Grades 3- 5 "Searching the Sea Floor"

Science and Children Journal Christine Anne Royce
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Map , Model , Activity , Informative Text , 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.



The students are engaged in determining how maps can be used as tools to locate physical features of the ocean floor.  They read the story Solving the Puzzle Under the Sea: Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor, then discuss the specific features of an underwater map, continental drift theory and the importance of the work of geologist Marie Tharp.  Students explore Tharp’s theory as they plot points on a Soundings Map worksheet to create their own profile coastline map. Teacher guided discussion and map sharing allows students to explain their map data points, as they analyze data, noting differences in plot points in regard to ocean depth.  Use of a Color-Coded Depth Chart Scale and NOAA animations give students the opportunity to elaborate on more detailed birds-eye view images of the ocean floor, then evaluate their understanding of their own ocean floor models as they relate to Marie Tharps’ work.   Trade Book access

Intended Audience

Educator and learner
Educational Level
  • Upper Elementary
Access Restrictions

Available by subscription - The right to view and/or download material, often for a set period of time, by way of a financial agreement between rights holders and authorized users.

Performance Expectations

4-ESS2-2 Analyze and interpret data from maps to describe patterns of Earth’s features.

Clarification Statement: Maps can include topographic maps of Earth’s land and ocean floor, as well as maps of the locations of mountains, continental boundaries, volcanoes, and earthquakes.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students create/share ocean floor maps based on sounding data, then analyze and interpret their models. As a prelude to the lesson and as a means of assessing prior knowledge, students could first create illustrations representing their versions of a seafloor map. Before the story is read to/by students, they could reflect on the title of the trade book, “ Solving the Puzzle of the SeaFloor, Marie Tharp Maps the Ocean Floor”, journalling what they think the story will be about, and explaining the importance of a seafloor map, giving evidence for their ideas. Their seafloor illustrations and ideas about the story could be used by students as future reflection about what they have learned, and how their ideas

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
Students compare a profile view and contoured floor view of a seafloor map to determine what information each would provide, noting their similarities and limitations. To strengthen this practice, the teacher could review concepts of profile views vs. birds-eye views, asking students to explain their differences and possible geologic/geographic uses. In addition, a prior/concurrent lesson about contour lines could provide students with basic topographic knowledge. For example

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students create their own versions of a soundings map, analyzing and interpreting data they have plotted in order to determine varying ocean depth profiles. In order to emphasize their beginning understanding of the concept of continental drift, they could compare topographical world maps with Maria Tharp's map. They could discuss how ocean depth differences in her maps are indicative of the evidence of deep trenches, and clues to continental drift.

Crosscutting Concepts

This resource is explicitly designed to build towards this crosscutting concept.

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
By observing and comparing maps, students can observe that mountains form in chains. By adding earthquake and volcano activity to maps, students can observe that mountains form in chains. Students could again refer to copies of Maria Tharps’ map (elaborating on suggestions made in DCI section), labeling the map with picture symbols of mountain ranges, etc. Once the maps are completed, students could journal what patterns they observe pictorially. Maps could be shared on a focus wall, with students commenting on similar patterns they observe in landform

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: Students make sense of phenomena by developing and analyzing a several models of the Earth's surface. In addition, Common Core Math connections are strong because students use measurement and graphing skills. When students are reading the trade book Solving the Puzzle of the Ocean Floor, the teacher could include, and have students reflect, on the idea that Maria Tharp became a success in her field because she always “wondered” about maps. Students could create their own “I wonder” list, providing them with future research opportunities, and an understanding of the motivation of Maria Tharp

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in relevant and highly authentic activities as they represent their own ideas and provide feedback to peers. While differentiation of instruction is not specifically addressed, the resource does provide teachers with several examples of probing questions which could elicit examples of prior knowledge and assist with directed teaching. Students may develop the misconception that the word sounding comes from the word sound. A dictionary search will provide a definition and word origin. Students of advanced ability or those who express interest in the world of women scientists could research their lives, presenting their findings to classmates in the form of interviews, documentaries, etc.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Direct, observable evidence of three-dimensional learning is evident in student creation and analysis of soundings and profile maps. NSTA link- Rubrics for evaluating student learning are not included, however, student illustrations, graphs, and worksheets could provide evidence of student learning. Students could journal daily about their experiences in creating the soundings and profile maps, explaining what steps they took in analyzing data to obtain evidence of landform changes and subsequent inferences to continental drift. These journal entries could serve as a source of self-assessment, and evidence of learning during a teacher/student conference session.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This resource does not contain a technologically interactive component. * The link for one of the resources does not work, but can be found by searching for NOAA Seafloor Mapping Animations.