STEAM Challenge

Local Species Spotlight

Submission Due Date: April 1, 2022 

Designed for Middle and High School Students 

Table of Contents

·      The Challenge

·      Assumptions and Logistics

·      Process

·      Meridian Support Resources

·      Presentation of Learning

·      Evaluation Rubric

·      Essential Questions

·      Student Proficiencies

·      Curricular Correlations (NGSS)

Range of Activities

·      Scientific Research about Species in Local Habitats

·      Connecting/Interviewing with the Scientific Community

·      Scriptwriting and Narrative Organization

·      Exploration of Comedy

·      Digital Literacy Skills – Video – Pre-production, Production and Post-production

·      21st Century Skills: Creativity, Collaboration, Critical Thinking, Presentational Skills

The Challenge

Every type of organism interacts with other organisms in its ecosystem. Whether these interactions involve nonliving or living factors, they are often essential for survival based on the organism’s requirements for resources.

National Geographic is creating a Species Database of short 3-minute educational films on every local species in North America. They are hiring one of their Nat Geo Explorers – you! – to do a spotlight on a species in your area and some of its interactions in its ecosystem to include in this database of knowledge. Because you have been working for Nat Geo so long, they are letting you pick the species, whether plant or animal. They have some requirements for you, however. Your final report must include:

  • An interview with a subject-matter expert – this could be someone who works in an industry involving your species or a teacher who knows about the species (but not your own teacher!). Feel free to ask the expert about the subsequent criteria, or other questions you think would help the audience better understand the species.

Also, each 3-minute report must include the following information:

  • A key adaptation in structure or behavior that makes the species suitable for the local habitat;
  • The details of at least two interactions involving the species in its ecosystem, including what the species interacts with, the interaction type, and the purpose of interaction; and
  • An explanation of how local environmental conditions affect growth of the organism or population (e.g. availability of food, light, space, water, etc.).

In accordance with the formatting of the Nat Geo Species Database, each spotlight:

  1. Starts with a factual presentation of its key characteristics and behaviors;
  2. Continues with an expert detailing further information about the species; and
  3. Concludes with the rest of the information about interactions and local environmental conditions.

The final deliverable – which may use up to 20 seconds of outside footage, assuming rights are properly documented – should be formatted as a 3 minute documentary “species special.”

BUT, since this is really a Meridian Stories assignment and not a National Geographic one, you need to include one more thing. Something funny. We want to learn about your local species, but we also want it to …make us laugh. At least once. Perhaps more.

Deliverables include:

  • Species Spotlight (this is your only Meridian Stories deliverable)
  • Format Outline (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Interview Questions (at teacher’s discretion)
  • Script Draft (at teacher’s discretion)

Assumptions and Logistics

Time Frame – We recommend that this digital storytelling project takes place inside of a three to four-week time frame.

Length – All Meridian Stories submissions should be under 4 minutes in length, unless otherwise specified.

Slate – All digital storytelling projects must begin with a slate that provides:

  1. the title of the piece;
  2. the name of the school submitting;
  3. the wording ‘Permission Granted’ which gives Meridian Stories the right to a) publicly display the submission in question on, as linked from, related to or in support of Meridian Stories digital media; and b) use or reference it for educational purposes only, in any and all media; and
  4. We strongly recommend that students do not put their last names on the piece either at the start or finish, during the credits.

Submissions – Keep in mind that each school can only submit three submissions per Competition (so while the entire class can participate in the Challenge, only three can be submitted to Meridian Stories for Mentor review and scoring).

Teacher Reviews – All reviews by the teacher are at the discretion of the teacher and all suggested paper deliverables are due only to the teacher. The only deliverable to Meridian Stories is the digital storytelling project.

Teacher’s Role and Technology Integrator – While it is helpful to have a Technology Integrator involved, they are not usually necessary: the students already know how to produce the digital storytelling project. And if they don’t, part of their challenge is to figure it out. They will! The teacher’s primary function in these Challenges is to guide the students as they engage with the content.  You don’t need to know editing, sound design, shooting or storyboarding: you just need to know your content area, while assisting them with time management issues.

