HHMI Coral Bleaching

Type Category
Instructional Materials
Data , Lesson/Lesson Plan
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.




After graphing and analyzing authentic data about temperature and coral bleaching occurrences, students can use the data to construct an argument describing how the water temperature affects the mortality of the coral polyps and the associated symbiotic algae.  The activity includes data sets from numerous locations so the teacher can assign students unique sets to analyze.  The activity is part of a collection of materials on corals and the effects of global warming on life forms.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Middle School
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on recognizing patterns in data and making warranted inferences about changes in populations, and on evaluating empirical evidence supporting arguments about changes to ecosystems.

Assessment Boundary: none

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this performance expectation.

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The activity allows the students to use authentic data to address prompts that lead them to an understanding of how global warming is affecting the coral reef system. To truly address this performance expectation, the teacher should be sure that students specifically consider how the temperature of the water is affecting the coral polyps and the associated symbiotic algae. Teachers can use the associated media and resources to engage students in the importance of coral reef systems prior to the data analysis. Answers to the questions should include specific evidence as support; this could be accomplished by having the students follow a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning (CER) format in their answers.

Science and Engineering Practices

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

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
This resource is rich with data that can be used to construct an argument showing how the water temperature affects the reef ecosystem. The response to the included questions can make use of the data as evidence for the student’s claim. In order to see clear argument from evidence, it is suggested that students follow the CER (Claims, evidence, reasoning) Format.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The data shows how water temperature (given in Degree Heating Weeks), a physical component of the ecosystem, can affect the population of coral polyps and associated algae. To highlight the effects of temperature on the system, teachers can engage students with video footage of the changes that are occurring in the world’s coral reefs. The lesson also has links to other resources that could be used as supplement for the students to get more background on the ideas associated with causes and effects of coral bleaching.

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
While this crosscutting concept is present in the material, it is imperative that the teacher bring up the ideas of stability and change in the course of class discussions. Ecosystems such as coral reefs have a delicate balance between the components of the system and small changes can create instability. The bleaching of coral reefs is a prime example of a change caused by imbalance. The prompt assigned by the teacher should ask students to include the ideas of stability and change in their response. This idea needs to be explicit in each student’s explanation to meet the expectation of the crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The data sets provided, along with the superior background information that can be utilized create a strong alignment to the NGSS. The students are able to construct an argument, using the information provided. The data and mapping activities that are outlined will help students to develop the argument. The crosscutting concept of stability & change is evident, although will need to be specifically included in class discussions and the prompt in order to be explicit to the students.

  • Instructional Supports: The instructional supports include background information and video footage produced by HHMI. The data sets are authentic and include a number of locations so that the students can each have a set to graph and analyze. The instructional information includes a number of resources that can supplement the material that is already included. The lesson set does include a prompts that lead to the the practice of constructing an argument, but teachers will need to develop their own grading rubric for the responses.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This lesson material provides substantial background information and data and limited support for the monitoring of student progress. When answering the questions posed in the resource, students produce direct and observable evidence of three-dimensional learning. Teachers do have access to a key so that they can check student analysis of the data before students begin to construct their argument. Use of a prompt, as suggested, along with a rubric to guide student responses, would further improve the ability for the teacher to monitor progress.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: The data sets are easy to download in multiple formats of spreadsheets and the materials give specific directions for accessing the data.