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The Wilds of Madagascar
Madagascar - The Eighth Continent

Lesson Objectives
By the end of this activity, students will be able to:
  • locate Madagascar on a world map and place significant cities, rivers, and mountains on the island

  • trace on a world map the journey that a student would take to reach Madagascar and calculate the length of the trip

  • use a map scale to estimate the land area of Madagascar

  • locate and understand the island's major ecosystems

  • know some basic information about Madagascar and how it compares to the student's own state.

Related National Standards
Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (National Council for the Social Studies)
  • III. People, Places, and Environments: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of people, places, and environments.

  • VI. Power, Authority, and Governance: Social studies programs should include experiences that provide for the study of how people create and change structures of power, authority, and governance.

Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (National Council of Teachers of Mathematics)
  • Grades 5-8
    Standard 7: Computation and Estimation
    Standard 13: Measurement

Materials needed for each group

Estimated Time to Complete Lesson
One class period is needed to complete the two map activities (Procedure Steps #1-3). A second class period is needed to complete the chart comparing and contrasting Madagascar to the state the student lives in and to discuss some of the major differences between the two areas (Procedure Step #4).

Teaching Strategy
Background Information
Madagascar, the fourth-largest island in the world, is located 250 miles east of Africa's eastern coast. The island's eastern coast is bordered by the Indian Ocean and western coast by the Mozambique Channel. Madagascar is approximately the size of Texas. However, it has many diverse environments, including lush rainforest in the east, savanna and dry forest in the west, and the unique spiny desert in the south. A central mountain range extending in a north/south direction divides the island into an east and west coast. Altitude differences (more than latitude) determine the island's variation of climate.

Madagascar is known for its biodiversity (the number of different species that exist) and the number of endemic species (species that occur nowhere else on Earth). For example, of the 300 species of reptiles and amphibians, 99 percent are endemic. Madagascar is one of the top eight places in the world in terms of its rich biodiversity.

The island has been referred to as a hidden Eden. The diverse plant and animal life has evolved in isolation for more than 160 million years. People arrived less than 2,000 years ago. Many unique life forms on the island have become extinct, among them the giant lemurs and elephant birds. Because the animals did not co-evolve with people, they did not have the behavior patterns (such as flight) that would prevent them from being killed. As the population has increased and natural habitats have been destroyed (mostly by slash-and-burn agriculture methods and the burning of timber to meet fuel needs), many species have become threatened with extinction.

Madagascar is a paradise whose future is threatened. National and international conservation efforts are being made to protect it. Natural preserves and parks have been established, yet these represent less than 2 percent of the land area. Legislation has been passed to protect vulnerable habitats and actions taken to promote more sustainable methods of agriculture. However, 90 percent of the original vegetation has already been destroyed. In order to preserve this fragile paradise, significant conservation efforts will have to be sustained and must take place in a way that meets the needs of Madagascar's ever-growing population.

  1. Divide students into small groups and provide each group with a copy of the World Map activity sheet. Have students determine the latitude and longitude of Madagascar. Ask students to trace the route a ship would take to get to Madagascar from where the student lives and label the bodies of water and major landmasses along this route.

  2. Provide each group with a copy of the Madagascar Map activity sheet. Have students locate and label the following areas listed at the bottom of the map. Have students color in the rainforest ecosystem in green, the mountains in brown and the desert in gray.
    • Androy Plateau
    • Ankarana Massif
    • Antananarivo
    • Antsiranana
    • Bemaraha Plateau
    • Cliff of Angavo
    • Fianarantsoa
    • Indian Ocean
    • Mahajanga
    • Makay Massif
    • Mozambique
    • Mozambique Channel
    • Toamasina
    • Toliara

  3. Ask students to use the map scale to estimate the approximate land area of Madagascar.

  4. Organize students into groups and have them complete the How Does Your State Compare? activity sheet. What do they feel is the most significant difference between Madagascar and their state and why? How does the climate of their own state compare to that of Madagascar? How does the land area of Madagascar compare to their state? Compare the average population density (number of people per square mile of land) by dividing the number of people by the number of square miles. Have students comment on the diversity of life in Madagascar compared to that of their state.

Helpful Web Sites
CIA—World Factbook
Features information about Madagascar compiled for the Central Intelligence Agency Factbook. Entries include geography, people, government, economy, communication, transportation, military, and transnational issues.

Kremen, Claire. Undated. "Traditions that Threaten." PBS Online
Covers the importance of the forest to the Madagascar people and how deforestation is threatening the island paradise.

Library of Congress—Madagascar: A Country Study
Includes extensive background about Madagascar, its history, people, and geography.

Assessment Recommendations
Students may be assessed through:
  • their participation in the classroom discussions
  • their accuracy on the map location activity
  • the details of their ecosystem coloring exercise
  • the accuracy of their calculations estimating the Madagascar land area
  • the level of detail in the comparisons they draw when they contrast their state to Madagascar

  1. Research various animals and plants that are unique to the island. Have students work in groups to research animals such as lemurs, fossa, and chameleons and then give a classroom presentation. Their presentation can include a poster with information about their animal. Students may want to contact the World Wildlife Fund or similar organizations for further information. Students should include a prognosis of what the future holds for their animal/plant, including:
    • Is its habitat likely to survive?
    • Is the animal/plant likely to become extinct in the next 20 years?
    • Is anything being done to ensure the species' survival at this time?
    • What, if anything, would they recommend be done?

  2. Examine recent newspaper articles relating to Madagascar. Cyclones and floods in late March and early April 2000 have caused severe damage to the landscape and seriously disrupted the lives of thousands of people. Most of the rice crop has been decimated, and 40,000 people were left homeless. In all, more than half a million people were affected. Students may want to write a newspaper-style article on the current situation. They can contact the Madagascar Embassy for further information.

  3. Create a social and political time line for Madagascar over the last 300 years. Another option is to create a world time line, including such civilizations as ancient Egypt, Rome, Greece, European Middle Ages, Europeans arriving in North America. This would give students an idea of how relatively recently (less than 2,000 years ago) people arrived on Madagascar.

  4. Calculate their percent error in estimating the land area of Madagascar. Students can do this using the following formula:

    % error = difference between the student's value and the true value (from chart) x 100
    				        true value (from chart)

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