What Lives Beneath the Surface: Building a Science Lesson on Deep Sea Ecosystems

(Slide from presentation by Dr. Lisa Levin, SIO)

The tide rolls in, the tide rolls out. For those of us who call San Diego home, the Pacific Ocean is our own natural metronome; a dazzling backdrop to our city; the planet’s biggest swimming pool in our own backyard. But what lies – or lives – beneath the ocean’s surface at its coldest, darkest depths had remained a mystery until advanced undersea tools made it possible to explore new worlds at the bottom of the sea.

At Scripps Institution of Oceanography (SIO), scientists exploring these unseen worlds met with a group of San Diego Unified School District science teachers to share their deep-sea findings on marine species that thrive in chemosynthetic ecosystems – those places on the ocean floor where the energy source for sea life is produced from methane gas, not from sunlight – and to help build a new high school science lesson on the ecosystems that survive in this extreme environment.

This summer, SIO’s Dr. Lisa Levin, professor of Biological Oceanography in the Integrative Oceanography Division, Dr. Gregory Rouse, professor of Marine Biology in the Marine Biology Research Division and Dr. Charlotte Seid, SIO’s Benthic Invertebrate Collection manager, met with five San Diego Unified School District (SDUSD) high school science teachers at a one-week workshop at SIO’s Birch Aquarium to build a new science lesson on deep-sea ecosystems that live near seafloor thermal vents.

Danielle Vincent Griffith begins the Lesson Study cycle process for creating a new science lesson.

The SDUSD science teacher team included Jane Westfall, Hoover High School chemistry teacher, Abraham Bitton, Lincoln High School chemistry and environmental science teacher, and Andrea Pino Antl and Nicole Ireland, biology teachers at San Diego Creative and Performing Arts School. Biology teacher Danielle Vincent-Griffith from Crawford High School served as the team’s master teacher. Vincent Griffith was a master teacher for the Office of Naval Research grant (ONR-REAL) awarded in 2015 to UC San Diego’s CREATE (Center for Research on Educational Equity, Assessment and Teaching Excellence) and SIO. The three-year grant connected 80 San Diego high school science teachers with 16 ONR researchers – from SIO and other local institutions – to develop 18 research-based, highly engaging, Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) 3 Dimensional science lessons for high school students that can be used in science classrooms for years to come.

Dr. Charlotte Seid provides an overview of the Benthic Invertebrate Collection with SDUSD science teachers.

“The deep-sea research of Professors Levin and Rouse prompted us to once again connect SIO researchers with area science teachers to co-develop a locally-inspired science lesson,” said Dr. Cheryl Peach, director for Scripps Educational Alliances at SIO. “We’ve found this ‘research-to-classroom’ outreach model that links our work at SIO to thousands of science students in San Diego is an exciting and quite remarkable way to spread science knowledge and to spark interest in STEM fields.”

The San Diego Science Project (SDSP), an organization within CREATE and part of the center’s CREATE STEM Success Initiative, was tapped by Peach and Dr. Nan Renner, senior director of learning design and innovation at SIO’s Birch Aquarium, to help recruit the SDUSD teaching team for this project. SDSP also provided key instruction on aligning the ONR grant science lessons with the NGSS.

“We’re pleased teachers in this cohort are from high schools located in low-income, underrepresented areas,” said Kathryn Schulz, SDSP director. “These exemplary lesson study team teachers will take the co-created lesson back to their classroom where it will become part of an ongoing science curriculum.”

(Slide from presentation by Dr. Lisa Levin, SIO)

On Day 1, Levin and Rouse presented an overview of their work, entitled “Deep Ocean Fundamentals and the Joy of Methane Seeps,” which included review of authentic data and the science practices used in studying life at deep ocean levels to help teachers develop a lesson on deep-sea ecosystems.

(Slide from presentation by Dr. Lisa Levin, SIO)

Teachers learned first-hand about researchers’ ocean explorations via research vessels and exploratory tools, such as underwater rovers that find and identify deep-sea species, including worms, coral and bacteria living without sunlight, deep down below the ocean’s surface.

cropFirst done - what ngss from research Conceptual Flow

Armed with newly acquired information from researchers, teachers on Day 2 developed a conceptual flow chart that served as the roadmap for organizing key lesson concepts, lesson sequence, and specific concepts to use in assessing the students’ understanding of the developing lesson. After one last round of questions with Dr. Levin, the teachers decided on the lesson title “Diversity of Deep Sea Habitats.”

