Lesson Plan

The Changing World of the Shenandoah Salamander

Two kids hold up a large picture of a Shenandoah Salamander next to a park ranger who holds up an arrowhead, the symbol of the National Park Service.

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Grade Level:
Fourth Grade
Climate Change, Conservation, Environment, Wildlife Biology
Pre-visit: Two 30-minute class periods for teacher-led pre-visit activities; Ranger-led Classroom Program: 45 min - 1 hour; Post-visit: One or more class periods for teacher-led post-visit activities.
Group Size:
Up to 24
National/State Standards:
Virginia Standards of Learning: Science 4.5 and 4.9


Shenandoah National Park is a refuge for many animals and plants that are pressured by human activities and other land uses. Shenandoah is home for the Shenandoah salamander, an endangered species that lives nowhere else on the planet. Human-accelerated climate change could cause a serious decline in population of the Shenandoah salamander. Students will learn about environmental threats and determine ways people can help protect species and care for their national parks and the environment.


Following the ranger presentation and classroom activities, the students will be able to
1. Define the mission of the National Park Service and name three national park areas and their significant features that are protected;

2. Explain how Shenandoah National Park protects plants and animals, specifically the Shenandoah salamander;

3. Identify three environmental and human influences that can impact the sensitive mountaintop ecosystem of the Shenandoah salamander and describe the potential consequences on the Shenandoah salamander's survival;

4. Explain three ways that individuals can help reduce the impact of human-accelerated climate change to help protect national parks and the environment.


The mission of the National Park Service and Shenandoah National Park is to preserve and protect the natural and cultural resources and leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations. There are more than 400 National Park areas across the nation that protect significant natural features, historic sites, and heritage areas.

Shenandoah National Park is one of these special places where visitors come to experience the mountain views, stroll through meadows and forests, hike to waterfalls, photograph wildflowers, and observe wildlife. Shenandoah National Park is a refuge for many animals and plants pressured by human activities and other land uses. There are more than 200 resident and migratory bird species, more than 50 species of mammals, more than 35 fish species, and 26 reptile species found in the park.

Shenandoah is also home to 14 species of salamanders including the Shenandoah salamander (Plethodon shenandoah) which is an endangered species that is only found in cool, moist habitats on three high elevation peaks within the Shenandoah National Park. Salamanders are amphibians, and like frogs, need water or moisture in which to reproduce. Many salamanders are considered to be at risk for survival due to the loss of, or changes to, their habitat. Although these secretive creatures are unknown to many people, they are important parts of terrestrial ecosystems in our natural world and are in serious need of our protection.

There are many plant and animal species worldwide that live in special habitats at higher elevations that are at risk of extinction. One contributing factor to this risk could be warming temperatures due to climate change. Climate change is predicted to result in dramatic changes in temperature and moisture conditions in the Appalachian Mountains, including the high elevation ecosystem where the Shenandoah salamander lives.

Around the world, scientists are studying potential impacts of a warming climate. Shenandoah National Park is collaborating with the Smithsonian, University of Virginia, US Geological Survey and other federal agencies to assess the potential climate change impacts on high-elevation ecosystems by studying the endangered Shenandoah salamander. Through this lesson, students will understand the plight of the Shenandoah salamander, will be able to educate others about the Shenandoah salamander and climate change, and will be able to make educated lifestyle choices to reduce their "ecological footprint."

This program was funded by a generous donation from the Shenandoah National Park Trust.


Materials include a short video and student activity sheets.


  1. "What's a National Park?" activity sheet.
  2. "KWL Rocks!" activity sheet.
  3. "Ranger Letter" activity sheet.
  4. Salamander skit.
  5. Salamander habitat diorama.
  6. Ecological footprint calculation and pledge.

Park Connections

Shenandoah National Park is a refuge for many animals and plants that are pressured by human activities and other land uses. Shenandoah is home for the Shenandoah salamander, an endangered species that lives nowhere else on the planet. Human-accelerated climate change may contribute to the fragile existence of the Shenandoah salamander.


1. Make your school a "Schoolyard Habitat"! With teacher assistance, students can analyze, then apply appropriate habitat principles in their schoolyard. www.dgif.virginia.gov/habitat/schools/

2. Virginia Naturally. Virginia Naturally provides citizens and educators with a virtual library and gateway to statewide environmental education resources.

Additional Resources

Shenandoah salamander resources
"Shenandoah Salamander - Shenandoah National Park." U.S. National Park Service - Experience Your America. Shenandoah National Park, 16 July 2012. https://www.nps.gov/shen/naturescience/shenandoah_salamander.htm
United States. U.S. Department of the Interior. National Park Service.

"Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries." Species Information: Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah). Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, 2012.

"Shenandoah Salamander (Plethodon shenandoah)." Virginia Herpetological Society, 2011. 

"Climate Change and Shenandoah Salamanders." N.p., n.d. Web.

Climate change resources
National Park Service Climate Change Overview: https://www.nature.nps.gov/climatechange/overview.cfm

"Media Advisory: NSIDC launches "Greenland Ice Sheet Today," reviews extreme melt season of 2012", National Snow and Ice Data Center, 5 Feb., 2013: http://nsidc.org/new/press/20130129_greenlandicesheettoday.html

"Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet." Climate Change: Vital Signs of the Planet. National Aeronautics and Space Administration: http://climate.nasa.gov/

United States Environmental Protection Agency's "What You Can Do" about climate change (home, office, school and on the road suggestions): http://www.epa.gov/climatechange/wycd/index.html

Environmental Protection Agency's Students' Guide to Global Climate Change. Interactive and good information: http://www.epa.gov/climatestudents/index.html

Calculate your carbon footprint and find out ways to reduce energy use: http://www.myfootprint.org/

Citizen science resources
"You Can Be a Scientist, Too!" Citizen science project websites relating to climate change.

Student involvement in citizen science; informative and inspirational articles: http://www.edutopia.org/service-learning-citizen-science

National Science Foundation's website with answers to "What Can I Do To Help?" http://www.nsf.gov/discoveries/disc_summ.jsp?cntn_id=123903


adaptation, amphibian, climate change, endangered species, greenhouse effect

Last updated: February 18, 2016