Academic journal article Science Scope

The Seabird Mystery Lesson: Integrating Science Inquiry and Science Literacy

Academic journal article Science Scope

The Seabird Mystery Lesson: Integrating Science Inquiry and Science Literacy

Article excerpt

Embedding sustainability issues into the educational curriculum has become a task of increasing priority. It provides a basis for discussing a phenomenon in nature as part of a larger system of interacting living and nonliving components. The Seabird Mystery Lesson encourages students to look at one tragic event as the consequence of a host of related interactions that preceded it and encourages students to discuss, examine, and explore a natural system in an engaging way.

The Seabird Mystery story features a real-life environmental anomaly that has plagued the North Pacific Ocean since 2013. An unusually warm water mass began to form in the Gulf of Alaska in late 2013 due to a lack of storms that normally cool the water column. Washington state climatologist Nick Bond named the phenomenon, "the Hot Blob." Subsequently, the warm water mass spread across the North Pacific in 2014 and the trend continued throughout 2015 and 2016. The Blob increased ocean surface temperatures by as much as 4.5[degrees]F and replaced a cold-water environment with a warm-water environment. By spring of 2017, the Blob had dissipated, but data indicate that warm conditions persist below the depth of 100 m (328 ft.) in the northeast Pacific. The exceptionally warm ocean temperature has seriously impacted the marine food web, favoring some marine species over others. In particular, the seabirds that do well in colder, more productive ocean water have suffered dramatically. The Seabird Mystery uses storytelling as an engaging vehicle to communicate a disruption in a portion of the ocean ecosystem. In the story, two vacationing sisters come upon a beach strewn with dead seabirds, which launches an investigation into solving the case of the mysterious die-off.

Day 1: Prereading

The teacher introduces students to the Seabird Mystery by first asking them to make inferences based on observations. She asks the class to guess what her favorite color is, and students guess based on the color of clothes she is wearing that day or the teacher's own description of herself (Figure 1). Students are prompted to explain the evidence they used to make their claim. To determine whether students can differentiate between inference and observation and make claims based on evidence, the teacher asks a few more questions beginning with "Who can guess..."

At this point in the lesson, the teacher can gauge students' prior knowledge of wildlife at the beach with further prompts (see Seabird Mystery Lesson Overview in Figure 2). Students may describe to the class animals they have seen during visits to the beach. If the teacher estimates that students lack prior knowledge and experience with seabirds in general, it is possible to front-load this lesson by asking students to describe any experiences they may have had at the beach. Also, the teacher can display pictures of seabirds from around the world that can be a reference point for the discussion of the birds discussed during the activity.

Once students have shared their prior knowledge of seabirds, the teacher hands out the Student Worksheet to all students (see Online Supplemental Materials). To conserve paper, the story with data sections can be limited to one packet per student team and distributed at the same time (see sidebars 1-3). The teacher reviews the questions that students will answer about the seabird mystery after reading the story. Students listen to the story as the teacher reads it out loud (see sidebar 1). During the reading, students can take notes on their worksheets for future reference. After the story, the teacher explains the goals of the task to the class. First, students must determine which species of seabirds are washing up dead on the Oregon coast. Second, they must infer from further data analysis why the birds are dying.

Day 1: Solving which species of seabird is on the beach and its place in the food web

The teacher uses a PowerPoint presentation (see Online Supplemental Materials) to show enlarged photos of a variety of seabirds that inhabit the Pacific Northwest coasts, including the unidentified seabird. …

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