Architects of Seamount Ecosystems

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.



"Architects of Seamount Ecosystems" is a three part lesson plan that introduces students to the fascinating world of the ecologically critical seamount ecosystems.  Students participate in the construction of a Sierpinski Triangle to demonstrate the effect of the branching growth form of deep-sea corals.  An award-winning video, "Beneath the Blue" introduces students to key concepts of deep-sea corals.  Students conduct online research into the 8 habitat-forming deep-sea corals and prepare a report that addresses 7 key subtopics, including management and conservation issues.  The discussion points, web-based research, video, and phenomenon for students to engage in are appropriate for a middle school classroom.  Extensive background information and many web resource links, albeit a few are no longer active, are provided for teachers.  A suggested extension activity is included.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • Grade 8
  • Grade 7
  • Grade 6
  • Middle School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

MS-LS2-2 Construct an explanation that predicts patterns of interactions among organisms across multiple ecosystems.

Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on predicting consistent patterns of interactions in different ecosystems in terms of the relationships among and between organisms and abiotic components of ecosystems. Examples of types of interactions could include competitive, predatory, and mutually beneficial.

Assessment Boundary: none

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
This lesson supports the Performance Expectation by facilitating student discovery of the ways in which deep-sea corals provide and modify habitat for other species and how their physical form contributes to their function in the ecosystem. The phenomenon observable to students in this lesson is unusual in that it involves a mathematical exercise, the construction of a Sierpinski triangle, which has the added benefit of demonstrating to students that math is the language of science. The teacher should open the lesson with this activity to engage the students rather than as a demonstration during classroom discussion. This should be followed by watching the video, "Beneath the Blue" to introduce the main concepts of the lesson. The research activity should be completed after students understand the conservation and management issues of seamount ecosystems. Teachers are encouraged to engage students in multiple smaller class discussions rather than a single, all-encompassing discussion to help students process the main points.

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
One of the learning activities of this lesson plan the "The Me Connection" in which students write a short essay on how seamounts and their associated deep-sea corals might be potentially important to their own lives. Teachers are encouraged to provide students with graphic organizers to facilitate in the development of the construction of their explanations, which should include direct as well as indirect benefits.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
This lesson supports the disciplinary core idea of interdependent relationships in ecosystems. Students are introduced to undersea mountains, "seamounts", which are islands of high biological activity around the world. Deep-sea corals are a keystone species in these ecosystems, providing multiple benefits to others, including shelter, protection from predators, nursery areas, reduction of strong currents and feeding areas. Furthermore, their branching growth provides multiple benefits. The Sierpinski Triangle activity elegantly illustrates the effect of the branching growth benefits of deep-sea corals. Student research into the hundreds of species of organisms and their patterns of interactions and class discussions will allow them to understand the magnitude of importance of such ecosystems.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
This lesson provides opportunities for students to see the patterns of the heights of seamounts, the high productivity associated with them, and how they are associated with the tectonic plates that make up the Earth's crust. The main points help the teacher guide students in their learning, from the phenomenon, video, online research, and class discussions. Teachers need to emphasize the connection between the productivity of the seamount ecosystems and human benefits.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: This lesson utilizes the topic of deep-sea corals found on seamounts to weave together the three dimensions of the Next Generation Science Standards provided as the crosscutting concepts, the disciplinary core ideas and the practice are all addressed. An elegant activity, the Sierpinski Triangle, provides the phenomenon to promote student thinking about the interactions of biotic and abiotic factors in these environments.

  • Instructional Supports: The resources for teachers are extensive and well done. Many additional resources for added teacher background or for teachers not familiar with the content are provided. Specific rubrics and scoring guidelines are not included, however, key terms, key concepts, and learning goals are listed as well as essential types of information to research for the report. The teacher will need to provide differentiated instruction in the classroom for English language learners, students with special needs, and students who read well below grade level.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: There are no downloadable materials for monitoring student progress or formal assessment beyond "The Sierpinski Triangle" activity. Teachers will need to develop questions for monitoring student progress. Depending on the academic levels of the students, teachers may need to develop checklists or guides for monitoring student understanding of concepts. The online research report should be used for summative assessment because it includes all three dimensions of Next Generation Science Standards.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: This lesson is not technology based but does engage students with technology with their online research.