Catching the Wrong Species

Marrero, M. and K. Lam
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Lesson/Lesson Plan , Activity
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 article in NSTA’s December 2014 issue of “The Science Teacher” describes a classroom activity that uses engineering design to help students model modern fishing gear to minimize bycatch in the tuna fishery.  (Bycatch is non-targeted marine species typically caught in fishing gear).  The lesson uses the 5E instructional model (Engage, Explore, Explain, Elaborate, Evaluate) and outlines a number of techniques to deepen student understanding of the concepts the model represents. The classroom model employs common household items (e.g., different types of beans, marbles, tennis balls, and buckets) to create a model of the ocean.  Working in teams, students modify their “fishing gear” prototype at least three times to target more of the species they want to catch and to minimize catching non-target species. As students optimize their design solutions, they calculate the percentages of target and nontarget species caught in each of the phases of their design process. The teams share their final prototypes and data and then discuss how the engineering process helped them to improve their design over time. Students extend their thinking by considering how their prototypes could be created in real life and then how minimizing bycatch could be accomplished in other ways. Extension ideas are offered to encourage students to explore beyond the lesson in class. Links are provided to additional resources for both learning and assessment. Of particular note is this link: which supplements the lesson with both a design rubric and an evaluate rubric, as well as a graphic organizer and an example of a completed graphic organizer.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
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

HS-LS2-7 Design, evaluate, and refine a solution for reducing the impacts of human activities on the environment and biodiversity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of human activities can include urbanization, building dams, and dissemination of invasive species.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This Performance Expectation is associated with engineering and is best employed by focusing on the relationship among the disciplinary core idea, the engineering practice, and the associated crosscutting concepts. The links to outside reading will help to provide background context as well as content knowledge to deepen understanding.

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
Within the lesson, suggestions are made about helping students to consider the criteria and constraints. For example, the students are given a time constraint to design their prototype. “This demonstrates that time is often a constraint in real-world engineering design.” (p. 27) Students are required to test their prototype at least three times to refine their solution, using data from each trial to help them optimize their model. Once students have finalized their design solution, they share their results with the other teams in the class. This time of sharing is a critical opportunity to deepen the discussion and to extend the students’ thinking about both the design process and the ideas surrounding sustainable fishing. Encourage students to answer the suggested questions in the “Elaborate” section (p. 28) of the activity. One particular suggested strategy is to use “Think, Pair, Share” around the question of “What other factors besides size could be used to separate target species from bycatch?” Encourage students to think beyond the artificial constraints of the classroom model.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The lesson recommends that teachers introduce a time constraint in the modification of the prototypes. Doing this will help students understand the real life constraint of time on modifying commercial fishing gear. Although the actual modification of the prototype only focuses on the success of limiting bycatch, teachers will want to extend students’ thinking during the “Elaborate” section to consider the other constraints of cost, safety, reliability, and aesthetics when designing real fishing gear. Students should also be encouraged to think about the potential environmental impact of their designs if they were to be constructed with real materials. Teachers can challenge students to think about the materials needed to make their design solutions in real life and also how the function of these designs may harm the environment where they are used.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The “Engage” section of the activity recommends that students read an article on sustainable fishing. [Other readings are also suggested by the authors or teachers may want to select readings about important species within the students’ region.] Using the graphic organizer will help students to gather information from their reading and then to focus on sustainable ways to harvest seafood that will result in maintaining biodiversity. Engaging in this background information first will help provide context to the engineering activity. The “Elaborate” section offers numerous extension tips such as viewing NOAA videos, looking at successful bycatch reduction examples, and even surveying local supermarkets and restaurants to see the availability of sustainable seafood choices. Teachers will want to encourage making the connection between harvesting practices and consumer choices (causes) and biodiversity (effects).

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
There are at least three ways to make this crosscutting lesson explicit: 1. Teachers can emphasize to students the cause and effect relationship between the modifications the students make to their prototype nets and the resulting percentages of bycatch. By making their nets more efficient at catching the target species, students are having a positive effect on the nontarget species. 2. In the “Elaborate” section of the lesson, students explore readings to learn about successful bycatch reduction efforts. Teachers can emphasize the relationship between successful harvesting design solutions and results. 3. Teachers can also point out to students that the choices they make as consumers of seafood impact biodiversity. This “cause and effect” relationship between their individual choices and sustainability of biodiversity is also mentioned in the “Elaborate” section of the lesson where students can consider the impact of sustainable seafood choices. [The resource identifies the crosscutting concepts of “systems and system models” and “structure and function” as also being addressed. No explanation is provided in the resource about how these crosscutting concepts are addressed.]

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This resource is well aligned to the intent of the NGSS. The lesson motivates students to learn about human impact on biodiversity while they engage in creating, testing, and modifying a design solution to reduce bycatch. The crosscutting concept of cause and effect is effectively woven into the lesson using several different ways to demonstrate the relationship.

  • Instructional Supports: This lesson engages students in a model of a realistic and relevant scenario. The authors encourage teachers to consider the classroom location and modify the model to focus on a nearby body of water and the species that are familiar to students. The authors recommend blending students into the teams of four that have various abilities, skills, and talents. The lesson provides ideas to teachers about differentiated support. A graphic organizer (as well as a completed example) is provided to support instruction. Alternative readings and ways to integrate students with varying abilities into the lesson are suggested throughout. Extension ideas are offered for students with more interest in the ideas presented in the lesson, and additional resources are provided at the end of the lesson.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The lesson provides a rubric to be shared with students at the beginning of the design process. This rubric articulates the different aspects and expectations of the design process: brainstorming solutions, generating ideas and building the prototype, optimizing the design, and presenting the final prototype. Teachers can use the rubric to effectively monitor student progress throughout the designing of the prototype. During the lesson, students engage in peer reporting, group discussion, and “think, pair, share” opportunities which will all allow teachers to monitor student progress. In the “Evaluate” section, a homework assignment is suggested which also has a rubric. Four questions are suggested for students to answer. These questions will provide teachers with the opportunity to see how well the students have integrated the core ideas, the practices, and the crosscutting concepts into their understanding of protecting biodiversity by fishing in a sustainable way.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: Technology is not a component of the resource itself; the resource is paper-based. Links are provided to six different resources for both learning and instruction. This resource includes articles for students to read, videos, and documents to support learning and assessment. The choice of technology is left to the teacher. This review will be strengthened by teachers sharing experiences with the different technological options.