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We are extremely excited to launch this course on biodiversity on the Khan Academy platform. Exploring, explaining and sustaining biodiversity is at the core of the mission of the California Academy of Sciences, and partnering with Khan Academy gives us a wonderful way to share our course around the world.

The Biodiversity Imperative:

We chose biodiversity as the focus of our first course with Khan Academy not only because it is so relevant to our institutional mission, but also because biodiversity is literally the stuff of life. It is the diversity of all the species on this planet, the genetic diversity represented by all the individuals, the ecosystem diversity, and the evolutionary lineages represented by all species, living and fossil. Biodiversity is all around us. It is crucial to the quality of our lives and the lives of all other living organisms, but we actually know very little about who all the players are in this pageantry of life, much less the roles they play and the benefits they can and do provide. We do know, however, that we are losing biodiversity at an alarming and unprecedented rate, driven by our own actions that result in habitat loss, pollution, climate change, overfishing and overhunting, to name a few. But it is not all bad news. We are learning more about biodiversity every day, and tremendous advances have been made in protecting and restoring biodiversity in many areas of the world. This course is designed to tell these exciting, amazing, crucial, and at times troubling stories of the diversity of life.

The Organizational Metaphor: Archipelagos, Islands, and Hikes

The drawing at the top of this page has served as our organizational and visual metaphor for creating specific tutorials on a topic as vast as biodiversity. This metaphor provides a geography as it were, for the content.

1.  Archipelagos are groups of islands that form a recognizable assemblage, and in our metaphor, each addresses a large, overarching theme. Biodiversity is our first archipelago; future archipelago courses might include Evolution, Ecology, and Climate Change .

2.  Islands within an archipelago contain information on some aspect of the archipelago theme; in Khan Academy language, each island is a tutorial. Would you like to know why biodiversity is important? Just go to the island (tutorial) on that topic.

3.  Hikes are exploratory excursions throughout and around an island, taking visitors to various points of interest. For example, once you arrive at the island that addresses why biodiversity is important, you can delve into how biodiversity is linked to ecosystem function and ecosystem services.

The Course

The course is designed for many audiences, including teachers, students, families, youth leaders, policy makers, and anyone interested in learning more about the diversity of life on our planet. We hope that you will not only learn things from the course, but will also be moved to become even more active stewards of the environment and its precious biodiversity.

We are launching this course with two islands of the archipelago available for your exploration: “Why is biodiversity important?” and the hotspot aspects of “Where do we find biodiversity?” The hikes on each island include videos, articles, a glossary, quiz questions, activities, and an annotated list of selected references, in case you want to dig even deeper into the content. Here’s a hint for the quiz questions: they are drawn from material presented not only in the videos, but also in the accompanying articles. We are eager to hear from all of you biodiversity explorers how you like the course, and any questions or suggestions you have. Please use the community questions section to give us feedback. Because we hope that teachers will find this course of interest and use, we have included links to the Common Core State Standards and the Next Generation Science Standards in the selected references. Please let us know if you would like more detailed linkages and mapping.

Over the next several months, we will be adding more islands and more hikes, addressing such topics as how biodiversity is documented, why it is threatened, how it can be protected, where it comes from, and what types of biodiversity there are. So, lace up those hiking boots and keep checking back – there will be more and more about biodiversity to explore!

Lastly, because some people have already asked, we include here a thumbnail description of how we produce the videos and the accompanying materials, and who is involved. The voice (narrator) of the videos and the artistic talent behind the sketches (including the archipelago drawing above) belong to Rich Mooi, Curator of Invertebrate Zoology and Geology at the California Academy of Sciences (CAS), and echinoderm expert extraordinaire. The content for each video starts as a detailed outline developed by Rich and Meg Burke (CAS Director of Teacher & Youth Education, and behavioral ecologist), which is then transformed by Rich into a lecture that he delivers to Meg and a few other members of the core team. The lecture transcript is then converted into an actual script with invaluable guidance from our in-house production team in our Science Visualization Studio: Tom Kennedy (Head of Production) and Molly Michelson (Producer). After the script is set and the final voice-over completed, Rich’s sketches are captured digitally, in real time in an entertaining, interactive, chocolate-fueled session where ideas for the cartoons get kicked around. These sessions, and final video production, are ably supported by Nick Perez (Viz Studio Videographer/Editor). The sketches are brought to life by the magical animation work of Grant Inouye and Morris Watts-Zagha. The supporting educational written materials are the work of Meg, Helena Carmena Young (consultant and former CAS staff) and Kathryn Danielson (CAS Teacher Education Specialist). Production Assistant Dannie Holzer helps the entire team. We all hope you enjoy exploring the tutorials as much as we have enjoyed making them!

Happy trails!

Rich, Meg, Tom, Molly, Nick, Grant, Morris, Helena, Kathryn and Dannie