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Lesson Plans

Lesson plan: How inventions are saving sea turtles

August 26, 2018

Full Lesson



Sea turtles are amongst the world’s most endangered species. Prized for their eggs, meat and shells, poachers and human encroachment destroy more than 90 percent of sea turtle nests each year across Central America.

In this NewsHour lesson, students will learn how wildlife conservationists in Costa Rica are teaming up with law enforcement to catch poachers by using 3D-printed plastic eggs with GPS trackers. Using the invention process, students will research different ways to curb poaching of wildlife and design their own prototypes to help solve this global issue.

PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you complete part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.

Estimated time

Two to three 50-minute class periods




Biology, AP Biology, Environmental Science, Engineering, Technology, Computer Science

Essential question

Why should humans care about what happens to sea turtles or other endangered species?


Craft items (will vary)

Household items (will vary)


Dry erase markers

Optional: 3D printer and plastic filament


Sea turtle populations are on the decline throughout the world. Why is this happening? The answer is multifaceted. One significant contributor are poachers who illegally remove sea turtle eggs from their nests to be sold on the black market as a delicacy. Why should you care about preserving sea turtles or other endangered species? See the warm-up activity below to get the conversation going!

Warm-up activity

Directions: Write the following quote on the whiteboard and answer the questions below. You may also wish to share the image below and discuss the serious problem ghost nets pose to sea turtles and many other species.

A sea turtle entangled in a ghost net. Ghost nets are commercial fishing nets that have been lost or discarded at sea, according to the Olive Ridley Project. The UK-based charity states that ghost nets trap and kill millions of marine animals each year, including sharks, rays, bony fish, turtles, dolphins, whales, crustaceans and birds. Photo by Francis Perez


In 1949, Aldo Leopold, renowned conservationist wrote in the Sand County Almanac:

“The last word in ignorance is the man who says of an animal or plant, “What good is it?” If the land mechanism as a whole is good, then every part is good, whether we understand it or not. If the biota, in the course of aeons, has built something we like but do not understand, then who but a fool would discard seemingly useless parts? To keep every cog and wheel is the first precaution of intelligent tinkering.”

1. What are some examples of animals or plants that at first seemed uninteresting or unimportant to humans, but with greater understanding came to play a critical role in our world? 

2. Leopold understood that biodiversity must be preserved and that life is interconnected. Ask your students to define biodiversityJot down the responses on the whiteboard. Have your students ever witnessed or experienced the power of biodiversity or the interconnection of life? What elements were in place to make it possible?

3. Without sea turtles, some of whom are apex predators, intricate food webs that took eons to evolve would falter and could have a cascading effect on other organisms’ survival. What other apex predators do your students know?

Watch the video:

Check out the PBS NewsHour video below to see what is being done to combat this problem and answer the questions below as a class or with a partner or craft a written response. 

To check for understanding, complete the following questions:

  1. What human practices featured in the video account for the endangered status of sea turtles?
  2. What inventions have been used to help protect sea turtle populations? For an idea to go from a thought in someone’s head (i.e. an easy way to help people communicate) to a patented invention (i.e. iPhone), it usually has to go through a multi-step process, which we’ll refer to as the invention process. What steps do you think make up the invention process? 
  3. Inspiration can come from anywhere! What inspired conservationist Kim Williams-Guillen’s invention?
  4. Why is sea turtle education a principal focus for conservationist groups? Do you have any more ideas for how to educate the public on this matter? 

Main activity: Design an invention to protect endangered species

Let students know they will be designing their own invention to cut down on poaching and protect endangered species. To do this, students will use the steps of the invention process. Encourage them to refer back to the chart below throughout the project.

Steps of the invention process

First, brainstorm the problem: Ask students to brainstorm and jot down the names of organisms that are being collected illegally or killed and sold for their body parts. This initial step should be done individually and without the aid of the internet.

  • Then have students share their answers together as a class. Facilitate a group discussion by asking students to describe tactics they may have heard of that conservationists and law enforcement agencies use to battle poachers. Do they remember where they first heard about the problem?

