Ocean Impacts


In this investigation, students will work in small groups to research a current issue related to human interaction with the ocean, using Internet and library resources. They will communicate the facts about their issue on a poster, participate in a poster viewing session, and ask questions about the information presented on the other posters created by members of their class.

Activity Type


Class Time
7-9 class periods

Grade 5


Focus Questions

  • What are some ways that humans can have an impact on the marine life in the ocean?
  • How can we be stewards of the ocean?

Enduring Understandings

  • Connections between humans and the ocean are important.
  • Everyone is responsible for caring for the ocean.
  • Science is a way to help us study the many connections in our world.


30 Minutes

Read about the Fur Seal Disentanglement Project in the Pribilof Islands. Discuss the story and ask students to write in their science notebooks about one of the following:

Describe other ways that you think trash of any kind might affect marine life.
What do you think would happen if no action was taken to help the seals in the Pribilofs
Other videos to consider:

“Altered Oceans “ is a 5 part series. Part four is about plastics in the ocean and is very interesting.

Algalita Marine Research Foundation
A preview of the video “Pelagic Plastics” is available online and is well done.

Brainstorm ways that human interactions with the ocean might cause harm to other species that use the ocean, or that might prevent future generations of humans from using the ocean’s resources.


3 Class Periods

  • Present the students with a list of possible issues related to human use of the ocean. Alter the following list of suggestions to fit your situation and your class’ interests:
  • Bycatch (unintended catch of “other” fish and marine mammals by fishing trawlers).
  • Pollution from cruise ships.
  • Erosion of beaches and riverbanks from recreational activities (4-wheelers)
  • Oil spills.
  • Fish farming (invasive species, waste production that pollutes water).
  • Marine debris.
  • Overharvesting and competition for subsistence food.

Divide students into groups of three or four to research an ocean issue. You may want to decide on a few issues and have students choose groups according to their interests, or assign students to groups first and then have each group choose an issue.

Each group will use Internet, library, and community resources to investigate their chosen issue. Explain to students that they will be making a colorful poster that includes graphics and text, to inform and educate others about their issue. The poster will be supported by a two to three page narrative that answers the four research questions in the research guide in depth and detail.

Distribute the research guide and discuss it with students. You might choose an issue to use as an example of what their research might look like, as you talk through the research guide. Explain that they will use their science notebooks to record their findings and the sources that they used.

Help the groups to organize ways to share the research tasks, and show them available resources. Allow time to explore the resources.

At the beginning of the next class period, work with students to develop a rubric or a checklist that sets clear criteria for the poster and supporting paper that they will produce as a result of their research (see example). Set a timeline for completing the research. Show students the following sample posters at these sites (or print ahead of time):


2 Class Periods

Have the student groups share their research with each other through a poster session.

Allow time for each group to create a poster that displays the important findings of their research. Student groups will rotate through the poster “stations” to look at the posters and generate questions about the issues.

At the beginning of the session, have students use their Science Notebooks to reflect on what they already know about each of the issues to be presented and what they would like to know. As they view the posters they should come up with two or three questions for each, to record on note cards or slips of paper.


1 Class Period

Distribute the questions to each group, about the poster that they made. Allow time for them to follow up on questions or suggestions that arose from the poster session, and to refine their displays for sharing at the final “Celebration of the Sea” (Investigation 5).


Students can engage in hands-on activities to better understand the science involved with some of the ocean issues that they researched.

Some examples are Plastic Jellyfish from the Project Wild curriculum or Oil Spill Cleanup Crew from Once Upon a Seashore. (link these to resource section)

Research jobs or careers that are important to the issues. Students could choose one person, job, or career that they have come across in their research. It might be a marine biologist, an environmental officer, a subsistence user, a boat captain, or any other important user or problem-solver. Ask them to find out about the day-to-day activities and duties of the job and what kind of training is needed.
Ask students to write in their science notebooks, “How could I become involved as a scientist in working to solve this problem?”


Use the rubric that was developed to assess students’ research results. (see example)
Students’ questions and answers during the poster session may also be used to evaluate their depth of understanding.

Curricular Connections

Language Arts. Students will be developing and practicing oral communication skills.
Writing. Students will be using their research skills, including citing of sources. To further address writing standards, students could write “formal” research papers to accompany their posters and presentations.

Social Studies. Connections can be made to history, economics, and cultural considerations for most of the issues that students will research.

Math. Students can graph and/or analyze data associated with their issue.

Ideas for adapting to different local environment or context:

  • If possible, choose issues to research that are important and relevant to your community and your location.
  • Interview and include local people who have knowledge of the chosen issues or jobs that are related to the issues.
  • In interior areas that are far from the ocean, emphasize watershed and ecological connections and the idea that what happens upriver ultimately has an impact on the ocean.

Teacher Needs

Teacher Prep

Gather research materials and load Web sites onto computers. Find out about and contact people in your community who are involved in ocean issues or related careers. (1 hour).

Materials List

Student Handouts
Science notebooks

Research Guide

Project Scoring Guide

Items for Group Display
Research Guide

Project Scoring Guide

Sample posters

Material Items
Reading or video, if not using the websites included in this investigation

Books for research, Internet sittes and internet access

Poster board, markers, construction paper, glue, scissors

Notecards or scrap paper


Facility/Equipment Requirements
LCD Projector to show websites, videos, and sample posters

Overhead projector to show Research Guide, and Scoring Guide

Student Needs

Prior Knowledge

Cooperative group experience.
Reading and research skills.


Aquaculture, Controversy, Gyre,Mariculture, Marine Debris, Stewardship


Science GLEs Addressed

  • 3rd grade: SA2.1, SE1.1, SE2.1

  • 4th grade: SA2.1, SE1.1, SE2.1

  • 5th grade: SA2.1, SE1.1, SE2.1

Other GLEs Addressed

Reading, Writing, Math

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