Life on the Edge Education

Mountains in the Sea will advance our knowledge of the unique biological habitats that the New England seamounts provide.


Mountains in the Sea Lesson Plans

The Mountains in the Sea: Exploring the New England Seamount Chain Expedition presents a unique opportunity to engage explorers of all ages as we journey to a world that few have seen. Scientists will be exploring four of the New England seamounts during the July 2003 expedition. These seamounts represent unique biological islands in the deep ocean. They often feature organisms that are quite different from those found in the surrounding deeper habitats. Large depth ranges, hard substrates, steep gradients, complex bottom features, impinging currents, upwelling induced by the shape of the ocean floor, clear oceanic water, and geographic isolation all combine to make seamounts unique habitats.

Educators and scientists worked with NOAA in June 2003 to develop a series of lesson plans for students in Grades 5 – 12 that are specifically tied to the Mountains in the Sea: Exploring the New England Seamount Chain Expedition. They focus on cutting-edge ocean exploration and research, using state-of-the-art technology, aboard the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Atlantis and its submersible, Alvin. Lessons follow such themes as: unusual patterns of water circulation in the vicinity of seamounts; larvae retention in the vicinity of seamounts by patterns of water circulation; identifying biological communities from survey data; physiological differences among groups of deep-sea fishes that reflect different strategies for surviving in the deep-sea environment; and how organisms obtain sufficient food in the deep ocean environment.

In addition to being tied to the National Science Education Standards, the hands-on, inquiry-based activities include focus questions, background information for teachers, links to interesting Internet sites, and extensions. Web logs that document the latest discoveries and complement the lesson plans, complete with compelling images and video, will be sent back from sea during the mission. Teachers are encouraged to use the mission logs to supplement the lesson plans.

The lesson plans are grouped into the following categories:
Grades 5-6
Grades 7-8
Grades 9-12 (chemical, biological, earth, and physical science)

All of the lesson plans are available in pdf format, and may be viewed and printed with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader. To download a lesson plan, click on its title from the list below.


Grades 5-6

Head to Foot (3 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Deep-sea squids

In this activity, students will be able to describe the body form and major anatomical structures of squids, describe some unusual or unique features of newly-discovered deep water squid species, and infer what types of food squids probably use from the major anatomical features and body form of squids.

Journey to the Unknown (10 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Ocean Exploration

In this activity, students will experience the excitement of discovery and problem-solving to learn what organisms could live in extreme environments in the deep ocean; student will understand the importance of ocean exploration.


Grades 7-8

Big Fleas Have Little Fleas… (7 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Physical structure in benthic habitats (Life Science)

In this activity, students will recognize that natural structures and systems often display recurrent complexity over many scales of measurement, infer the importance of structural complexity to species diversity and abundance in benthic habitats, and discuss ways that octocorals may modify seamount habitats to make these habitats more suitable for other species.

Boom and Bust (6 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Fishery management

In this activity, students will be able to describe stages in a commercial fishery that eventually becomes severely depleted, interpret basic data to predict when a fishery stock is beginning to show signs of overexploitation, and describe the potential consequences of overexploitation on fish populations, marine habitats, and fishing businesses. Students will also be able to described and discuss potential management policies that could avoid or remediate overexploitation in commercial fisheries.

Food Web Mystery (4 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Food webs in the vicinity of seamounts

In this activity, students will be able to describe typical marine food webs, and explain why food is generally scarce in the deep-ocean environment and discuss reasons that seamounts may be able to support a higher density of biological organisms than would appear to be possible considering food available from primary production at the ocean’s surface.

Come on Down! (6 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Ocean Exploration

In this activity, students will research the development and use of research vessels/vehicles used for deep ocean exploration; students will calculate the density of objects by determining the mass and volume; students will construct a device that exhibits neutral buoyancy.

Biodiversity of Deep Sea Corals (3 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Deep-sea corals

In this activity, students will research life found on tropical coral reefs to develop an understanding of the biodiversity of the ecosystem; students will research life found in deep-sea coral beds to develop an understanding of the biodiversity of the ecosystem; students will compare the diversity and adaptations of tropical corals to deep-sea corals.

Grades 7-9

Fishy Deep-sea Designs! (8 pages, 1Mb)(Can be adapted to 9th Grade Biology)
Focus: Adaptations of fishes living in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones of the deep ocean

In this activity, students will learn about the physical location of deep water habitats along the Hudson Shelf Valley and in Hudson Canyon; the basic characteristics of the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zone with regard to depth, temperature, pressure, light level and food availability; and how fishes living in the mesopelagic and bathypelagic zones have adapted to survive in each respective habitat. Students will also learn that many fishes are bioluminescent; why fishes bioluminescence; and will predict where scientists will find certain species of fish living along the Hudson Shelf Valley and in Hudson Canyon.


Grades 9-12

It’s a Roughy Life (5 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Physiological adaptations in deep-sea fishes (Life Science/Chemistry)

In this activity, students will be able to make inferences about aspects of the natural history of deep-sea fishes based upon information about the biochemical composition of different fish species and discuss the significance of anaerobic respiration, and describe circumstances under which the capacity for anaerobic respiration would be advantageous.

No Escape (12 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Fate of benthic invertebrate larvae in the vicinity of seamounts (Earth Science)

In this activity, students will be able to field data to evaluate an hypothesis about the influence of a water circulation cell on the retention of benthic invertebrate larvae in the vicinity of a seamount, and describe some potential advantages and disadvantages to species whose larvae are retained in the vicinity of seamounts where the larvae are produced. Students will also be able to describe the consequences of partial or total larval retention on the biological evolution of species producing these larvae.

Round and Round (11 pages, 284Kb)
Focus: Circulation cells in the vicinity of seamounts (Earth Science)

In this activity, students will be able to interpret data from a three-dimensional array of current monitors to infer an overall pattern of water circulation, hypothesize what effect an observed water circulation pattern might have on seamount fauna that reproduce by means of floating larvae, and describe the importance of measurements to verify theoretical predictions.

What’s the Difference? (15 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Identification of biological communities from survey data (Life Science)

In this activity, students will be able to calculate a simple similarity coefficient based upon data from biological surveys of different areas, describe similarities between groups of organisms using a dendrogram, and infer conditions that may influence biological communities given information about the groupings of organisms that are found in these communities.

Designing Tools for Ocean Exploration (13 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Ocean Exploration

In this activity, students will understand the complexity of ocean exploration; students will understand the technological applications and capabilities required for ocean exploration; students will understand the importance of teamwork in scientific research projects; students will develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry.

Living in Extreme Environments (12 pages, 1Mb)
Focus: Biological Sampling Methods (Biological Science)

In this activity, students will understand the use of four methods commonly used by scientists to sample populations; students will understand how to gather, record, and analyze data from a scientific investigation; students will begin to think about what organisms need in order to survive; students will understand the concept of interdependence of organisms.


For More Information

Please contact Paula Keener-Chavis, National Education Coordinator for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration if you have questions about these lesson plans or if you need additional information about their development.

Contact Paula Keener-Chavis,
Director, Education Programs
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Other lesson plans developed for this Web site are available in the Education Section.