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Creating a Working Problem Statement
As with the other modules, which also use problem-based learning, students should start by;

1. Making a list of what they already know about mountain gorillas and the African nations of Rwanda, Uganda, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC);

2. Narrowing and refining the "ill-defined" problem statement given to them initially;

3. Making a second list of what they think the coalition members will need to know to make a persuasive plea to the heads of these nations.

To help students define their problem statement, you may want to pose the sample questions below. Be sure your students understand that these are only examples of the questions that coalition members may have and that there is no way in advance to know exactly what the coalition members might ask them. As experts in GIS data analysis and as professionals, they should be overprepared to give their briefing by having anticipated any question that might arise.

Because the mountain gorilla habitat covers several African countries, helping the gorillas will involve a coordinated international effort. A member of the coalition is unclear about where the national political boundary lines are in relation to the Virunga Mountain habitat of the gorillas and the Virunga National Reserve. How would you help the member become oriented?

What could a member of the coalition say to a native living near the gorilla habitat who gestures toward the mountain and sincerely assures them that there's always been plenty of forest for the gorillas and there always will be? Which images might the coalition show the native?

A Rwandan refugee tells the coalition that he is concerned about the gorillas but explains that the refugees don't cut the kinds of vegetation that gorillas eat (the refugees don't bother to cut the bamboo shoots, only the mature trees), so there is no harm done to the gorillas.

What if the native people believe that the gorilla lives "deep within the forest," untouched by damage of the refugees, who only cut the trees on the EDGES of the forest? How might the coalition respond, using visual aids?

What if the African person believed the coalition's data, wanted to save the gorilla, but wondered how long it would take to reverse the trend of the shrinking gorilla population if the park were preserved? What statistics and images could the coalition provide?

How might a coalition member convince a Rwandan tribal official that by destroying the gorilla habitat for human survival, the human population would only be buying limited time; at the present rate of human population growth, even the destruction of every tree in the forest will not be enough to secure the survival of the human population? What numbers and images can support this fact?

To help students create a Working Problem Statement (WPS), you may want to pose some introductory questions such as the following:

What do the remote sensing data reveal about the habitat of mountain gorillas? Can you quantify the extent of humanmade ecological damage? If so, what estimates can you offer relating to the Virunga conservation area and its surroundings?

Why and how is the current political crisis in Rwanda jeopardizing the survival of mountain gorillas? What can Rwanda, Uganda, and Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC), the former Zaire, do to remedy the situation?

What economic alternatives do indigenous peoples in this area have to utilizing the gorilla habitat to ensure their own families' survival? What problems (economic, cultural, etc.) are inherent in your proposed alternatives?

What is your opinion regarding the long-term survival of mountain gorillas in this part of central Africa? Justify your optimism or pessimism. What foreseeable developments may make the future better or worse?

Is there any way we can assist the African nations of Rwanda, Uganda, Burundi, and the DRC in order to increase the odds for the survival of the gorillas and gorilla habitat?

What can you do? What steps would be sensible?


Image that reads Module Notes: Mountain Gorillas.

What is the focus of this module?
This module focuses on the population of mountain gorillas living in the central highland area of Africa. The module looks at human activity around the gorilla habitat and how that activity is threatening the survival of the remaining 300 gorillas.

What are some interrelated teaching opportunities?
While not a new way of looking at teaching, teaching across the curriculum (also called "integrating the curriculum" and "creating an interdisciplinary curriculum"), has recently received a great deal of attention. (Humphreys, Post, and Ellis 1981) describe an integrated curriculum as "one in which children broadly explore knowledge in various subjects related to certain aspects of their environment" (p. 11). The Dictionary of Education definition of "interdisciplinary curriculum" is similar: "a curriculum organization which cuts across subject-matter lines to focus upon comprehensive life problems or broad based areas of study that bring together the various segments of the curriculum into meaningful association" (Good 1973). By linking the natural sciences with the humanities, communication arts, mathematics, social studies, music, and visual and performing arts, skills and knowledge are developed and applied in more than one area of study.

As ambitious as these goals seem, experience has shown that as teachers become increasingly involved in teaching across the curriculum, they see new connections they had not seen before. As they develop learning experiences and assessments built around these new connections, students also begin to see the connections. This understanding leads to more successful learning. For those ETE teachers who want to to teach across the curriculum by linking up with teachers of subject areas beyond the sciences, the "Mountain Gorillas" module offers an excellent opportunity.

