Alaska Sea Grant

Grade 6 - Exploring the Ocean

A 5-7 Week Science Unit for Middle School Level.

Essential Questions:

  • How can technology help us explore the ocean?
  • Why do we want to explore the ocean?

Enduring Understandings:

  • The ocean is largely unexplored.
  • Humans must use ingenious ways to study the ocean.
  • Exploration leads to discovery.
  • Science and technology can be used to detect and solve problems.

This unit is designed for 6th grade, but could be adapted for 5th-8th grades. Students learn about the exploration of deep sea canyons, seamounts, and the Bering Sea. They develop an understanding of how technology is used to explore the ocean by participating in a deep sea sampling simulation, creating a bathymetric map, and assuming the role of scientists using hydrophones to locate whales. They then explore their local waters using sampling techniques to discover the plants and animals. Finally, they explore a new ocean topic and present their knowledge to others.

Ocean Literacy Principles Addressed:

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

Investigation 1: The Excitement of Exploration
(3-4 days)

Why do people explore?
Why is the ocean relatively unexplored?

What are some contributions of past and present ocean explorers?
Students begin this 3-4 day investigation with a discussion and activity centered around seven traditional reasons that people explore. Then they go on an imaginary journey to the unknown. Once the journey is over, the students are given clues to discover that their trip was in a manned submersible in the Bering Sea. They learn about a researcher who is actually studying the Bering Sea in a submarine, then watch and discuss a video featuring underwater explorer Robert Ballard. As a final activity in this investigation, students research past and present ocean explorers and share their discoveries, inventions, or research.

Investigation 2

Investigation 2: Canyons in the Sea
(5-7 days)

How do scientists explore the deep sea?
What types of deep sea organisms are found in Alaska'a Pribilof and Zhemchug canyons?
What are some of the decisions that scientists must make when deciding how to investigate an unexplored area of the deep ocean?
In this 5-7 day investigation, students learn about vehicles used to explore the sea. They then learn about two deep sea canyons in the Bering Sea and the variety of life found in these canyons. Finally, students create a mural of one of the canyons, and participate in a sampling simulation to determine what organisms live in the canyon.

Investigation 3

Investigation 3: Mountains in the Sea
(6-7 days)

Why is it important to map the sea floor?
What are some ways that are used to map the sea floor?
How are sea floor features like seamounts formed?
In this 6-7 day investigation, students begin with an introduction to seamounts that are present in the Gulf of Alaska. They learn how seamounts were formed and look at a bathymetric map of a seamount. In Activity 3A, students explore sea floor mapping techniques as they participate in an activity to create a map of a sea feature they have molded out of clay. In Activity 3B, students watch a short animated presentation, "Who cares about Sea Floor Mapping?" then create a model of a seamount found in Alaska. They use pre-sonar techniques to collect data and create a graph of their seamount using Excel.

Investigation 4

Investigation 4: Searching for Sounds in the Sea
(3-4 days)

How does sound travel underwater?
How do scientists record and analyze underwater sounds?

What can scientists learn about whales by listening to their sounds in the sea?
This 3-day investigation begins with students listening to a variety of underwater sounds, and deciding if the sound was made by an animal or something else. They learn about sound and how sound works in water, and about a researcher in the Bering Sea who is using sound to study the North Pacific right whale. Students learn about hydrophones and participate in an activity that simulates the use of hydrophones. Finally, they learn about spectrograms and try to identify animals by looking at the spectrograms and listening to the associated sounds.

Investigation 5

Investigation 5: Field Trip - Exploring Our Local Waters
(3-4 days)

How can we use scientific methods to explore our local water body or aquatic environment?
In this 3-4 day investigation, students go outdoors to explore their local water body, using sampling techniques to discover what plants and animals live there.

Investigation 6

Investigation 6: Discovering Underwater Wonders of the World
(7-8 days)

What can you discover about the underwater world?
During this 7-8 day investigation, students create a list of ocean topics that they would like to know more about, then choose a topic to explore. They create a presentation to share their new knowledge with others.

Holly Debenham, Fairbanks North Star Borough School District
Rebecca Himschoot, Sitka School District
Joni Scharfenberg, Fairbanks
Stephanie Hoag, Curriculum Consultant, Juneau
Marilyn Sigman, Science Content Specialist
Marla Brownlee, Alaska Sea Grant

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