The 100-Year Turtle Project: Lesson Plan

Explain how human activities impact the biosphere, then learn how researchers in North Carolina are conducting a 100-year-long study of Eastern box turtles to better understand turtle populations and how they are affected by habitat fragmentation.

UNC-TV Media

Alignment to NC Essential Standards

  • EEn.2.7.3 — Explain how human activities impact the biosphere.

Learning Outcomes

Time Allotment Needed: 5 days (block schedule)

  • Students will explain how human activities can affect the biosphere.

Essential Questions

  1. What is the biosphere? 
  2. What types of human activities affect the biosphere?
  3. How do these activities affect the biosphere? 
  4. What is the present state of the biosphere? 
  5. What are scientists concerned about in terms of extinctions?

Essential Vocabulary

  • Biosphere
  • Pollution 
  • Global climate change 
  • Habitat destruction 
  • Invasive species 
  • Extinction 
  • Conservation 
  • Habitat restoration 
  • Green spaces


Students will watch "Are We Facing the Sixth Mass Extinction?" a video from Scientific American about current rates of extinction. After students have watched the video, hold a short discussion regarding what it means when a species becomes extinct and reasons why scientists think we might be facing another extinction event.


Students will work in pairs to research some of the ways humans are affecting the biosphere. After they have completed some general research, have them choose a specific example of how humans are affecting the biosphere. Students should take notes and answer the following questions as they work.

  1. Define the term biosphere. 
  2. What types of human activities affect the biosphere? Are all of the effects negative? Identify some examples of positive effects. 
  3. What is the current state of the biosphere? How has biodiversity been affected by human activities? Why do current rates of extinction have some scientists concerned? 
  4. Describe the specific example you chose on how humans are impacting the biosphere. Include any relevant history, vocabulary, facts, data and visual aids necessary to explain your example.


After students have completed their research, have each group prepare a three-minute presentation in the form of their choice, such as a video, slide show or webpage about how human activities impact the biosphere. Have the groups arrange themselves in a large circle around the classroom and invite other classes to come in and stop by each group’s table and listen to their presentation. Encourage visiting students to ask questions.


The Box Turtle Cooperative, the topic of the 100-Year Turtle Project NC Science Now video, is a long-term research project collecting data on Eastern box turtles and how their populations may be impacted by human activities. Scientists are particularly concerned about the effects of human activities, such as fast-paced development, on these long-lived turtles. Students will watch the NC Science Now video The 100-Year Turtle Project and read the Reporter’s Blog "Telling Turtles Apart." After watching the video and reading the blog, answer and discuss the following questions as a class. 

  1. Why do scientists feel it is important to study the Eastern box turtle? 
  2. What data about the Eastern box turtle are scientists collecting? 
  3. Why is the longevity of Eastern box turtles important to the project? 
  4. The current box turtle population may be at risk due to human activities but we may not realize it. Why not?


Students will work in collaborative groups and use the information they found in the Explore section to create a 10-question test about human impact on the biosphere. The quiz should be designed as if to be used at a national park visitor’s office. Assume that visitors will take the test on a touch screen computer. The questions can consist of multiple choice, true/false, and/or fill-in-the-blanks. Illustrations and photographs can also be used as part of the test. Visitors should be able to take the test and then view their results. Answers should explain why the correct answer is, in fact, correct. The idea of the test is for visitors to have a fun, interactive experience in which they learn something new in a short period of time.