Half-Earth in the United States: A Mapping Design Challenge


Students work in teams to gather and analyze evidence with a goal to identify the most useful lands in the United States to set aside for biodiversity protection. Dynamic, interactive tools on the Half-Earth Project Map and the Map of Life equip students to evaluate biodiversity distribution, protected areas, and human impacts on nature. Group discussions guide students in communicating ideas, devising conservation solutions, reaching consensus, and evaluating the work of their peers. The lesson plan features notes on how to foster more inclusive inquiry in the classroom.

90 minutes, minimum

Additional time is recommended to prepare students in using the online maps and to incorporate this lesson’s inclusion recommendations.


Biology, MS Science, Geography, Introductory GIS, AP Biology, AP Environmental Science

You will need:

Printed Paper maps

Digital map files

Online half-earth map

Half-Earth in the United States: A Mapping Design Challenge

Learning Objectives

This challenge will engage students through authentic group work and discussions to generate ideas and interest in biodiversity, data analysis, and mapping tools. It will raise student awareness of conservation issues and approaches to place-based conservation through a small set of research-based resources, including the Half-Earth Map. The lesson plan provides a structured framework for teachers to use directly or modify and extend to meet their classroom goals.

Key Terms + Conditions

  • Place-based conservation 
  • Habitat loss
  • Species distribution
  • Species recovery
  • Human impacts
  • Mapping tools
  • Data Analysis

Lesson Resources

Top tips for Instructors

Provide maps one-at-a-time throughout the lesson, rather than all at once, to sustain the challenge of the exercise, build knowledge sequentially, and stimulate students’ curiosity.

Relate the exercise to your local community to help students relate to different ways land is used or opportunities for protection.

Discuss the different sectors (public, private, etc) and how their priorities align or conflict, in order to emphasize the real-world complexities of decisions around land conservation.

Learn from other educators, with this video offering tips on this lesson from teachers (and Half-Earth Project Ambassadors) at Reedsburg High School in Wisconsin.

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