Study of Environmental Issues: Overfishing

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SWBAT explain the steps humans can take to protect the environment from overfishing.

Big Idea

In this lesson, students begin creating a big book on environmental issues. Today, they explore overfishing by researching the problem, causes, impact, and the steps humans can take help protect the environment.

Lesson Overview

Inquiry Based Instructional Model

To intertwine scientific knowledge and practices and to empower students to learn through exploration, it is essential for scientific inquiry to be embedded in science education. While there are many types of inquiry-based models, one model that I've grown to appreciate and use is called the FERA Learning Cycle, developed by the National Science Resources Center (NSRC):

1. Focus

2. Explore

3. Reflect

4. Apply

A framework for implementation can be found here

I absolutely love how the Center for Inquiry Science at the Institute for Systems Biology explains that this is "not a locked-step method" but "rather a cyclical process," meaning that some lessons may start off at the focus phase while others may begin at the explore phase. 

Finally, an amazing article found at, How Inquiry-Based Learning Works with STEMvery clearly outlines how inquiry based learning "paves the way for effective learning in science" and supports College and Career Readiness, particularly in the area of STEM career choices. 

Unit Explanation

In this unit, students will first develop an understanding of the biotic and abiotic factors within ecosystems, the characteristics and classification of living organisms, and how plants and animals obtain and use energy to fulfill their needs. 

Then, students will delve deeper into the NGSS standards by examining the interdependent relationships within an ecosystem by studying movement of matter between producers, consumers, and decomposers by creating models of food chains and food webs.  

At the end of this unit, students will study ways that individual communities can use science ideas to protect the Earth's resources and environment.  

Summary of Lesson

Today, students will begin creating a Big Book titled, "How Humans can Protect the Environment." I will open the lesson by introducing students to the environmental issue of overfishing. Students will use videos and online resources to further explore overfishing by researching the problem, causes, impacts, and steps humans can take to help protect the environment. 

Next Generation Science Standards  

This lesson will support the following NGSS Standard(s):

5-ESS3-1.  Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment.

5-PS3-1.    Use models to describe that energy in animals’ food (used for body repair, growth, motion, and to maintain body warmth) was once energy from the sun.  

5-LS1-1.    Support an argument that plants get the materials they need for growth chiefly from air and water.  

5-LS2-1.    Develop a model to describe the movement of matter among plants, animals, decomposers, and the environment.  

Scientific & Engineering Practices

For this lesson, students are engaged in the following Science & Engineering Practice:

Science & Engineering Practice 7:

Students construct arguments about environmental issues based upon their research findings. Students will also provide and receive critiques form peers within student discussion groups.  

Crosscutting Concepts

To relate ideas across disciplinary content, during this lesson I focus on the following Crosscutting Concept:  

Crosscutting Concept 2: Cause and Effect 

Students examine cause and effect relationships as they study environmental issues. For example, students will analyze the problem, causes, and impact on environment. They will also determine the steps that humans can take to help solve the problem. 

Disciplinary Core Ideas

In addition, this lesson also aligns with the following Disciplinary Core Ideas

PS3.D:  Energy in Chemical Processes and Everyday Life

The energy released [from] food was once energy from the sun that was captured by plants in the chemical process that forms plant matter (from air and water). (5-PS3-1)

LS1.C:  Organization for Matter and Energy Flow in Organisms

Food provides animals with the materials they need for body repair and growth and the energy they need to maintain body warmth and for motion. (secondary to 5-PS3-1)

Plants acquire their material for growth chiefly from air and water. (5-LS1-1)

LS2.A:  Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

The food of almost any kind of animal can be §traced back to plants. Organisms are related in food webs in which some animals eat plants for food and other animals eat the animals that eat plants. Some organisms, such as fungi and bacteria, break down dead organisms (both plants or plants parts and animals) and therefore operate as “decomposers.” Decomposition eventually restores (recycles) some materials back to the soil. Organisms can survive only in environments in which their particular needs are met. A healthy ecosystem is one in which multiple species of different types are each able to meet their needs in a relatively stable web of life. Newly introduced species can damage the balance of an ecosystem. (5-LS2-1)

LS2.B:  Cycles of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

Matter cycles between the air and soil and among plants, animals, and microbes as these organisms live and die. Organisms obtain gases, and water, from the environment, and release waste matter (gas, liquid, or solid) back into the environment. (5-LS2-1)

ELA Integration

To add depth to student understanding, when I can, I'll often integrate ELA standards with science lessons. Today, students will work on meeting CCSS.ELA-LITERACY.RI.5.7: Draw on information from multiple print or digital sources, demonstrating the ability to locate an answer to a question quickly or to solve a problem efficiently. In this lesson, students will be using multiple resources to locate key information involving an environmental issue. 

