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STEM ready

Saving Salamanders From Human Impact


  1. Students will understand that contributing factors to the decline of the amphibian population are human development and loss of habitat.
  2. Students will understand how to use the engineering design process to design a solution to a real-world problem.
  3. Students will know how research informs the design process and provides constraints of feasibility and relevancy of design elements.


3.ETS1.1 Design a solution to a real-world problem that includes specified criteria for constraints.

3.ETS1.2 Apply evidence or research to support a design solution.


Engineering design process
a series of steps that engineers follow to find a solution to a problem
Human impact
the various ways humans affect the environment, such as pollution, deforestation, and use of natural resources
a group of amphibians with lizard-like bodies covered in moist skin

Prior Knowledge

1.ETS1.1 Solve scientific problems by asking testable questions, making short-term and long-term observations, and gathering information.

2.ETS1.2 Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model that communicates solutions to others.

Compare and contrast solutions to a design problem by using evidence to point out the strengths and weaknesses of the design.

Career Connections

  • Wildlife Conservationist
  • Nature Scientist
  • Biologist

Materials Needed

  1. Lesson slide deck
  2. Idea, Plan, Sketch document
  3. Design a solution rubric


Activity One: Students learn about salamanders and the human impact on salamanders.

Activity Two: Students use the engineering design process to create a solution to a problem affecting salamanders.

Lesson Flow

Driving Question: How can humans help increase salamander populations?


Activity One (15-20 minutes)

Focus Question: How have humans impacted salamanders?

Crosscutting Concept (CCC): Cause and Effect

Science and Engineering Practice (SEP): Asking Questions and Defining Problems

Sequence of Learning:

  • Students try to guess what animal is being revealed with clues and images.
    • I usually have a tail.
    • I have legs.
    • Some of us play on land. Others play in the water.
    • My skin is moist.
    • I lay eggs.
    • Some can regrow a lost limb or tail.
    • Some have gills. Others develop lungs.
    • Some are toxic and show this with bright colors.
    • I am an amphibian but not a frog or toad.
  • Watch this video by the Tennessee Wildlife Resource Agency.
  • Students turn and tell a classmate two things they learned from the video. The teacher reviews the list of facts after students share. For interaction, have students raise their hand if the fact was one that they shared with their partner.
  • Share the ways humans have impacted salamanders.
    • Human development has reduced and disrupted salamander habitats.
    • Humans have polluted bodies of water that salamanders live in and use to lay eggs.
    • Salamanders are killed while trying to cross roadways.
    • Potential problem (not thoroughly confirmed): Foreign fungus potentially infecting salamanders in North America.
      • This fungus may be indirectly caused by humans as non-native salamanders travel on shipping vessels and containers. These salamanders carry the fungus and spread it to salamanders found in America that have not developed immunity to it see ( informational poster).
      • This fungus can be directly caused by humans selling wildlife as exotic pets. Then pet owners release the non-native salamanders into habitats in America (see article).

Activity Two (45-60 Minutes)

Focus Question: How can we, as TVA wildlife conservationists, design a solution to solve a problem affecting salamanders?

Crosscutting Concept (CCC): Stability and Change

Science and Engineering Practice (SEP): Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

Sequence of Learning:

Salamanders are an indicator of the overall health of ecosystems across Tennessee. Tennessee is the salamander capital of the world, with declining salamander populations due to human impact. 

  • Students will work through the engineering design process to prototype a solution to a real problem affecting salamander populations in Tennessee and to answer the driving question: How can we, as TVA wildlife conservationists, design a solution to solve a problem affecting salamander populations?

Saving Salamander Lesson Graphics

  • Ask: What is the Problem?
    • What is the negative outcome that we want to prevent?
    • What or who is causing the problem?
      • Humans are building roads that separate salamanders from bodies of water needed to lay eggs.
      • Humans are building homes and businesses and destroying salamander habitats.
      • Humans are polluting bodies of water with trash, sediment caused by erosion, and chemicals from littering and fertilizers used in agriculture.
  • Research and Identify Constraints
    • (7 minutes) What do I need to know about salamanders?
    • What will affect my design?
  • Imagine Possible Solutions
    • (5 minutes) Brainstorm as many possible solutions as possible before deciding on one.
    • Don’t limit your ideas here.
  • Plan: Select One Solution
    • (2 minutes) Select the most promising solution to the problem.
    • (60 seconds) Develop a plan and/or sketch a design.
  • Create a Prototype
    • (15 minutes) Construct a physical or digital prototype of your solution.
  • Test & Improve the Prototype
    • Try out your solution.
    • (15 minutes) Show & Share: Get feedback from others.
      • Partner A
        • Show your prototype.
        • Share how it solves the problem.
        • Get feedback from your classmate.
      • Partner B
        • Listen to Partner A show and share.
        • Take notes.
        • Give feedback.
      • Swap roles.
    • Feedback: How can it be improved? What worked well?
  • Revise or Create (Again)
    • (5 minutes) Revise the existing prototype based on feedback or test results. OR
    • (5 minutes) Construct another physical or digital prototype of your solution based on feedback or test results.