Healthy Oceans classroom activities

Below you'll find all of the activity ideas we've put together that you can use in your classroom in conjunction with the Healthy Oceans series videos. Dive in!

Asking Questions
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Asking questions is the first step in scientific discovery and understanding. By asking questions your students can better understand systems, structures, and processes.


After viewing the Sustainable Seafood video:

  • Set up 4-5 giant sticky notes around the classroom. Ask students for 4-5 main ideas from the video, then write one idea at the top of each sticky—for example, 'Eating Lower on the Food Chain'. Underneath the idea write the prompt 'What would happen if...?'
  • Give students 2-5 minutes to walk around the room and write questions on the sticky notes related to each main idea using this prompt. For example, 'What would happen to marine food chains if we consumed all of the bigger fish in the sea?' Choose a few questions to discuss as a class, or have each student choose a question they are most interested in to research further.
Carrying Out Investigations
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By carrying out investigations, we can collect data and evidence that can help us better understand what some of the issues facing our oceans are and how we can address them.

After viewing the Preventing Plastic Pollution video:

The first step in cleaning up our oceans is better understanding where ocean trash is coming from and what it is like. Take your students on a field trip to a local beach or waterway to safely collect and record debris.

After viewing the Coral Reefs and Climate Change video:

Were your students excited about the prospect of becoming a volunteer SCUBA diver on coral reefs after watching this video? Bring them one step closer to this with the XL Catlin Seaview Survey coral reef transect data and virtual dives!

  • Choose a region of the globe you'd like to explore. Clicking on 'View Details' of that region will take you to a page where you can select a coral reef transect that can be viewed in various image formats, from quadrats to 360 stills. Or completely immerse yourself in a Virtual Survey in places like the Philippines, Belize, and the Galapagos. Your students can collect data and carry out investigations looking at the different species that are present in reefs around the world, just like Reef Check divers do!
  • XL Catlin Seaview Survey Reef Response expeditions have captured some incredible imagery of coral bleaching events in places like New Caledonia, Okinawa, and the Maldives. Your students can conduct an investigation looking at how a bleaching event can impact a reef by analyzing photos before, during, and after an event.
Math and Computational Challenges
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Looking for more real-world math? Look no further! After working through the problems below, discuss as a class how they relate to ocean conservation issues and why they might be important to know:

After viewing the Sustainable Seafood video:

  • Imagine that a clam accumulates one unit of mercury in its body from the water it lives in. How many units of mercury would a stingray accumulate if it eats 50 clams a day for 10 years, assuming no mercury is lost between the clams and stingray? CCSS MS Math: Ratios & Proportional Relationships, Expressions & Equations
  • How much mercury would a shark accumulate in a year if it eats 5 of the stingrays from the previous problem every month? What about a human that consumes an entire 15-year old shark? Is the build-up of mercury through this food chain linear? Why or why not? CCSS MS Math: Ratios & Proportional Relationships, Expressions & Equations
    • Mercury is toxic to humans. Using what you learned from this problem, explain why people might want to 'eat lower on the food chain.'

After viewing the Preventing Plastic Pollution video:

  • Using the information given in the video about the Japanese teenager's soccer ball, write an equation to calculate the average speed of the ocean current(s) that transported the ball across the Pacific Ocean. Then, solve the equation! CCSS MS Math: Ratios & Proportional Relationships, Expressions & Equations
  • Using the information given in the video about how much plastic gets into the ocean every year, create a graph of plastic in the ocean over time. Use 1930 as the year of 'zero' plastic in the ocean (this was the decade when mass production of plastic began). Then, use this graph to predict how much plastic will be in the oceans by the year 2050 if plastic pollution continues at this rate. CCSS MS Math: Ratios & Proportional Relationships
  • Calculate the surface area of a rectangular plastic container lid 60 cm x 30 cm x 2 cm. Now, imagine that this plastic lid gets carried into the ocean by a wave and slowly photodegrades into 100 equally-sized pieces. What is the total surface area of all of these 100 pieces? CCSS MS Math: Geometry

After viewing the Coral Reefs and Climate Change video:

How has the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere changed over time? Why do we attribute the most recent (since the 19th century) increase in CO2 to human activities?

  • Give each student or pair of students a graph of atmospheric CO2 over time, such as this one from the U.S. National Climate Assessment (2014). Challenge them to figure out what the average rate of change of CO2 in the atmosphere over time was between 1000-1650, 1650-1750, 1750-1800, 1800-1900, and 1900-2000. CCSS MS Math: Ratios & Proportional Relationships, Functions
    • Compare the rates between the different time periods—are they similar or different? Why do you think this is? What kinds of things have happened in the world during these different time periods that could explain any differences? ​
  • There are digital tools your students can use to analyze graphical data. Import this graph into Desmos (click on the '+' sign, and add as an image), and have students try to figure out the equations for tangent lines to the CO2 graph that can be used to determine rates of change.
Analyzing and Interpreting Data
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It is important to collect data to answer a question, but before we can answer the question, we need to know what the data means! Your students can practice analyzing and interpreting data with these activities:

After viewing the Solutions to Human Impacts video:

What do you notice in this image? Do you see any evidence of human impacts on the marine environment, direct or indirect?