Choosing Science Teams

With science, it is often difficult to find a balance between providing students with as many hands-on experiences as possible, having plenty of science materials, and offering students a collaborative setting to solve problems. Any time groups have four or more students, the opportunities for individual students to speak and take part in the exploration process decreases. With groups of two, I often struggle to find enough science materials to go around. So this year, I chose to place students in teams of two or three! Picking science teams is always easy as I already have students placed in desk groups based upon behavior, abilities, and communication skills. Each desk group has about six kids, so I simply divide this larger group in half or thirds. 

Gathering Supplies & Assigning Roles

To encourage a smooth running classroom, I ask students to decide who is a 1, 2, or 3 in their groups of three students (without talking). In no time, each student has a number in the air. I'll then ask the "threes" to get certain supplies, "ones" to grab their computers, and "twos" to hand out papers (or whatever is needed for the lesson). This management strategy has proven to be effective when cleaning up and returning supplies as well!  


30 minutes

Overview of Lessons on Environmental Issues

During this block of four lessons on environmental issues, students create a big book titled, "How Humans can Help the Environment." On each page of the book, students record research on four different types of environmental issues on Earth, including overfishing, deforestation, global warming, and water pollution. (I tried to choose environmental issues that would be easy to research.) Today's lesson focuses on overfishing. 

Lesson Introduction & Goal 

I introduce today's learning goal: I can explain the steps humans can take to protect the environment.

Now that you've learned all about ecosystems and the relationships between organisms within a food chain, it's time to apply your understanding of ecosystems to real issues happening in the world today.

Teacher Note: Knowing how heavy and overwhelming many environmental issues (such as global warming) can be, I discuss the importance of having a positive and hopeful attitude when learning about problems in our global environments. The good news is... there are steps human can take to help solve all of the environmental issues that we will discuss. 

Big Books

Prior to today's lesson, I created a Big Book for each student by stapling three sheets of 11 x 17 paper together so that students would be able to create a book cover and four pages of research. Here are a few examples of what finished Big Books will look like at the end of this four-day block of lessons:


Creating the Book Cover

To begin, I pass out a three-page Big Book to each student. Using my Teacher Example, I model how to write the title: How Humans can Protect the Environment. Originally, the title was Environmental Issues. However, I wanted the title to align with the NGSS Standard 5-ESS3-1 (Obtain and combine information about ways individual communities use science ideas to protect the Earth’s resources and environment). I also want students to focus on the positive... steps that we can take to help protect Earth's resources and environment.

To expedite the process of making a cover and to provide support with drawing pictures, I print coloring pages on each of the environmental issues that students will be researching. I model how to trace the coloring pages by placing the them right behind the cover page. Here are a few students, excitedly tracing pictures of their choice: Student Tracing 1Student Tracing 2, and Student Tracing 3.

For easy access, I place the coloring pages throughout the room and invite groups of students to begin at with different environmental issues. 


Teacher Note: I found more coloring pages for some environmental issues, so I just printed double copies of the others to have enough for students! Here are links to each of the pages: 



Global Warming

Water Pollution


Once students have traced pictures of each environmental issue on their front cover, we move onto the heart of the lesson, overfishing. Over the next few days, students will add color to their book covers as morning work and when they finish assignments early! 


50 minutes

Getting Ready

I show students how to create a graphic organizer on the first page (on the backside of book cover) by projecting the following template: Environmental Issue Page Template. For consistency, students will use the same template for organizing their research on each of the four environmental issues that they'll be studying during this 4-day lesson block of time. Students then write Overfishing as the title of the environmental issue that they will be exploring today.

Teacher Note: With the introduction of environmental issues, big books, how to take notes, and how to participate in a group discussion, this lesson could easily be split into two! In fact, we ended up finishing the last section of this lesson (Reflect & Apply) on the following day! 


I want to inspire interest in today's lesson and capitalize on student curiosity, so I continue by showing students the following video clip on overfishing. I end the video at 3:40 as the last part is about politicians meeting in Brussels to end overfishing. 

This turns out to be a motivational video that powerfully provides an overview of the environmental issue of overfishing. 