Digital Rules/Literacy – We strongly recommend that all students follow the rules of Digital Citizenry in their proper usage and/or citation of images, music and text taken from other sources. This recommendation includes producing a citations page at the end of your entry, if applicable. See the Digital Rules area in the Meridian Resources Center section of the site for guidance.

Location – Try not to shoot in a classroom at your school. The classroom, no matter how you dress it up, looks like a classroom and can negatively impact the digital story you are trying to tell.

Collaboration – We strongly recommend that students work in teams of 3-4: part of the educational value is around building collaborative skill sets. But students may work individually.

The Process

Below is a suggested breakdown for the students’ work.

During Phase I, student teams will:

  • Pick a species native to their area, plant or animal, on which to focus.
  • Research the types of relationships that can exist in ecosystems, including predatory, mutually beneficial, and competitive.
    • What examples of these can you think of involving your species?
    • Pick at least two to spotlight.
  • Research how behaviors and structures (such as characteristic animal behaviors, or specialized plant structures) can affect a species’ reproduction.
    • Pick a key trait (either structure or behavior) in the chosen species to elaborate upon.
  • Research local environmental conditions for your species, including availability of food, sunlight, space, and water.
    • Explain how these conditions, or one condition in particular, affect the growth or reproduction of the organism or population.
  • Identify and approach an expert to interview about your species and contact them to arrange a time and place to interview.
  • Consider the format of the Nat Geo Species Spotlight and decide what content you want to include in the three sections (background and behaviors, the interview, and the extra information) and roughly how much time you want each section to take up.
    • Teacher’s Option: Format Outline – Teachers may require students to formalize an outline of what information will be included in what section of the species spotlight.
  • Decide what the key visuals are in your Species Spotlight.
    • Research possible outside footage of your species to integrate into your Spotlight.
    • Consider whether a diagram of your species would add to the narrative.
    • By the end of Phase I, you should have a good sense of the information you will be presenting in the first and third points; a good sense of who you will be interviewing and what information you hope to get from that person; and a good sense of the visuals you will include or need to shoot in order to tell the story. And perhaps you have found a place to be …funny.

During Phase II, student teams will:

  • Draft the interview questions.
  • Once you have assessed the information that you have and that you need, draft your questions in the hopes that your expert will be able to supply you with information that you need to complete your species portrait.
    • Teacher’s Option: Interview Questions – Teachers may require that teams hand in their draft of Interview Questions for feedback and review.
  • Shoot the interview.
    • What has your team learned from the interview(s) and how will that affect the overall narrative?
  • Draft the script, as based on what has already been covered in the interview. It’s at this point – unless you have been obsessing over the comic element all along – that you should find your comic moment(s). You have done your research. You have completed your interviews. Now, how are you going to make us laugh? Perhaps your whole presentation is done in a mocumentary style. Or perhaps there is just a single joke. Maybe an outtake. It’s up to you.
    • Finalize the script.
    • Teacher’s Option: Script Draft – Teachers may require that teams hand in their script drafts for feedback and review.
    • Finalize inclusion of outside existing footage, as desired.
  • Cast the video (if necessary)
  • Create costumes, props, and other set pieces as needed
  • Pre-produce the video, preparing for all the shots that you still need to shoot

During Phase III, student teams will:

  • Shoot the remainder of the video
  • Edit the video
  • Post-produce the video, adding music and sound effects as desired
  • Finalize any written deliverables

Meridian Support Resources

Meridian Stories provides two forms of support for the student teams.

1.    Meridian Innovators and Artists – This is a series of three-to-four-minute videos featuring artists and innovative media professionals who offer important advice, specifically produced for Meridian Stories, in the areas of creativity and production.

2.    Media Resource Collection – These are short documents that offer student teams a few key tips in the areas of creativity and production.

