Won’t you be my urchin? Data Nugget

Michigan State Fellows
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Assessment Item , 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.



This resource provides students with a current problem in nature- deterioration of coral reef systems-  and a sample of real world data from a scientist who is developing potential solutions to the problem. While considering the phenomenon of how corals compete with algae for living space, students address the question, How does the presence of sea urchins affect coral populations?”   Using background information and authentic scientific data, students graph and analyze data to show how the presence of sea urchins affects the health and population of corals.  Teacher background and data are provided as well as three differentiated options for graphing.  Students will use the data as evidence to develop a claim substantiated by the data.  Additionally, students will explain the reasons why the evidence supports their claim.

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Grade 6
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 8
  • Middle School
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 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
The amount of data is enough to support a claim with evidence but not overwhelm middle school students with too much to analyze. If the students need more challenge, the teacher could present additional data from the original source. This activity will be a good starting point for the Performance Expectation, but the teacher will need to engage students in the practice and ideas several times before the students meet the expectation. This resource does not address changes to physical components of an ecosystem, so the teacher should plan to address that part of the Performance Expectation through another lesson.

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
This resource provides adequate information and data from a scientific study on the relationships between corals, algae, and sea urchins. The information is graphed by the students and analyzed. Students are given prompts that lead them to develop a claim, supported by evidence along with reasoning for their ideas. Some students may need some scaffolding (e.g. graphic organizers, sentence starters) if writing a Claims-Evidence-Reasoning response is new to them. As with any of the Science and Engineering Practices, students will need multiple opportunities to engage in them before meeting the expectation.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

This resource appears to be designed to build towards this disciplinary core idea, though the resource developer has not explicitly stated so.

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This resource provides an example of a population shift and a potential biological reason for the shift. Students will need to be provided with some background information about coral reef ecosystems. Teachers could also assign other topics on corals to develop ideas about other potential reasons for the decrease in coral reef systems throughout the world. There are some physical components (related to climate change) that can be studied in order to address all parts of the Disciplinary Core Idea. Note: There is an error in the Teacher Guide as well as in the directions to the students on page 2. The lesson asks students to draw a food web, but there is not enough provided information for them to do so. Also, the diagram shown in the Teacher Guide is incorrectly drawn; the arrow from Urchins to Algae is pointing the wrong way. Food webs/chains show the direction of energy flow. In a typical food web, the arrows should show the flow of energy that moves from one trophic level to another. Teachers should guide students who may not appropriately show the energy flow and require the arrow to be labeled.

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
Although this resource can be used to address the Crosscutting Concept of stability and change, the plan does not explicitly have students review how changes in the reef system ecology could potentially stabilize the coral population. It is recommended that the teacher ask questions during the lesson that make the students consider this concept as well as incorporate additional prompt(s) in the assessment questions to have the students demonstrate their understanding of the concept. A great resource to find prompts that align to the Crosscutting Concepts (Stability and Change is the last page) is http://stemteachingtools.org/brief/41

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
Students should use the data variation of the graph to develop a cause and effect relationship between the number of corals that exist when there are sea urchins versus when the sea urchins are absent. Although this resource provides a data set, the cause and effect relationship is not highlighted in the activity. The teacher should make sure to elicit student explanations when they are evaluating the graphs, and engage the students in describing the relationship that is evident. The teacher should have students research, or provide other resources, the other living things in a coral reef ecosystem. Students could discuss relationships between all of the inhabitants in pairs or triads to develop a more extensive food web. Use of chart paper or whiteboards could allow students to diagram all of the cause and effect relationships that are possible in a variety of situations.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Built around the phenomenon that corals compete with algae for space to grow, students consider how the introduction of an herbivore (sea urchin) could potentially help to control the algae growth and, in turn, help coral reef systems to increase their growth. The best way to start this activity would be to show the video first and have students record their observations and any questions that they have. Then, the teacher can use their observations and questions to guide a class discussion about what is happening and what they need to find out in order to answer their questions. The provided data set is simple and is a good entry point into the practice of Engaging in Argument from Evidence. This lesson is a good introduction to this practice but students will need more challenging examples of data to develop further and fully reach the Performance Expectation that is presented at this grade band. This resource is a good entry point for students who are in need of scaffolding. The resource does provide some extensions that can be included to make the lesson more robust. The teacher should be sure to return the students to consider the original phenomenon as they proceed with the lesson, and at the conclusion, to make sure the students stay focused.

  • Instructional Supports: This Data Nugget lesson offers teachers instructional supports. A teacher guide, printable student activity sheets (provided at three different proficiency levels) and a grading rubric are provided. The Teacher Guide includes both teacher notes, checks for understanding, and answer keys. The final questions within the Data Nugget lesson provide opportunities for extended activities. The website provides additional instructional support for differentiated instruction (http://datanuggets.org/adapting-data-nuggets-to-your-classroom/) and extension (http://datanuggets.org/before-using-nuggets/extensions/ ).

  • Monitoring Student Progress: This Data Nugget lesson elicits evidence of students’ three-dimensional learning. Printable student worksheets are provided at three different proficiency levels; these student worksheets at different levels make the lesson accessible and unbiased by providing a variety of representations of the data. Teachers have additional suggested ways to check students’ understanding within the Teacher Guide. A comprehensive scoring rubric is also provided.

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