Throughout the video, I pause for students to discuss key points. The goal is to encourage active listening and to help students connect this environmental issue with their own lives. Students also identify relevant details that help explain either the problem, causes, impact on the environment, or steps to protect the environment. They eagerly take bulleted notes on the first page in their big books! 

To model this note-taking process, I record student ideas on my teacher example during this time: Teacher Model of Overfishing Notes. (I toggle back and forth between projecting the video and projecting the teacher model.)

I make sure these are student generated notes by continually asking: How do you want to word that? What is most important? Where might that fact go on our graphic organizer? I also want to integrate ELA standards by modeling correct grammar and spelling. 

Blue Fin Tuna Presentation

At this point, I move on to a Powerpoint Presentation on the The Bluefin Tuna. To truly grasp why overfishing happens and how overfishing impacts the environment, I want to share background information on the blue fin tuna. During this presentation, students determine which information they want to include on the Overfishing page of their big books. 

Teacher Note: I choose to focus on the tuna specifically simply because the topic of overfishing can be very broad and more difficult for students to connect with. 

On the first slide, Tuna Auction, the students are shocked to find out how much tuna sometimes sells for at an annual auction in Tokyo, Japan.

Students then learn about Tuna Characteristics. We discuss the size and average life span of the tuna, but most importantly, students learn that the tuna is an Endangered Species due to the demand and cost of tuna increasing. In addition, new developments in fishing technology (boats, nets, etc.), has led to higher numbers of tuna caught.

Going on to the next slides, students learn about Tuna Spawning Grounds and a diagram that shows the number of tuna caught between 1950 and 2000: Tuna Catches Diagram. We talk about the importance of protecting the spawning grounds as tuna need to continue reproducing in order to sustain the tuna population.

Finally, students discuss the Tuna Food Chain. This is a perfect opportunity for students to apply their understandings of organisms in ecosystems and the flow of matter/energy! I love hearing students immediately connect the importance of the tuna with the well-being of the other organisms that the tuna consumes. One student points out, "If the tuna population goes down, then the squid, sardines, and snapper population will go up." Another student says, "If the squid population goes up, then the zooplankton population will go down because there will be more squid to eat the herbivores." Then a student adds, "If the number of herbivores decreases, then the number of plants will increase." We discuss how an overgrowth of seaweed could make it difficult for other organisms to flourish. 

Online Resource

During the next three lessons, students will work in teams to research other environmental issues. As a last resource for information on Overfishing, I model how to use this online text as a resource as well, eSchoolToday

Key points that students add to their notes during this time include: 

  • Fish are being caught quicker than fish can naturally replace. 
  • Fisherman often catch by-catch (unwanted sea animals).
  • The need for fish has increased (consumer needs). 
  • If the food chain breaks, all organisms int eh food chain are in danger. 
  • If we lower our demand for fish, the there will be a lower demand for fishing companies. 

Student Work

Here a few examples of student work during this time. I love how some students even made little pictures to go along with each section of their notes!


At the end of today's lesson, students are full of emotions and eager to learn more about environmental issues. I am reminded of the power of problem-based learning.

Reflect & Apply

20 minutes

Sharing Findings

Now that students have built meaning and understanding by observing, questioning, and exploring, it is important to provide students with the opportunity to share their findings. For this reason, I invite students to participate in a conversation with a Discussion Group.

Discussion Prompts 

I explain: Today, I would like for you to share your research with a discussion group. However, your goal today isn't just to share important facts about deforestation, but to also share your thinking. To help you during this time, I've written some discussion prompts on the board: Discussion Prompts.


To set students up for success, I invite one of the groups to come up to the front of the classroom to model a discussion on overfishing: Student Discussion Group Modeling. I then ask each student to share a fact from each section of their research (problem, cause, impact on the environment, and steps humans can take to help protect the environment). After each student shares a fact, I'm looking for the other students to respond by sharing their thoughts! 

Teacher Note: After watching this video again, I realize that some students are drawing, coloring, taking notes, or off task in the background! Next time, I will invite the rest of the class up to the front carpet to ensure students are actively listening! 

Developing Groups

Prior to today's lesson, I created a list of discussion groups by placing students in groups of three students. I took particular care to make sure students are matched with new partners (rather than placing them with their research partners). Students will continue to meet with the same groups throughout this 4-lesson block on environmental issues. 


I take every opportunity possible to listen to student thinking and to take part in conversations. This is one of the most powerful ways to not only encourage higher level thinking, but to also identify common misconceptions. Here, Overfishing Discussion, I love listening to the students make connections with the literature by thinking about how Dr. Seuss books apply to overfishing!