Recommended review, as a team, for this Challenge include:

Meridian Innovators and Artists Media Resource Collection
On Documentary Films – Sarah Childress

On Interviewing – Tom Pierce

On Non-fiction – Margaret Heffernan

On Making Documentaries – Margaret Heffernan

“Conducting An Interview”

“Creating a Short Documentary”

“Six Principle modes of Documentary Filmmaking”

“Producing: Time Management”

“Sound Editing Basics”

Presentation of Learning

Meridian Stories is a proud partner of the non-profit Share Your Learning, which is spearheading the movement of over five million students to publicly share their work as a meaningful part of their educational experience.

The workforce considers Presentational Skills to be a key asset and we encourage you to allow students to practice this skill set as often as possible. These short digital stories provide a great opportunity for kids to practice their public presentational skills.

According to Share Your Learning, Presentations of Learning (POL) promote…

  • Student Ownership, Responsibility & Engagement. POLs can serve as a powerful rite of passage at the end of [a project]. By reflecting on their growth over time in relation to academic and character goals, grounded in evidence from their work, students are encouraged to take ownership of their learning. Just as an artist wants their portfolio to represent their best work, POLs encourage students to care deeply about the work they will share.
  • Community Pride & Involvement. When peers, teachers and community members come together to engage with student work and provide authentic feedback, they become invested in students’ growth and serve as active contributors to the school community.
  • Equity. POLs ensure that all students are seen and provide insight into what learning experiences students find most meaningful and relevant to their lives.

Meridian Stories’ own research indicates this to be a really useful exercise for one additional reason:  Students actually learn from their peers’ presentations – it is useful to hear a perspective that is not just the teacher’s.

It is with this in mind that we you encourage you to plan an event – it could be just an end-of-the-week class or an event where parents, teachers and student peers are invited – to allow the students to showcase their Meridian Stories projects. For more free resources that will support this planning, visit Share Your Learning.

Evaluation Rubric – Local Species Spotlight


Criteria 1 – 10
Communication of Content –
Two Interactions
The details about type, purpose, and object of both interactions are creatively presented and well-explained
Communication of Content – Key Adaptation The key adaptation for local habitat is incorporated smoothly and explained clearly
Communication of Content – Local Environmental Condition The effects of local environmental conditions on growth of the organism or population are clearly explained and smoothly incorporated


Criteria 1 – 10
Scripting The script clearly conveys the content in an engaging narrative
Interview The interview – the questions asked – enhance the informational value and clarity of the documentary
Comedy The inclusion of a comic moment is timely, relevant to the content, smart and actually funny


Criteria 1 – 10
Visual Shot Selection The combination of still shots, plus existing and new video footage, effectively and engagingly communicates the content
Editing and Music The Species Spotlight is edited cleanly and effectively, resulting in an engaging video experience that is also enhanced by the music

HUMAN SKILLS COMMAND (for teachers only)

Criteria 1 – 10
Collaborative Thinking The group demonstrated flexibility in making compromises and valued the contributions of each group member
Creativity and Innovation The group brainstormed many inventive ideas and was able to evaluate, refine and implement them effectively
Initiative and Self-Direction The group set attainable goals, worked independently and managed their time effectively, demonstrating a disciplined commitment to the project

 Essential Questions

  1. What are some iconic or important local species?
    1. What are the key characteristics, behaviors, and/or interactions that characterize that species?
  2. How have species evolved to affect the probability of successful reproduction?
  3. What kinds of relationships do species have with other species or nonliving factors within their ecosystem?
  4. How does one identify, approach, and successfully interview an adult subject matter expert?
  5. Why is comedy a significant factor that will deepen engagement with a narrative?
  6. How has immersion in the creation of original content and the production of digital media – exercising one’s creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy skills – deepened the overall educational experience?
  7. How has working on a team – practicing one’s collaborative skills – changed the learning experience?

