Educational Resources

From Real-World Research to Science Classrooms (Or Any Classroom)

This page summarizes some foundational concepts related to ecology and wildlife diseases, provides some sample lessons (coming soon), and contains educational science resources for teachers.  You do not have to be an expert in wildlife, wildlife diseases, or disease modeling to use this site's educational materials. We want educators at multiple grade levels to access these free materials so that concepts from real-world ongoing projects make their way into K-12 science education. We also want to make the process of scientific investigation transparent to students so they gain understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry and of how science is conducted in the messiness of real-life uncontrolled situations.

We explain in detail how concepts from our work on bighorn pneumonia connect to core concepts from the Next Generation Science Standards, a set of standards and concepts developed by the National Research Council to accompany and parallel the Common Core curriculum in English language arts and math. The Common Core has already been adopted by 45 states.

Elementary Grades

Concepts from our research fit closely with and are easily adapted to the modules Earth and Human ActivityHuman Impacts on Earth Systems, and the overarching principles contained in the Science and Engineering Practices sections of multiple modules from Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions.


1. ESS3.A: Natural Resources:
Living things need water, air, and resources from the land, and they live in places that have the things they need. Humans use natural resources for everything they do.
2 .5-ESS3-1:
Human activities in agriculture, industry, and everyday life have had major effects on the land, vegetation, streams, ocean, air, and even outerspace.
3. K-ESS3-3:
Things that people do to live comfortably can affect the world around them. But they can make choices that reduce their impacts on the land, water, air, and other living things.
4. Science and Engineering Practices:
Constructing explanations and designing solutions in 3-5 builds on K-2 experiences and progresses to the use of evidence in constructing explanations that specify variables that describe and predict phenomena and in designing multiple solutions to design problems.

How are the concepts described in these four areas illustrated by, and related to, the Bighorn Sheep Disease Research Project?

1 and 2. Bighorn sheep need to live in certain habitats; they need certain types of forage (food such as shrubs, grasses, etcetera), a particular temperature range, enough space to form into herds and for rams to disperse. Humans have less specific needs for food and habitat, relative to many species, as illustrated by the fact that humans occupy nearly every habitat on earth. Humans are the opposite of a "niche" species. We use natural resources such as water, plants, and other animals, just as every species does. However, in order to lessen our dependence on hunting for food, humans have introduced livestock all over the world. The presence of livestock in so many habitats has had enormous consequences for other species--plants and animals--both directly and indirectly. It would be nearly impossible to find a habitat on earth that has not been altered by the introduction of livestock by humans--either through deforestation, introduction of diseases by livestock to other animals, planting of grasses for fodder, use of water to support livestock, competition of food between livestock and native species, and through many other mechanisms. The low number of bighorn sheep in habitat where they used to be abundant is a direct result of human activity. Early on, bighorn sheep were hunted out and their numbers directly reduced by agriculture and competition for forage from introduction of domestic sheep. Later, even after attempts to bring them back, bighorn sheep have not thrived because of pneumonia, which was brought in with the introduction of domestic sheep.

3. What are people doing to restore bighorn sheep and limit effects of humans on this species? First, most states now allow very little hunting of bighorn sheep.  Many states with low numbers of bighorn sheep have brought in bighorn sheep from places that have more of them, in an attempt to raise their numbers. Also, states and domestic sheep growers are trying to keep bighorn sheep and domestic sheep farther apart. Domestic sheep are no longer allowed to graze in certain areas on public lands. And, when bighorn sheep are brought in to try to repopulate areas, they are not placed close to domestic sheep operations. Last, research projects such as ours, and others, are trying to understand how disease is being maintained and spread, in order to limit the effects of disease in future. Some researchers are trying to isolate the pathogen that causes bighorn pneumonia. Other groups are looking for vaccines against this disease.

4. The Bighorn Disease Research Project is a good example of how difficult it can be to conduct research on wildlife. This type of ecological research is very different from bench science, in which scientists can control all the factors influencing a research question, and deduce answers that way. In wildlife disease work, for example, we have no way to turn back the clock and see what would happen if the situation were different. We can't control which sheep contact each other, how many carcasses may be eaten by mountain lions or bears, or whether a snowy winter kills more bighorn sheep than usual. Therefore, disease ecologists must use a variety of evidence to construct models and explanations for what they see. We can run computer models to test hypotheses, and we can isolate a few bighorn sheep and see what happens when they are infected with diseases from domestic sheep, but it is impossible to construct large-scale controlled experiments to answer all our questions. As a result, wildlife researchers have to be highly creative in designing experiments that can test variables of interest of them. You can read more about how our work navigates the difficulty of constructing explanations about how bighorn pneumonia persists and is transmitted on our research pages

Coming soon

Sample lessons to teach these concepts in a variety of grades.

General Science Education Resources

The Nature of Science explains a method of scientific thinking and inquiry and has lesson plans for middle and high school science.

WEstEd is involved in an effort to improve teaching of science in the U.S., through the intiative Making Sense of Science

The Center for the Assessment and Evaluation of Student Learning (CAESL) is also housed at WestEd and funded by the National Science Foundation. 

The Concord Consortium has lots of good lessons and activities for school and home.