Dr. Charlotte Seid with an array of deep-sea species at SIO’s Benthic Invertebrate Collection.

Next, teachers left their Birch Aquarium learning space to visit SIO’s campus and the Benthic Invertebrate Collection (BIC) housed in Vaughn Hall. BIC’s Collection Manager Dr. Charlotte Seid helped teachers examine collection specimens and select specimens to borrow for use during their deep-sea habitat lesson.

BIC houses a comprehensive, world-renowned collection of more than 750,000 species collected by SIO scientists and by scientists at other institutions. Specimens from BIC are used widely for classes at UC San Diego and for educational purposes at Birch Aquarium, and they are available for loan to K-12 teachers.

SDUSD teachers examine deep-sea species from SIO’s Benthic Invertebrate Collection.

“Since teachers can’t come to the ocean, the ocean can come to teachers. Through BIC’s loan program, teachers can check out specimens to use as student learning tools in their classroom,” Schulz said. “It’s better than photos – it’s the real thing!”

5E Lesson planning

On Day 3, teachers fine-tuned their NGSS-aligned science lesson by imbedding the “5 E’s” (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) into their lesson design, then spent the final two days preparing a lesson “script” as part of the Lesson Study Cycle.

The lesson was formally taught to students in Andrea Pino Antl’s 9th grade science class on September 20 at San Diego Creative and Performing Arts School. As part of the research-to-classroom model, SIO researchers Greg Rouse, Charlotte Seid and three graduate students from Dr. Rouse’s lab came to the classroom to watch the lesson and to answer student questions.

The four science teachers co-teach the lesson twice while Vincent Griffith takes notes on each lesson presentation. Teachers debrief to discuss how to improve the lesson based on teacher observations and Vincent Griffith’s notes. Teachers then make modifications to refine the lesson before presenting again to a new class of students.

“This is a very exciting professional development model for teachers,” Schulz said. “Teachers bring authentic science to their students and reveal new career paths and possible future career opportunities. The students learn that the Pacific Ocean offers a whole other world ready to explore – right in our own backyard,” Schulz added.

SDUSD teachers (from left) Jane Westfall, Hoover High School; Abraham Bitten, Lincoln High School; Andrea Pino Antl, San Diego Creative and Performing Arts School, Danielle Vincent-Griffith Crawford High School; and Nicole Ireland, San Diego Creative and Performing Arts School at Birch Aquarium in August. 

About the San Diego Science Project

The San Diego Science Project (SDSP) is housed in CREATE and is a key partner in the campus-wide, Chancellor-funded CREATE STEM Success Initiative. SDSP provides high-quality professional development services to improve the teaching and learning of science in the greater San Diego County and Imperial County region. SDSP is a regional site of the California Science Project, one of the California Subject Matter Projects.

SDSP provides support to teachers, schools, and districts in understanding and implementing the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) related to science and the technical subjects. Its goal is to improve student understanding of science by improving the teaching of science. The programs focus on improving both teacher learning of science content and pedagogical approaches necessary to effectively teach science to all students.

SDSP encourages teachers to reflect on their instructional practices, focus on student ideas, and collaborate with their peers to improve student learning. SDSP provides teachers with exemplary lessons, new ideas, and the classroom tools necessary to support student literacy in science. In fulfilling its mission, and as part of the CREATE STEM Success Initiative, the SDSP routinely supports UC San Diego and SIO faculty to work closely with schools, school districts, science centers, county offices of education, community colleges, public and private organizations, and science educators to increase the quality of science instruction and student achievement.

For more information on the San Diego Science Project, contact SDSP Director Kathryn Schulz, visit the SDSP website and follow SDSP on Twitter: @UCSDSP.

The NGSS Classroom series features K-12 science and engineering events supported by CREATE and the CREATE Stem Success Initiative at UC San Diego.