 Student Outcomes    

  1. The student will become more familiar with local species and why certain ones are iconic or important to the local society.
    1. The student will learn about a species in detail and better understand how characteristic behaviors or structures evolved in that species, and what types of interactions characterize its existence and lifespan.
  2. The student will better understand how characteristic animal behaviors and specialized plant structures can help species’ reproduction.
  3. The student will learn about predatory, competitive, mutually beneficial, and other types of relationships that are typical of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.
  4. The student will experience how to interview and converse with an outside subject matter expert in the field.
  5. The student will appreciate the power of comedy to increase the value of a story.
  6. The student will utilize key Human Skills, with a focus on creativity, critical thinking and digital literacy, in their process of translating STEAM content into a new narrative format.
  7. The student will have an increased awareness of the challenges and rewards of team collaboration. Collaboration – the ability to work with others – is considered one of the most important Human Skills to develop in students as they prepare for life after secondary school.

Curricular Correlations

The Local Species Spotlight Challenge addresses a range of curricular objectives that are articulated in the Next Generation Science Standards. Below please find the standards that are addressed, either wholly or in part.

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

High School – Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Use mathematical and/or computational representations to support explanations of factors that affect carrying capacity of ecosystems at different scales. (HS-LS2-1)
  • Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem. (HS-LS2-6)
  • Evaluate the evidence for the role of group behavior on individual and species’ chances to survive and reproduce. (HS-LS2-8)

High School – Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Apply concepts of statistics and probability to support explanations that organisms with an advantageous heritable trait tend to increase in proportion to organisms lacking this trait. (HS-LS4-3)
  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for how natural selection leads to adaptation of populations. (HS-LS4-4)

High School Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • Ecosystems have carrying capacities, which are limits to the numbers of organisms and populations they can support. These limits result from such factors as the availability of living and nonliving resources and from challenges such as predation, competition, and disease. (LS2.A; HS-LS2-1, HS-LS2-2)
  • Environmental factors affect expression of traits, and hence affect the probability of occurrences of traits in a population. (LS3.B; HS-LS3-2, HS-LS3-3)
  • The traits that positively affect survival are more likely to be reproduced, and thus are more common in the population (LS4.B; HS-LS4-3)
  • Natural selection leads to adaptation, that is, to a population dominated by organisms that are anatomically, behaviorally, and physiologically well suited to survive and reproduce in a specific environment. (LS4.C; HS-LS4-3, HS-LS4-4)
  • Adaptation also means that the distribution of traits in a population can change when conditions change. (LS4.C; HS-LS4-3)

Middle School – From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms. (MS-LS1-5)

Middle School – Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem. (MS-LS2-1)
  • Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems. (MS-LS2-2)

Middle School – Biological Evolution: Unity and Diversity

Students who demonstrate understanding can:

  • Construct an explanation based on evidence that describes how genetic variations of traits in a population increase some individuals’ probability of surviving and reproducing in a specific environment. (MS-LS4-4)
  • Use mathematical representations to support explanations of how natural selection may lead to increases and decreases of specific traits in populations over time.

Middle School Disciplinary Core Ideas:

  • Animals engage in characteristic behaviors that increase the odds of reproduction. (LS1.B; MS-LS1-4)
  • Plants reproduce in a variety of ways, sometimes depending on animal behavior and specialized features for reproduction. (LS1.B; MS-LS1-4)
  • Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors. (LS2.A; MS-LS2-1)
  • In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction. (LS2.A; MS-LS2-1)
  • Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources. (LS2.A; MS-LS2-1)
  • Similarly, predatory interactions may reduce the number of organisms or eliminate whole populations of organisms. Mutually beneficial interactions, in contrast, may become so interdependent that each organism requires the other for survival. Although the species involved in these competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial interactions vary across ecosystems, the patterns of interactions of organisms with their environments, both living and nonliving, are shared. (LS2.A; MS-LS2-2)
  • Natural selection leads to the predominance of certain traits in a population, and the suppression of others. (LS4.B; MS-LS4-4)
  • Adaptation by natural selection acting over generations is one important process by which species change over time in response to changes in environmental conditions. Traits that support successful survival and reproduction in the new environment become more common; those that do not become less common. (LS4.C; MS-LS4-6)