  • Using these prompts with photographs or satellite images gives your students the opportunity to directly observe how human activities could be contributing to issues like nutrient pollution or invasive species. Here are some free photo and satellite image sources: ​
    • Google Earth is a great resource to use in this exercise not only because it is free, but because in many places you can look at changes through time. Use Google Earth to identify sources of nutrient or other water pollution in your community.
    • The California Coastal Records Project is an extensive collection of high-resolution oblique aerial photographs of the California coastline over time. In these photos, you can see just how close some agricultural fields and other potential sources of pollution are to the ocean.
    • NASA's Images of Change show beautiful but sometimes haunting satellite images of changes on Earth's surface over time, including these images showing the before and after of the Elwha Dam removal in Washington State, and these images showing artificial island construction in the UAE.

After viewing the Sustainable Seafood video:

One of the ways that we know how our fishing practices have impacted marine species is by doing 'stock assessments,' or collecting data about the abundance of different species and how this has changed over time.

  • NOAA Fisheries Service maintains the Species Information System Public Portal, a user-friendly database of marine stock assessments and other information. Your students can analyze and interpret time series graphs of parameters like abundance and catch for almost 200 different commercially-important fish species.
  • In addition to analyzing graphs, students can use the Mapping Tool to search for and visualize where around U.S. waters there are overfished stocks. Using the information in this database, hold a Classroom Conference on Sustainable Fishing complete with oral and poster presentations on the status of U.S. fish stocks and what people are doing to protect and sustain these stocks.
Arguing From Evidence
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One of the most important resources policymakers and stakeholders can have to make decisions that affect communities is evidence. Your students can practice arguing from evidence in the following activities:

After viewing the Solutions to Human Impacts video:

How exactly do we determine which regions of the oceans to designate as national marine sanctuaries or marine protected areas?

  • Engage your students in learning about the importance of oceanic resources by empowering them to protect these resources by influencing policy. For the first time in 20 years, NOAA is accepting nominations for new national marine sanctuaries from communities across the United States.
  • Challenge your class to participate in this marine sanctuary nomination process. Students can work in groups to do research and collect evidence to support their choice for a new marine sanctuary location, then use this evidence to make their case in front of their classmates. After listening to all groups' cases, students will decide on one location to nominate as a class. To get your students started with their research, here are questions NOAA asks when considering where to designate new national marine sanctuaries:
    • Does the place have natural resources or habitat with special ecological significance?
    • Does the place have maritime heritage resources with special historical, cultural, archaeological significance?
    • Does the place have important economic uses like tourism, fishing, diving, and other recreational activities?
    • Do all of these things depend on conservation and management of the resources?
Designing Solutions
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What kinds of solutions can you think of to keep our oceans healthy? Here are ideas for design challenges you can engage your students in after watching some of the videos in this series:

After viewing the Preventing Plastic Pollution video:

One of the biggest ways we can reduce plastic pollution is by not using plastic in the first place.

  • Challenge your students to redesign one kind of plastic packaging—such as a styrofoam take-out container, candy wrapper, or tube of toothpaste—using more sustainable and environmentally-friendly materials. Hold a Design Fair where students share their designs with each other. For inspiration, check out this article: Genius Solid Shampoos Use No Plastic Packaging By Leaving Out Water

After viewing the Coral Reefs and Climate Change video:

Think about some of the solutions introduced in the video that people have come up with to help protect and preserve coral reefs.

  • Choose one of these solutions, and create a plan for how you would go about testing the solution to see how effective it is. What scientific principles and ideas would you use in your test? Draw and label a diagram of your plan. Identify any potential weaknesses in your plan.
Science Notebook Reflections With Crosscutting Concepts
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The NGSS Crosscutting Concepts present different ways of thinking about science content. Here are some example prompts using CCC lenses your students can reflect on after viewing each video:


After viewing the Preventing Plastic Pollution video:

  • Systems and System Models Describe the journey of a piece of plastic trash from the moment it is created to the moment it ends up on the ocean. At what points in its journey could we intervene to prevent it from reaching the ocean, and how?
  • Patterns Can we/how can we use the patterns of ocean gyres to either predict where a piece of debris that enters the ocean in one place might end up, or where a piece of debris already in the ocean came from?

After viewing the Solutions to Human Impacts video:

  • Stability and Change/Systems How can the use of fertilizers by individual farms along the Mississippi River lead to a dead zone the size of New Jersey at the Mississippi River mouth?
  • Cause and Effect Think about the impacts that humans have had on marine ecosystems, and reflect on one or two examples of cause and effect. In other words, what changes have we observed in marine environments and what human activities could have caused these effects? How could you measure these effects and trace them back to these activities?


Explore strategies and lessons to bring science notebooking into your classroom in our Science Notebook Corner.

Healthy Oceans: Browse all materials

The ocean affects everyone. It provides important resources and recreational enjoyment to people around the world and is home to some of the most diverse ecosystems on Earth: coral reefs. But the ocean's resources and biodiversity are under threat from human impacts. What are some local actions we can take to protect our global ocean?

Healthy Oceans Classroom Activities: On This Page

Featured Here

Below, you'll find all post-viewing activities organized by science practice:

Asking Questions

Carrying Out Investigations

Math and Computational Challenges

Analyzing and Interpreting Data

Arguing from Evidence

Designing Solutions

Science Notebook Reflections With Crosscutting Concepts