SciGirls: Turtle Power (Season 1, Episode 1)

Type Category
Instructional Materials
This resource, vetted by NSTA curators, is provided to teachers along with suggested modifications to make it more in line with the vision of the NGSS. While not considered to be “fully aligned,” the resources and expert recommendations provide teachers with concrete examples and expert guidance using the EQuIP rubric to adapted existing resources. Read more here.



This 25 minute movie from PBS highlights the work of a group of female, middle school students in a science club. Very short cartoon portions of the video can be edited off of the beginning and end. The goal of the group of students is to improve their school pond habitat, particularly making it more attractive to turtles. They meet with a scientist studying turtles and ecosystems who shows them how to conduct turtle population studies in a pond ecosystem. They use that learning to conduct this population investigation in their own school pond. Their work then links to engineering as they design a platform to improve the habitat for turtles, by providing them an improved place for basking. The students present their work to their school board, with the goal of convincing the school board to in turn recommend to the city council that they allow these students to put a human-made structure into this natural area (which is normally against regulations).

Alternative url, goes to all of SciGirls season 1:

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
  • Grade 5
Access Restrictions

Free access - The right to view and/or download material without financial, registration, or excessive advertising barriers.

Performance Expectations

MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions

Clarification Statement: none

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
While they never directly use the terms criteria and constraints, there is a clear criteria of success for the basking platform--that turtles actually use it. The main constraint is that the platform needs to be as natural in appearance and function as possible. Teachers should explicitly discuss these and other possible criteria and constraints with students. Teachers should also note the connection to the scientific principles these students use in their design: that turtles like to be up out of the water in a sunny area for basking, and they’ll need to be able to swim up onto the platform. “Potential impacts” that students could discuss happening on the natural environment in this case would be the platform altering its natural state. The students in the video have to make a “sales” presentation in order to get adults to approve their platform design, even though it is altering the natural environment of the pond. Students could be encouraged to consider possible trade-offs in design and possible unintended side effects of placing it in the pond.

MS-LS2-5 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.

Clarification Statement: Examples of ecosystem services could include water purification, nutrient recycling, and prevention of soil erosion. Examples of design solution constraints could include scientific, economic, and social considerations.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this performance expectation, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
While the students in this video are investigating biodiversity (focused on turtles) and develop a solution to improve turtle habitat, the concept of biodiversity is not explicitly discussed. Teachers would need to incorporate this video into a broader unit on biodiversity and question their students about how biodiversity concepts relate to the work shown on the video. Supporting biodiversity could be seen as the reason for the student work done on the video, but that’s never made explicit. Additionally, the students in the video design a solution for the problem of making the pond more habitable for turtles, but they don’t fully develop the idea of evaluating competing design solutions. The video notes that the students had to compromise, but it’s not entirely clear on which elements of design they compromise or why. In the end, students in the video do discuss means to improve their design based on feedback and data, but that will need to be explore more when using this video. Students in actual classrooms could evaluate further possible solutions to the problem presented on the video. Further, students in the video do biological surveys/organism collection to help study the health of their pond ecosystem, but teachers will need to assist their classes in connecting that to a bigger picture of science learning by noting that finding turtles in the pond suggests a healthy ecosystem. To use this video, teachers would also want to specifically question their students about how creating this platform will help turtles thrive within this “ecosystem” (or more generically, asking why the platform is built and what results it’s likely to have).

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
The group of students go through the basics of the design cycle, though watching it we have to infer some of what they do. It’s not immediately clear that they actually collect data multiple times on it’s effectiveness. The teacher should also work with the class to understand how the solution meets particular criteria and constraints, as that’s not explicit in the video. Classes should also discuss how they would redesign the platform to better attract turtles, though they wouldn’t necessarily be able to test it. Classes could go through and identify the elements of the design cycle evident in this video.

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this science and engineering practice.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This student group learns how to conduct investigations into the population of turtles in an environment, and then they conduct such an investigation on their own pond. The full picture of data collection is left a little unclear, though their final poster suggests that they sampled the population multiple times. Data collection would be an area for teachers and their classes to more fully explore and discuss, with questions such as, “Why would you not sample only once?” The group of students on the video then create a device to better meet the needs of turtles in that habitat and collect data on how well it functioned (counting turtles using it). As students watch the video, or as it’s discussed after (perhaps in small groups), the class could pull out details and rationale for the population investigation and the design and testing of the turtle platform.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource was not designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
In the video, the group of students discusses the health of their pond habitat near their school. Specifically, they consider the turtle population, but they don’t explicitly explore that in the context of greater biodiversity. Teachers should note that turtles are one element of greater biodiversity and could discuss turtles as an indicator of the health of the pond ecosystem (an indicator species). Teachers could show this video as part of a broader unit on biodiversity and ecosystems, including measuring biodiversity and/or doing specific population studies in their local environment.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this crosscutting concept, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Teachers would need to call attention to this design process used by the students in the video, particularly as the video goes through their design and material decisions very quickly. Teachers could ask questions such as why is the material shaped that way? Why do they use that material? What materials worked and which didn’t in their design, and how do you know? What materials would you use, and why, if designing something to improve this habitat? As it stands, the video only discusses properties of materials in a broad sense, noting that they’re natural or look natural.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Within this video, three-dimensional science linked to engineering is certainly happening. These students conduct a field study and design a solution to a problem they decide needs to be addressed. Teachers will have to call out practices and crosscutting concepts explicitly, or have students do so, as calling them out in that way is not the point of the video. They should also connect these three-dimensional elements to work that happened/will happen in their classrooms. For example, teachers could have students do biodiversity studies within their local environment and then create solutions to improve those environments for particular species of concern/interest.

  • Instructional Supports: Some episodes have instructional supports, but not this one. Instructional tools for other episodes can be found here:

  • Monitoring Student Progress: No assessment suggestions within the video. Asking students to pull out elements of the design process, aspects of the investigation, or ideas of structure and function, could be means to formatively assess their application of science and engineering practices and crosscutting concepts.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The online video is not interactive beyond typical video controls.