Dead Zones in Coastal Ecosystems

Contributor
Bob Kuhn; HHMI BioInteractive
Type Category
Assessment Materials Instructional Materials
Types
Illustration , Instructor Guide/Manual , Map , Assessment Item , Article , Data
Note
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.

Reviews

Description

Dead Zones in Coastal Ecosystems is one of a series of Data Point resources from HHMI Biointeractive.  Data Points engage students in analyzing and interpreting data from primary literature in the biological sciences.  This HHMI Data Point could engage students at the beginning of teaching this performance expectation or as an assessment of the performance expectation.  The resource is framed as a discussion starter in which students are asked to evaluate the claims within the Background Information as they analyze the data shown in the map and develop an explanation of that data.  The Educator Materials provide background for teachers and a set of discussion questions to guide students toward developing an explanation of how humans impact coastal ecosystems. In this example, students analyze a complex map which uses white dots to show dead zones in the world’s oceans and a color code to show degrees of human impact on land. The map summarizes dead zone data from 42 scientific journals spanning 50 years. The primary source for this Data Point may be found at: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/321/5891/926.full. (Membership to the journal Science is required for access to this link.) Additional information and resources by the authors of the primary source may be found here: http://www.vims.edu/research/topics/dead_zones/index.php.

Intended Audience

Educator
Educational Level
  • High School
Language
English
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem.

Clarification Statement: Examples of changes in ecosystem conditions could include modest biological or physical changes, such as moderate hunting or a seasonal flood; and extreme changes, such as volcanic eruption or sea level rise.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The author of this HHMI Data Point makes claims such as: (1) Hypoxic systems are caused by human activity. (2) Eutrophication is increasingly linked to human activity. (3) Dead zones upset ecosystems and cause economic hardships. (4) Calculations of the “human footprint” may be used to gauge human impact on ecosystems. Students may identify other claims inferred within the Data Point. Teachers may want to encourage students to look closely at such claims and consider what evidence and reasoning may be used to support them. If the claims are true, then students can further consider how these changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem, as the author claims.

Science and Engineering Practices

This resource was not designed to build towards this science and engineering practice, but can be used to build towards it using the suggestions provided below.

Comments about Including the Science and Engineering Practice
One goal of the HHMI Data Points series is to engage students in analyzing and interpreting data from primary sources. To help students understand the main idea of the primary source associated with this Data Point, the student handout contains the map and background information. However, the Educator Materials contain a section “Interpreting the Map” which teachers may want to share if the students need support. The Educator Materials also suggest specific prompts under “Discussion Questions” to elicit students’ understanding about the map. As students analyze and interpret the map, they may need to revise their thinking about any causal relationship between human activities and dead zones. Prompting students to spend thoughtful time considering what the components of the map represent will help them in developing a deeper understanding and a more accurate explanation of how human activities are so important to the stability of the ecosystem.

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
The map is complex; the dead zone dots represent data from 42 scientific journals over 50 years. Human footprint data represents a quantitative analysis of human influence on the land surface based on population density, land use, access, power infrastructure, and the type of biome. (For more information about the human footprint calculations, see http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/data/collection/wildareas-v2.) Students should understand that dead zones represent an extreme set of conditions that inhibit life within the respective ecosystems. Questions 2-5 in the “Discussion Questions” section of the Educator Materials are designed to elicit student thinking about the possible causes of hypoxia and to predict how the dead zones may change if humans alter certain conditions, such as fertilizer use and freshwater runoff.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Thinking about hypoxia draws on students’ previous knowledge of how nitrogen and oxygen cycle through an ecosystem. Although the map represents global information, students will need to consider the consequences of smaller scale human land uses in order to understand any potential cause and effect relationships to local coastal ecosystems. More information about the human footprint may also be desired as students think about the link to hypoxia. Additional resources are provided in the “Instructional Supports Comments” section of this review.

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Teachers may want to emphasize that the map represents empirical evidence from peer-reviewed scientific research. Question 1 of the “Discussion Questions” section in the Educator Materials asks students “What patterns do you see in the distribution of dead zones around the world?” Identifying patterns may prompt students to ask questions. Teachers may want to encourage students to share their questions with one another and to seek answers. Additional resources are provided in the “Instructional Supports Comments” section of this review.

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
The Discussion Questions are all designed to help students consider how changes in human actions may cause changes in coastal ecosystems. In the primary source authors’ website (http://www.vims.edu/research/topics/dead_zones/index.php ), the authors suggest using Google Earth as one way to further investigate dead zones. This tool allows students to change the scale from global to local (or to areas more familiar to them), identifies specific dead zones, and provides further research references to help answer their questions about stability and change in coastal ecosystems.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This Data Point provides an authentic phenomenon that could anchor a series of three-dimensional learning activities. In this case, an initial discussion would allow the teacher to expose students’ thinking before facilitating students in exploring the phenomenon through additional learning activities. (See comments below in monitoring student progress.) Alternatively, this resource could be used as an assessment item. In either case, the resource should be strengthened by combining it with other learning experiences.

  • Instructional Supports: By using authentic data from a primary source, this Data Point provides an excellent, scientifically accurate context in which students can engage in three-dimensional learning to make sense of a phenomenon. The background information and the discussion questions in the Educator Materials are excellent and provide guidance for teachers to support instruction. This resource is written as a discussion prompt, and a whole-class discussion would provide one venue for the teacher to hear student ideas and give feedback on those ideas. However, the resource is not a full lesson. As a result, it does not provide a full range of instructional supports, such as opportunities for students to build on feedback, guidance for differentiation, and scaffolds to support students in engaging in practices or applying crosscutting concepts. The teacher will need to incorporate these supports while building a full instructional sequence around this resource. On their website (http://www.vims.edu/research/topics/dead_zones/index.php), the primary source authors encourage students to further explore dead zones using Google Earth (http://earth.google.com/ocean.) Selecting Layers/Ocean/Dead Zones will identify current dead zones on the map; clicking on a particular dead zone icon (a fish skeleton) will provide more research-based information about a particular dead zone as well as links to further information. This way effectively helps students to examine the phenomenon at different scales. Further information about the human footprint calculation may be found here: http://sedac.ciesin.columbia.edu/data/collection/wildareas-v2. A high resolution image of the map may be found here: http://science.sciencemag.org/content/321/5891/926.figures-only A 4-minute NOAA video on hypoxia and dead zones may be found here: http://oceanservice.noaa.gov/hazards/hypoxia/

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Whether it is used formatively or summatively, the Data Point offers an excellent opportunity to gather evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. One way to monitor student progress is to ask students some preliminary questions about how much they think their ecological footprint (https://www3.epa.gov/carbon-footprint-calculator/ ; http://www.footprintnetwork.org/our-work/ecological-footprint/ ) affects organisms in the ocean. This preliminary assessment of prior knowledge may take place in a variety of ways. Students may share their thoughts in pairs, write down their thoughts in a science journal, use sticky notes on a whiteboard, or share as a class. After students have shared their thoughts, then the teacher may provide them with the handout and continue in a whole class discussion with the suggested discussion questions. A rubric is not provided. The teacher may want to consider embedding formative assessments and developing associated rubrics when planning a full instructional sequence.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This is not an interactive, technology-based resource.