I start by asking students how many of them have ever visited Sea World, an aquarium, a zoo, an animal sanctuary, or something similar. I ask what the purposes of these facilities might be. I direct students to look up Zoo the Encyclopedia Britannica webpage and have them read to find the three main purposes of zoos. Soon enough, they will come across the following excerpt:
"The primary object of zoos that are in the charge of scientific societies is the study of animals. ...Today, the opportunities for scientific inquiry are much wider, and a few societies have established special research institutions.... In recent years a few zoos have intensified their efforts, frequently in cooperation with educational authorities, to provide an educational program for school children and students. Some zoos have full-time or voluntary guides on their staff, whose job it is to provide more information for visitors than can be given on labels attached to cages. Others meet this need by providing “talking labels,” prerecorded tapes operated by the visitor himself... Since World War II a number of zoos have been developed as breeding centers for animal species in danger of becoming extinct in the wild. Many threatened species have been saved by breeding in captivity."
I explain to students that in order to provide a suitable home for sea life so they can study them and help preserve the species, many marine biologists and oceanographers work together to create man-made environments that mimic, or replicate, the natural ocean environment, which is what we see when we visit zoos and aquariums. Scientists must be very careful to create an environment that almost exactly mimics what the real ocean would be like, or the species may not survive in it.
I have students start by pairing up and visiting some of the nation's aquariums and observe what they have done to mimic the natural ocean environment for the sea life who reside there. They do this by taking "virtual field trips" and visiting exhibits and webcams that are available online, such as the following:
While they visit each area, they should discuss with their partner some of the similarities between different aquarium exhibits. Are they similar in size, color, do they contain the same plant life, etc? Students would observe very carefully and try to find as many similarities as possible. After all, if many of the biggest and best aquariums are all doing the same thing, there must be a reason for it! If students struggle to find similarities, I might drop a few hints by asking clarifying questions, such as:
After providing time to view these exhibits and conduct some of their own research, I call the class back together to discuss their findings. I call on volunteers to share what they noticed about the exhibits, and to describe why they think the exhibits were designed this way. I allow others to respond to their classmates' ideas, providing additional thoughts, asking questions, or making connections to something they noticed.
Next, I pass out the Ocean Zone Project Guide and have students read through it carefully. I go over the expectations with the students, as well as the point breakdown. I ask the students to recall the different ocean zones we have studied and to think about which zone they might want to build as part of their project. I pass out index cards and allow them to select their top three choices for a partner, as well as their top three choices for an ocean zone. After collecting the cards, I go through them that evening so that I can assign partners and ocean zones the following day.
For the next three days, students have their partners and zones assigned, and spend time planning and building their scale models. I provide many of the necessary supplies, including shoe boxes, rulers, paper, scissors, glue, string, clay, tissue paper, and other household objects that might be transformed into art materials (cardboard, plastic wrap, paper towel cores, etc.) I also allow students to bring in their own materials if they wish to do so. I allow them time to work in class since they will be working with partners, and I know it is sometimes difficult to arrange time to get together outside of school.
On the final day, we start by having a gallery walk so that students can view each other's work. As they view, they write constructive feedback, using a Glow and Grow model, on a sticky note and leave it next to each student's project. When students return to their own desk, they can read through the feedback to see what their peers thought of their work.
After completing the gallery walk, I task the students with stacking the boxes in a format that would most closely resemble the ocean. Students must decide proper placement for each box, based on the zone it reflects, accurate reflection of the ocean environment and how each project's placement complements the other models. I do not give a lot of input in this process, as I want students to take ownership of the learning and the overall project, but also because I want to use the discussion going on between students as a way to assess their knowledge of their own project and of the overall content they have learned in this unit.