Estimated Time
Necessary Materials
Teaching Procedure
Assessment Recommendations
Extension/Adaptation Ideas
Online Resources
Relevant National Standards


Students will:

  • determine the limiting climatic factors of a biome,
  • illustrate on a map the various biomes found in the United States,
  • interpret information from The West video through a series of written questions and answers,
  • research the environmental impacts of copper mining, and
  • evaluate the environmental impact of a local industry (extension activity).

Estimated Time

2-3 class periods (90 minute blocks, can be less if research is assigned as homework)

Necessary Materials

  • Blank outline maps of the United States and colored pencils or markers
  • Access to average annual temperature and precipitation across the US (on-line or textbook)
  • VCR and TV
  • Internet access, library reference materials

    Teaching Procedure

    1. Discuss/review the concept of biomes. Possible lessons on biomes can be found in textbooks or at:
      Biospere, Biomes, Habitats, and Microenvironments
      Biospere 2 page=2614&lvstart=K&lvend=12&majorsubject=Science&minorsubject= Ecology&source=%2D99&keyword=&search=1
      Be sure that students understand that the main limiting factors contributing to biome type are annual temperature range and average annual precipitation.

    2. Provide each student with a blank outline map of the United States and direct them to climate information. An online source for climate and outline maps is:
      Have students plot both temperature and precipitation information on their own maps, dividing the country into regions. They should then determine the particular biome represented by their data and color code and label their maps. In addition, they should research and list a sampling of characteristic species of plants and animals found in each region, particularly the northeastern U.S. and the Great Plains areas.

    3. Watch Episode 8 of The West, particularly the fourteen minute segment entitled "Outcome of Our Earnest Endeavors." (10:22 to 24:35) Have students answer the following questions which start about 8 minutes into the video. It may be necessary to pause the video at some points and discuss some of the questions as a class.
      • In order of their occurrence, what three metals have been mined in Butte, Montana? (19:09)
      • What technological development led to the increase in copper mining?(19:31)
      • Describe some of the dangers to which copper miners were/are exposed? (21:01)
      • What does it mean to "disappear in a plume of evaporation?" (21:46)
      • Why did the miners disappear in a plume of evaporation? (21:46)
      • According to the video how many trees were left standing in the city of Butte? (22:26)
      • What happened to the trees and other greenery in the area? (22:13)
      • How was the water in the area affected by copper mining? (23:50)
      • What was the air like in Butte during the 1890's? (22:42)
      • What mining process created the smoke in the air? (23:02)
      • Where did the smoke eventually go? (23:02)
      • Why does the video refer to the West as a fragile environment? (24:09)
      • What factors of the Western biome contribute to the fact the "damage is of a longer duration?" (answers vary--from biome studies)

    4. Have students return to their biome maps and organism lists. Students should describe how the copper mining industry might have affected each organism listed in their western biome. Reference materials should be made available describing the niches of each of their characteristic species. Possible on-line references include:
      Amphibiams of Glacier National Park
      The Diamondback Rattlesnake

    5. Have students in groups, or individually, research the copper mining process, either world-wide or just American, and determine how each step of the process can affect the environment. They should also look for mining legislation that has either hurt or helped the environment. Each group should present a written report accompanied by a poster illustrating the mining industry and its environmental impact. Online references are listed in the resource section below.

    Assessment Recommendations
    Student work may be assessed using the following criteria:

    1. participation in class discussions,

    2. completion of biome map and organism lists,

    3. completion of video questions, and

    4. presentation and poster of mining impacts.

    Extension/Adaptation Ideas

    1. As a class, choose a local industry that may be impacting the environment. Have students chose roles such as mayor, citizen, industry owner/businessman, legislator, etc. Research the business and its possible environmental influences and stage a "town hall meeting" at which each student presents his/her findings.

    2. Complete a lab activity on point/non-point source water pollution. Determine what types of pollution are created by the mining industry.

    Online Resources

    Sources for general information on copper mining include:
    Sixty Centuries of Copper
    The Copper Mining Industry in Latin America
    Links to other Historical Copper Mines

    Sources with an environmental twist include:
    EPA Sector Notebooks
    Chile Copper Exports
    Copper Mining: The Environmental Consequence Mining: The Environmental Consequence
    Copper and the Environment

    Relevant National Standards
    This lesson addresses the following national curriculum standards established by the Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning.

    Science Content Standard C (grade 9-12) Interdependence of Organisms

  • Organisms both cooperate and compete in ecosystems. The interrelationships and interdependencies of these organisms may generate ecosystems that are stable for hundreds or thousands of years.
  • Human beings live within the world's ecosystems. Increasingly, humans modify ecosystems as a result of population growth, technology, and consumption. Human destruction of habitats is threatening current global stability, and if not addressed, ecosystems will be irreversibly affected.

    Science Content Standard F (grade 9-12) Natural Resources

  • Human populations use resources in the environment in order to maintain and improve their existence. Natural resources have been and will continue to be used to maintain human populations.
  • The earth does not have infinite resources; increasing human consumption places severe stress on the natural processes that renew some resources, and it depletes those resources that cannot be renewed.

    Science Content Standard F (grade 9-12) Environmental Quality

  • Natural ecosystems provide an array of basic processes that affect humans. Humans are changing many of these basic processes, and the changes may be detrimental to humans.

    About the Author
    Victoria Babcock has been teaching biology and physical science for the last 5 years at Hannibal High School. She has also coached the Academic Team, sponsored the Science Club, and organized a high school Stream Team. In addition, Ms. Babcock designed events for Science Olympiad on cell biology, water quality and practical data gathering and has worked under contract with NetTrekker to evaluate biology websites. Before teaching, she worked with the educational outreach department of the St. Louis Science Center.

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