Island BioGeography Theory 5E Lab

Students pour beans through funnels in this version of Island Biogeography


The Theory of Island Biogeography is a nice 5E lab using inexpensive materials (funnels, beans and poster paper) that not only teaches students an important concept, but also helps develop higher level thinking skills.

The Theory of Island Biogeography states that larger islands closer to the mainland have higher biodiversity than smaller islands further from the mainland. This theory is also applied to isolated habitats on land. You can read about this concept on this document and can share with students.

The basic concept of this lab is not complicated for students, but applying it to preserving biodiversity on continents or even thier own community can be counter-intuitive. Students have difficulty realizing that we have isolated habitats on land and that preserving pockets of habitat that are larger and closer together is the best for biodiversity.

The 5E Lab

This Island Biogeography Theory 5E Lab is inquiry-based to help students discover the concept on their own and develop critical thinking skills to make real-life applications.
Engage: Students discuss how animals or plants migrate to islands.
Explore: Students drop beans through funnels onto a poster multiple times and count the species that land on each island. They do some math to help them calculate averages per island.


Explain: Students make sense of their data using guiding questions and make a claim about the scientific concept–this is a great place for formative assessment. Then, they read a passage explaining the theory in formal academic and scientific vocabulary.
Elaborate: Students apply this knowledge to isolated pockets of land in their community using Google Earth–its best to do this as a whole class so that you can help students find pockets of habitat. This is something that most students have never realized, but when they do, its a great “aha” moment.
They then apply this knowledge to our National Parks. Using a map of the National Parks, they are asked which parks would have the most biodiversity using this theory and then where they would create a new park. Many students want to put a new park in a state (like Kansas) that doesn’t have any national parks. This is incorrect according to this theory. A large park next to an existing large park is the best solution according to this theory.

Evaluate:  Students write a chunk paragraph addressing the following questions. They are to base their argument using evidence from this lab.

  • What do you observe in your town about habitat fragmentation?  What kind of wildlife would be the most affected?
  • How could we use this concept when we develop urban planning? How should development occur to preserve the most species?

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