Ocean Zones

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SWBAT research the attributes of each ocean zone to find the origin of a mysterious ocean animal and create a diagram of the ocean and its zones.

Big Idea

The ocean is a complex ecosystem, differing greatly as you travel deeper into the water. Learn about the many characteristics of each layer of the ocean, from the surface to the floor.

Day 1: Engage

5 minutes

I start the lesson by having a live ocean web cam displayed at the front of the room. Students enter and are able to watch a variety of live ocean animals from around the world. Explore has many terrific web cams that can be viewed live and recorded, as time permits. Not only does this set the stage for the upcoming lesson, but it also allows students time to view animals in their natural habitat, which provides some authenticity to the content we will study.

Days 1-5: Explore

60 minutes

I start by having the students read through the Activities page on my Underwater Adventures website, created to guide them through the unit. This page introduces them to several mysterious ocean animals that have washed up on a local shore.

As marine biologists, the students need to research the animals' physical/behavioral adaptations, body structures, diets, and other habits in order to determine which ocean zone they came from. At this point in the lesson,the information listed by each species will not make a great deal of difference to the students. But as they progress, these clues will take on much more meaning and help them to determine where each animal resides in the ocean.

Once students are familiar with the process and expectations, I have them access the Travel and Observe on the site I created. Students will study the diagram and them visit each ocean zone by clicking on the link for its corresponding page.  (Each ocean zone is labeled at the bottom of the page. Typically, students will be able to investigate 1-2 zones per day.)

As students study each ocean zone, they take notes using the provided notes sheet. While I allow them to work in groups of 2-3, I still require each student to take their own notes. Not only does this ensure engagement by all students, but it will also aid in greater retention and collaboration later in the lesson.

Students may discuss their findings with their partners but must visit all of the resources. In other words, they cannot each visit one site to lessen their workload. Someone may find something on a site that another missed, therefore making group and class discussions much richer in the end.


My Oceanography Website

Day 6: Explain

30 minutes

Now that students have studied each ocean zone in detail, they use what they have learned about the ocean zones to review the animals that have washed up on shore and decide where they came from. Students will select at least three of these animals and determine each of the following (to the best of their ability):

  • what zone each animal came from
  • possible prey (must live in the same zone)
  • possible predators (must live in the same zone)
  • adaptations (how their physical traits or behaviors allow them to survive in their environment)

I do not let the students do any “googling” or other research, beyond what is on the pages they have read, to find out where the animal lives. I explain that they should use the information given to them to make an educated guess, just as a scientist in the field would do!

Day 6-9: Elaborate

60 minutes

Students create a 3-slide presentation (In Google presentations, PowerPoint, or a similar program). Each slide must show a picture of the animal (taken directly from my site) and contain all of the required information. Students must use evidence from the sites we accessed to justify why they believe their species is from a particular ocean zone.

Students will present their findings to the class, sharing their justifications. If another student's group disagrees, we conduct a mini-debate between the groups to determine which ocean zone sounds the most appropriate based on the evidence we have collected. Once each group has had a chance to present and (possibly) debate, I allow them to Google the images and find out exactly where each species resides. 

Day 9: Evaluate

30 minutes

As a way to evaluate the students' learning, I have each of them draw a diagram of the ocean that labels and describes each of its zones. They must draw examples of plants and animals that reside in each zone. In addition, they will create captions for each zone to discuss its main points, such as appearance, temperature, depth, etc. After turning in the diagram to me for evaluation and feedback, they will make any necessary revisions and add it to their science journal to refer to later in the unit.