Chesapeake Bay Food Web

American Museum of Natural History & City College of New York
Type Category
Instructional Materials
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 a variety of  online materials, including a teacher guide, student worksheets, and videos.  In this lesson sequence, students analyze historic and present-day food webs and graph historic and present-day Chesapeake Bay data to learn how food web complexity is easily overlooked, and why that complexity is important to healthy ecosystems.  The developer has included a data set to graph as well as PowerPoint introduction slides and background information text resources.

Intended Audience

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

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-1 Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on cause and effect relationships between resources and growth of individual organisms and the numbers of organisms in ecosystems during periods of abundant and scarce resources.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
The resource provides data and information related to a real problem in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The lesson set gives background information to engage the students in determining the source of the problem and the data that is provided requires them to predict how catching oysters will affect the of floating algae levels and analyze the changes in the ecosystem over time. One improvement that teachers should include would be to make the entire process more student-driven. The questions that are provided would work well for class and group discussions; teachers should not just use the worksheets as a final assessment piece. By having students work on the tasks in small groups, the teachers can monitor student learning, and encourage productive talk within the groups, as students discuss how to complete tasks. Students need to be pushed to come up with an analysis themselves in order to meet the expectations of the performance expectation. Also, the crosscutting concept, cause and effect, should be made explicit through the teacher engaging the students in discussion and making sure the students see the connection. One cause and effect example that is emphasized in the accompanying worksheet is that floating algae begin to increase even before oyster harvesting begins. This is a record of the initial impact of farming by European settlers on the Bay due to the greater input of nutrients into the Bay from land clearing caused soil runoff. Nutrient pollution from farming in the Chesapeake region began to affect floating algae early on, and then oyster harvesting made the problem substantially worse.

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
The resource provides the data as well as instructions for plotting the data that indicates the ratio of algae to oysters from 1700 to the 1980s. The publisher provides a pre-labeled template to make the graphing go quicker or to use with students who have not mastered setting up their own graphs. Some teachers will have enough time to have students develop their own scale on the graph axes and plot the data as well. The analysis of the data showing how catching oysters affects the levels of algae population is done after the graphing. Teachers should check the outcome of each student’s graph before the students begin their analysis so that the students are using a correct graph. Alternatively, sharing students’ graph with the large group, provides opportunities for feedback, especially if students decided how to graph their data, before students continuing with the analysis.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
By using the data that is provided, teachers should probe students to determine the resources that have been limited over time.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The teacher could have students research the requirements for organisms in a local ecosystem to determine the limiting factors of that particular system and compare it to the ecosystem of the Chesapeake Bay.

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
The author does a great job of bringing in multiple interactions between the living and nonliving factors that are present in the Chesapeake Bay ecosystem. The teacher should facilitate a discussion where students acknowledge each of the factors that affect the changes that have occurred over time in the estuary. By summarizing the changes that have occurred in the bay, students can use the data to construct a scientific explanation. If possible, the teacher should look to the local area to find another ecosystem that has undergone changes due to human interaction and make the students draw a parallel between the two situations.

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
The Crosscutting Concept of Cause and Effect is implied in the lesson sequence, but the instructor should engage the students in discussion or evaluation of the cause-effect relationship by determining causes that are included to understand the sequence of effects that caused the ultimate problem in the Chesapeake Bay. Leading the class and/or group discussion to include these ideas will allow the educator to illustrate the crosscutting concept more explicitly.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: The lesson sequence aligns well to the performance expectation, MS-LS2-1, which includes the practice of analyzing and interpreting data and the idea of interdependent relationships in ecosystems. The crosscutting concept of Cause and Effect is developed, but can be taken further by the instructor while using the lesson sequence with their students. The publisher indicates that the lesson sequence aligns to other Performance Expectations as well, but they are not fully developed in 3 dimensions.

  • Instructional Supports: The resource provides students with relevant phenomena to make sense of. The data sets, video clips and presentation slides are all very useful as part of the lesson sequence or to be used by teachers who wish to develop their own lesson sequence. Teachers could also use or have students collect data about a local ecosystem that has changed over time due to human impact in order to make it more relevant to the students.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: The worksheets that are included have some good questions that could be used along the way to formatively assess the students instead of holding them to the end as a final assessment. Class discussion, exit tickets, and clicker system responses to these questions could give the teacher a better insight of what the students are and are not understanding.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: All resources are compatible on multiple platforms and with a variety of programs. A quality website houses all parts of the lesson sequence and support materials.