Alaska Sea Grant

Grade 5 - Humans and the Ocean

M/V Tiglax and Steller Sea lions in the Aleutian Islands
M/V Tiglax and Steller Sea lions in the Aleutian Islands photo courtesy of US Fish and Wildlife Service

A 4-5 Week Science Unit for Intermediate Level

Essential Questions:

  • How do people interact with the ocean?
  • What can we do to take care 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.

This unit is designed for 5th grade, but could be adapted to other grades. Students develop an understanding of the connections between humans and the ocean through case studies, analysis of changing technology, and activities that illustrate impacts of one part of a system on its other components. They plan and carry out a monitoring activity, create community awareness, and take action to protect the ocean.

Ocean Literacy Principles Addressed:

  • The Earth has one big ocean with many features.
  • The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.
  • The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.
Investigation 1

Investigation 1: The Legend of the Bidarki
(3 class periods)

How are people who harvest marine life such as bidarkis part of an interconnected system?
Students develop an understanding of interconnections among the ocean, humans, and other living things through a case study of harvesting bidarki (katy chitons) in the Alaska Native villages of Port Graham and Nanwalek. They reflect on their own connections to the ocean.

Investigation 2

Investigation 2: Fishing for the Future
(2-3 class periods)

How does technology change our success in fishing?
How can we use resources in ways that are sustainable?

Students discuss how methods of fishing have changed, then play a game to explore the idea of sustainable fishing practice. They simulate fishery activity using increasingly sophisticated technology, in different oceans. As students progress through the fishing seasons, they will likely overfish their part of the ocean and will have to migrate to other places in the ocean to meet their basic needs. Most groups will eventually create a total crash of fish stocks in the ocean. After discussing the game and its meaning, students will propose new rules for the game, to make fishing sustainable.

Investigation 3

Investigation 3: Ocean Impacts
(7-9 class periods)

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

Students 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 and participate in a poster viewing session, and ask questions about the information presented on the other posters created by members of their class.

Investigation 4

Investigation 4: Human Impact Survey
(3-4 class periods + field trip)

How do human actions change the (name of area or water body)? Are these changes helpful or harmful?
What actions or changes are needed to improve the health of the (name of area or water body)?

Students plan and carry out a survey of human impacts to a local aquatic environment. They analyze their findings and prepare to share them with the community.

Investigation 5

Investigation 5: Friends of the Sea
(5-8 class periods)

How can we be stewards of the ocean?
Students discuss stewardship actions and develop an action plan that they will carry out as a class. They host a “Friends of the Sea” party to involve the school and community in their stewardship efforts and to share the results of their investigations.


Brandon Beard, Teacher, Kotlik
Glenn Oliver, Teacher, Anchorage
Sheryl Sotelo, Teacher, Homer
Marilyn Sigman, Scientist, Center for Alaska Coastal Studies, Homer
Stephanie Hoag, Curriculum Consultant, Juneau
Marla Brownlee, Alaska Sea Grant

Alaska Sea Grant University of Alaska Fairbanks Alaska Department of Education and Early Development NOAA