Research it: Having identified some problem areas, research online and generate a class list of wildlife being poached or illegally collected. The list should include animals, plants and even fungi.

  1. Working in teams of 2-4 students, each team should select a different organism from the list.
  2. Students should research why their chosen organism is a target for illegal harvesting or poaching and jot down their findings in their notebooks. 
  3. Next, identify current strategies or mechanisms to prevent poaching that are being employed by conservationists, law enforcement or government agencies to protect your organism. Jot down a few strategies or inventions in your notebook.
  4. Brainstorm a list of new solutions with your teammates to solve or lessen the impact poachers are having on your organism.

Next, design a solution: Select the best invention-based solution from your list (or a combination of strategies) keeping in mind costs, available resources, and overall feasibility of your plan.

Build it: First sketch your invention and write down how it will protect your threatened organism. Construct a 3-dimensional prototype of your invention using either household items (e.g. milk containers, straws, lids, etc.), craft items (pipe cleaners, pom poms, popsicle sticks, etc.), or create a plastic 3D printed version of your design. Since this is only a prototype, it does not need to necessarily be a working design, but it should provide insight into what a functional model would look like and how it would work.

Review and redesign: In examining your prototype, identify its strengths and weaknesses. However, in the interest of time, your team will not redesign your product.

Finally, share away: Present the model your team created to the class. Decide on the format beforehand, but be sure to include the steps of the invention process as outlined in the “Steps of the invention process” chart. Some suggestions include a short verbal description, a typed one-page write-up that includes snapshots along the way, a Flipgrid video, or a PowerPoint presentation.

  1. Share your innovative invention using #PBSInvention on @NewsHourExtra on Twitter and Facebook. The best designs will win a prize.
  2. Why stop there? Does your product truly have the potential to protect wildlife? Take action and contact appropriate agencies (i.e. a conservation group) to move your idea from a prototype to reality. You can make a difference and solve illegal harvesting and poaching.

Extension activities

  1. Research and generate a model to demonstrate the impact of artificial lighting on sea turtle hatchling behavior. You may also want to check out NewsHour’s story, Climate change is hurting the sex lives of sea turtles.

Loggerhead sea turtle at the Florida Atlantic University Marine Research lab. Photo by Mike Fritz

  1. Plastic pollution is also negatively impacting turtles and other sea life. Read NewsHour’s story “Great Pacific Garbage Patch weighs more than 43,000 cars and is much larger than we thought” or watch the videos below.
    • What innovative products are being manufactured as potential solutions?
    • List three or more single-use plastic products you can reduce (or eliminate) from your life to take a stand against plastic pollution. Watch this NewsHour interview, How can individuals combat plastic pollution? for some ideas and watch the PBS Digital Studios video:

  • Watch this NewsHour Student Reporting Lab video to see what young people in Huntington Beach, California, are doing to help solve the problem; take a look at the activities from the accompanying lesson plan. Then, organize a campaign (posters, project, club, etc.) to decrease single-use plastic products on your school’s campus. Share it with @NewsHourExtra using #PBSInvention!

Rebecca Brewer teaches Advanced Placement and ninth-grade biology at Troy High School in southeastern Michigan. As an enthusiastic educator with more than 20 years of experience, Rebecca hopes her constructivist approach to instruction—which emphasizes student-led learning—inspires a passion for biological concepts. Outside of school, Rebecca co-authored a high school biology textbook called Biology Now, works for a biotechnology company training teachers on their kits and equipment and creates educational digital resources for Science Friday. She is a teacher ambassador for the National Center for Science Education and is also the director of Michigan’s Outstanding Biology Teacher Award program, and a former honoree. In 2011, Rebecca won her classroom $27,000 as the top recipient of the ING Unsung Hero Award, and in 2007, she was a named a member of USA Today’s All-USA Teacher Team, which recognizes the top 20 educators in the U.S. You can reach Rebecca on Twitter @brewerbiology.

PBS NewsHour Classroom is always looking for ways to make our invention resources stronger. If you completed part or all of this lesson, we’d greatly appreciate it if you filled out this feedback form.