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Students in Oceanography class, which is taken by high school juniors and seniors, were assigned a research topic with presentation for their final assignment. Presentations, given by the students during their final exam period, were a wonderful wrap-up to oceanography and segue to marine biology next semester. Their presentations also provided a means for covering a lot of ocean resource topics in a short time period, as each student was assigned a different resource, but all with the same essential question:

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The assignment

Big Idea: The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected. The oceans are a connected system of water in motion that transports matter and energy around Earth’s surface.

Assignment:  In the role of a marine scientist, you will research a marine resource and present an argument for a position related to use of that resource, supporting your position with scientifically valid evidence.

Product:  On the day of the final exam you will (1) turn in a 3- to 5- page paper, and (2) give a five- to ten-minute oral presentation, with video support, of your research results.

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Commercial Fisshing slide by Jesse

Marine Resource Topics:

To make sure that each student had a separate research topic, I printed the following list in large font and spread them out on the table for students to choose from. Sometimes I assign by putting the topics in a “hat” and students choose blindly, but this is typically followed by a lot of negotiations for swapping; the way I did it this time still had negotiations, but between only those that were quickest with the grab rather than everyone. No perfect way to do this because everyone wants coral reefs.

  • Petroleum and natural gas
  • Marine sand and gravel
  • Magnesium and magnesium compounds
  • Salt
  • Manganese Nodules
  • Phosphorite Deposits
  • Metallic Sulfides
  • Fresh Water from the Ocean
  • Methane hydrates
  • Offshore wind energy
  • Energy from waves and currents
  • Energy from ocean vertical thermal gradient
  • Coastline protection
  • Coral Reefs
  • Medicine and drugs
  • Crustaceans and molluscs
  • Commercial fishing practices
  • Aquaculture
  • Whaling
  • Managing biological resources

Students were encouraged to narrow down their topics to make them more manageable. For example, “Aquaculture” could be narrowed down to shrimp farming.

To make the assignment clear to the students, I broke the description into two pages: the paper and the presentation.

Research Guidelines:

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Wave Energy by Jacob

1.Required Length: 1000 words (approximately three pages of text), not including references and not including quoted material.

2.  Required references: a minimum of five relevant scientific articles and/or internet sites related to the topic. This is the minimum amount of reference material — you may need more to do an adequate job of researching your topic.

3.  Things to focus on in your research:

  • define the problem – what part of the world’s ocean does it affect?
  • how did the problem come about? How is the problem being made worse by humans/is it being made worse by humans? What are the various causes of the problem?
  • what are some possible solutions to the problem? Are any of the feasible?  How will we implement some of these solutions?
  • what is the importance or significance of the topic?
  • what methods have scientists used to investigate the topic?
  • what kinds of information and data have scientists found?
  • what major results and conclusions have scientists made, based on the above?

4.  Format of the paper:

  • Lead off with a separate title page, containing: title, your name, course name, school name, date
  • Body of at least three pages of text (~1,000 words):
  • Begin the body with an introduction: a section (one or two paragraphs) that clearly states the purpose of the paper and reviews the main points that the paper will cover
  • Break up the paper into logic sections using subheadings to identify the subject of the different sections
  • End the paper with a conclusion (one or two paragraphs) that wraps up and summarizes in specific ways the main points of the paper
  • Spell-check and grammar-check! (sloppy spelling errors and poor grammar will result in a poor grade)
  • A page (or more) of references per MLA guidelines

5.  Submitting your paper: Submit your paper in electronic format, preferably in Microsoft Word or Google doc.

6.  Plagiarism: Don’t. Just don’t. You know better.

forbes

Background and Reflective Thoughts

Our school only teaches MLA formatting. With my 18-year background of  writing engineering documents, I find it frustrating to constantly be getting english-style essays rather than scientific documents. Starting next year, I plan on teaching my students APA formatting, and directing students to understand the difference between technical writing and english-essay writing.

The word length is only 1000 words because I wanted the students focussed on finding good resources and highlighting the issues, rather than being focussed on “getting the right number of words”. In meeting the research requirements most students were concerned that they had gone too far over the minimum.

Our librarian has stacks of research record templates in different colors for students to use to document their research, with teachers assigning a different color for the type of resources, e.g., blue for a book, green for technical article, etc.. Our librarian has, for her entire career here, been proactive in helping students to learn the difference between “good” and “bad” resources, to understand what paraphrasing is and isn’t, and to use databases beyond the internet. She teaches all freshmen how to research a topic and has written a research guide for students.

  • A coral reef is the rainforest of the ocean with all its diversity.” – Sam

Presentation Guidelines:

You may use the board, posters, handouts, or a PowerPoint presentation to help provide visual aids. Following your presentation, there will be time for a few questions. You should know your topic well enough to answer all reasonable questions on the topic. Grades will be based on both what you present and how well you know the information.

If you just read a few paragraphs directly from a sheet of paper or from your slides and cannot answer basic questions on your topic without your notes, you should not expect a passing grade on the presentation.