Social Studies Connections
The ETE "Mountain Gorillas" module richly supports the Ten Thematic Strands in Social Studies identified by the National Council for the Social Studies:

1. Culture
Time, Continuity, and Change
People, Places, and Environment
Individual Development and Identity
Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
Power, Authority, and Governance
Production, Distribution, and Consumption
Science, Technology, and Society
Global Connections
Civic Ideals and Practices

Geography Connections
The ETE "Mountain Gorillas" module also supports the National Geography Standards, which produce a "geographically informed person, who sees meaning in the arrangement of things in space and applies a spatial perspective to life situations." Therefore, the geographically informed person knows and understands:

The World in Spatial Terms
How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.

How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context.

How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on earth's surface.

Places and Regions
The physical and human characteristics of places.

That people create regions to interpret earth's complexity.

How culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions.

Physical Systems
The physical processes that shape the patterns of earth's surface.

The characteristics and spatial distribution of ecosystems on earth's surface.

Human Systems
The characteristics, distribution, and migration of human populations on earth's surface.

The characteristics, distribution, and complexity of earth's cultural mosaics.

The patterns and networks of economic interdependence on earth's surface.

The processes, patterns, and functions of human settlement.

How the forces of cooperation and conflict among people influence the division and control of earth's surface.

Environment and Society
How human actions modify the physical environment.

How physical systems affect human systems.

The changes that occur in the meaning, use, distribution, and importance of resources.

The Uses of Geography
How to apply geography to interpret the past, present, and plan for the future.

What issues will students encounter as they work through this module?

Effects of the Political Crisis in Rwanda
The recent civil war in Rwanda has caused hundreds of thousands of refugees to flee that country for neighboring Uganda, Burundi, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC). The trek out of Rwanda has caused many people to pass through or settle near the Virunga conservation area. The sudden influx of people into this area has placed tremendous additional strains on gorilla habitat and survival. How could gorillas be important to a crowded country during a war?

Clearly, it is in all conservationists' interests to end the civil strife and genocide in Rwanda. Less extremist factions in Rwanda have already pressed for an end to fighting and bloodshed. Uganda and the DRC can assist this cause by supporting regimes inside Rwanda who can bring a swift end to the fighting.

Ending the war may also be accomplished by the intervention of international organizations such as the United Nations. In the meantime, neighboring Uganda and Congo can ease the situation by agreeing to relocate refugee camps away from gorilla habitat (this was agreed to in 1990, but was not adhered to).

Economic Benefits of Ecotourism and Preservation
Recently, many Africans have begun to view their natural resources with national pride. In addition, the realization that short-term economic benefits can be derived from so-called "ecological tourism" has generated moderate successes in countries such as Rwanda and the DRC. Local peoples have seen that the revenue generated from ecotourism is significant to their economies and it is in their own best interests to preserve their unique heritage for future generations.

Survival Predictions for the Future
Arguments for and against the extinction of mountain gorillas can be made. Factors which may be beneficial or harmful to their long-term survival include increasing stability or instability of national governments in the region, improving or declining economic conditions, and the successful or unsuccessful implementation of ecotourism efforts.

Preserving "Charismatic Megafauna"
When asked to name an endangered species, people can easily cite animals such as mountain gorillas and giant pandas. While the efforts to conserve these "charismatic megafauna" receive widespread public support in developed nations, less stellar creatures (insects) that are equally endangered are ignored by the public. But does this view make ecological sense? By focusing on a single species, we may lose sight of the importance of the ecosystem that it lives in.

What is different about remote sensing in this module? Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a major feature of the "Mountain Gorillas" module. Geographical Information Systems (GIS) is a method of scientific visualization. Remote sensing images are combined with spatially-referenced sets of data to provide visual representations of ecological conditions and distrubances over large areas of the globe.

Preparation Cecklist--have you thought of everything?

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Grade Level: 7-12

What is the compelling problem that students will face in this module?
Your students should imagine themselves as a team of technical experts who have been contracted by a coalition of concerned citizens from Rwanda and other nations to help find a way to hold the boundary lines of the gorillas' habitat. The coalition members are particularly interested in a thorough description of the physical area so that they will be accurate when they articulate their case to the nations in which the gorillas' habitat lies.

Using the information from the units of this module, students should describe the extent of the habitat erosion over the past ten years and should explain what human events have caused the erosion. An adequate explanation will require students to have a thorough understanding of the economic and political events of the period and skill at interpreting and manipulating the images in "Geographic and Remote Sensing."

Providing for Reflection
Despite a limited level of commitment while working on a module, students can still experience significant learning if they enter into the reflection process. Ideally, reflection occurs at various points during the module; however, reflection done only at the close of a module can also be a powerful learning experience.

Good, C. (Ed.). (1973) Dictionary of education, (3rd ed.). New York: McGraw Hill.

Humphreys, A., Post, T., & Ellis, A. (1981). Interdisciplinary methods: A thematic approach. Santa Monica, CA: Goodyear.


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Last updated April 28, 2005

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