You have studied many physical aspects of the ocean. Include a detailed discussion of at least one of these in your paper and presentation. They include:

  • Understand and describe some important properties of water: Before we can understand the numerous and amazing ways the oceans impact our lives on land, we need to understand some special qualities of water. Properties such as surface tension, capillary action and solvency make water one of the most unique substances on Earth.
  • Explain how waves form and shape the coastline. Understanding conditions on the shore will help us understand some ocean habitats.
  • Describe the differences between wave and current formation and qualities.
  • Explain how ocean currents influence climate on land.
  • Describe and identify ocean floor features Understanding the shape of the ocean floor will help us understand ocean habitats.
  • Analyze different ocean zones of life and categorize organisms that live in each.

Background and Reflective Thoughts

I enjoyed the student presentations and really wish I had thought to video tape them.  To make sure that students were paying attention to other presentations, they were given a sheet of paper to record thoughts and impressions, and this paper was collected:

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I was inspired by many of the presentations and it gave me the idea that, in my mixed CP/Honors Marine Biology class next semester, the honors students (who will have work in addition to the rest of the class) should give presentations to the CP students.

A couple of closing thoughts from the students:

  • Fishing to extinction of species is evolution going in the wrong direction.” – Josh

  • You never think about not having earth’s resources until you do not have them anymore, but by then it is too late. Everyone must be mindful of Earth’s natural resources because so we do not find out one day that they’re all gone. ” – Kelsey

Amen to that.

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Assignment To Students:

Todays question is “What do you do to contribute to a sustainable environment?” Write a 300-word blog post on your environmental ethics.  Previously you have written in your journal about “what is an environmentalist”; you have also learned some new terms such as “sustainability”, “environmental footprint”, and “tragedy of the commons“. Finally, you have your own personal reason for being in this class. Combine all of these things with your class learning and tell us what are your environmental ethics. You might also think about things you want to do in the future that you have not done before; for ideas on these, go to What Can You Do?

My 300 (or more) Words:

I am deeply connected to our planet Earth and I think I always have been. My parents raised me to respect the planet, take care of her, and to know the names of her New England inhabitants. My mother would take my little sister and me on walks in the woods and name the trees and flowers and wild herbs. My father used organic gardening methods for our food (and all of our vegetables came from our garden) and was disgusted by builders who clear-cut a lot to put in a house; he knew they could have left some of the trees and still built the home, he felt the builder was just being lazy. This background is the structural foundation for the environmentalist in me.

When it comes to environmental ethics, every individual can make a difference and everyone should do their part. I do what I can. Here are my principles, and how I try to keep them:

  • I respect and care for Earth and life in all its diversity.  Everything in the universe is connected to everything else and has value regardless of its worth to human beings.  In addition, with the right to own, manage, and use natural resources comes the duty to prevent environmental harm and to protect these resources for the future.
  • We should protect and restore the integrity of Earth’s ecological systems, with special concern for biological diversity and the natural processes that sustain life. In my yard I have converted an acre of invasive species (bittersweet, Norway maple, Alianthus) into an acre of native trees and shrubs that provide food sources for birds. With the exception of poison ivy killer, I use no chemicals on my yard. The birds, bats, and dragonflies help control mosquitoes in my yard.
  • I promote the recovery of endangered species and ecosystems. This can be seen in my lessons and teaching of science to high school students.
  • We must manage the use of renewable resources such as water, soil, forest products, and marine life in ways that do not exceed rates of regeneration and that protect the health of the ecosystems.
  • The goal of my life has been life-long learning of the knowledge, values, and skills needed for a sustainable way of life. In this regard, I have tried to provide others, particularly children and youth, with knowledge to empower them to contribute actively to sustainable development.
  • It is my belief that every individual has the right to potable water, clean air, food security, uncontaminated soil, shelter, and safe sanitation. As a consumer I make a sincere and definite effort to buy products that are either manufactured in the U.S. or are certified as Fair Trade. Rather than shopping at Walmart, where products are cheap and poorly made and 91% are made in China, I spend the extra money to make purchases from local shops and small online boutiques. If at all possible (which is impossible for some electronics) I do NOT buy “made in China” products; China has an atrocious human rights (non-rights?) record and is the greatest polluter of the planet. As much as I am financially able to, I buy organically grown foods, including free-range chicken eggs and grass-fed beef. I also look for where the product has been grown and choose the one that has traveled the shortest distance, thus has a lower carbon (via transport) footprint.
  • My daily intent is to treat all living beings with respect and consideration, and to promote a culture of nonviolence and peace.  “Peace” is the wholesomeness created by right relationships with oneself, other persons, other cultures, other life, Earth, and the larger whole of which all are a part. I do not always succeed, but it is always my intent and when I falter I just try again.

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Portion of ocean floor, from Google Earth

Portion of ocean floor, from Google Earth

Research Questions

How can ocean floor features be measured and mapped using current acoustical technology? How can ocean floor maps be used in the commercial, military, and/or private sector?

Objectives

  • Use the description of ocean floor features to construct a three-dimensional model of a section of the seafloor.
  • Simulate active sonar soundings of a model of the ocean floor.
  • Describe the concept of vertical exaggeration and why it is used in construction of side profile maps.

Procedure

In class, we created models of portions of the ocean floor, using playdough, and simulated collecting sounding data in a grid format.

Analysis

  1. Based on your seafloor model provide a description of the topography of your surveyed area.
  2. Using the sonar stick is actually simulating what is known as remote sensing technology. What are the advantages of using remote sensing technology for your survey instead of direct observation?
  3. When graphing the ocean floor features we stretched the Y-axis. This is known as vertical exaggeration. What is the advantage of using vertical exaggeration in constructing your profiles of the seafloor?

Conclude and Communicate

  1. Identify the research questions for this activity, and your ideas/answers to those questions.
  2. Define the following ocean floor features (your model maps contained at least three of them) and provide pictures for three of them:
    1. A flat abyssal plain.
    2. An underwater seamount or guyot.
    3. A continental shelf, break, slope, and rise.
    4. A submarine canyon on the continental shelf.
    5. The mid-ocean ridge.
    6. A trench and island arc system.
  3. Write up responses to the three analysis questions above.
  4. Write two new research questions based on what you have learned from this activity:
  5. What was the value and importance of this activity to your study of science.

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One month of casual moon watching just barely breaks the surface of questions that could be asked and discoveries to be uncovered. Our one month of moon watching in New England was further hampered by frequent cloudy skies that blocked moon sightings. Initially, most students resisted keeping the moon journals, because they felt that looking at the moon each night was a pointless exercise, having “learned” the moon phases in elementary school. These students are now juniors and seniors in high school.

The assignment called for students to, each day, record their sighting of the moon and shape a question about that sighting. Their drawings, observations, and questions were to be assembled in a small booklet, which could be purchased or made from a stack of file cards, with each day on a separate page. Each entry was required to include date, time, and an indication of altitude and direction. I provided the students with daily tide information, and several times over the month data was shared in class. Students who stuck with the assignment, particulary the “ask a question” portion of it, found it surprisingly interesting and gained new understandings. Here are a few of the questions they had:

  • What is the angle [degree of inclination] the moon is at tonight?
  • How fast does the moon rotate?
  • How many hours is the moon out each day?
  • How much of a change is there each day?
  • How can no moon be visible at all?
  • Why can’t you always see the moon?
  • How many craters are on the moon? How deep are they?
  • How high does the moon go in the sky?
  • Does the height the moon rises to change with the seasons?

Many students turned in work that was no more than hand-drawn phases of the entire month, as gleaned from an internet site.

At the end of one month, students were to write a full page analysis that demonstrated how their thinking proceeded during this work and comparing tide data with moon phase observations. Portions of their reflections include:

“While doing my moon journal out of school, I seemed to learn a lot. It rekindled the things I learned in elementary school, about the Moon’s waxing and waning phases. Following the moon phases was kind of cool. One thing I missed was the connection between the tides and the moon phases. We added tide heights to the moon journal entries we did at the very beginning, but I never found out the connection. I feel as though that is an important piece that I am missing. Overall, the Moon in the days we were assigned to view it changed a lot. I really got the feeling that the Earth and the Moon are orbiting in space, and stuff, because the moon was always a different height in the sky and was constantly changing phases. Hopefully we will be going over the whole tide stuff  because I am very interested in them.”

“Through this activity it has brought back memories of moon journals in younger grades and I hope to learn about these phases more during class.”

“When we started this project, I did not understand where we were going to go with it. As we started to observe the moon I found myself noticing things that I never would have seen before. I also never knew that the moon had so much to do with the ocean tides.”

“This assignment was ok. It got a little boring after a while because the moon would be the same shape every night. I did this assignment in Elementary and 8th grade as well so it wasn’t anything new. Asking a question every night got a little tough. It was hard thinking of moon questions that I didn’t already ask.”

“The information recorded in my moon journal included the time I saw the moon, the angle of the moon, and a drawing of how it looked. The journal shows its phases from waxing to full to waning. I thought this was very interesting. I also thought it was interesting the way the angle and time of observation were directly correlated.”

 Reading these reflections highlights the need for more work, both in and out of class. While we discussed our observations during the first two weeks, I thought I had lead them far enough that they could continue on their own, which does not seem to be the case. The students are also wanting me to explicitly answer their questions, rather than continuing on their own and discovering for themselves. This makes me unhappy because I wish for them to have ownership of their discoveries, rather than me sticking them with factoids. As I was collecting the journals, I asked the students “Did anyone notice that Jupiter was full last week?”, expecting questions about the idea that Jupiter could be “full”; not a single student commented.

The moon acts as a clock for the planet that drives the tides of the oceans, the great lakes, and other fluids. Most humans are too involved with other pursuits to notice the effects of the moon on the planet and their lives, but animals, such as fresh water fish and migrating birds, have not tuned it out.  What else does the moon affect? What if there were no moon?

My students will be asked to continue their journaling and their observations, and I am hoping they will make their own authentic discoveries.

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