Changes Over Time: Our Wetlands, Our World

California Coastal Commission
Type Category
Instructional Materials
Image/Image Set , 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 lesson is part of the,  Our Wetlands, Our World High School Activity Guide to Upper Newport Bay developed by the California Coastal Commission and can be found on pages 70-74 of the pdf file. In this lesson, students compare aerial photographs of Upper Newport Bay taken in 1938, 1975, and 2001 to discover how the area has changed and what impact that change has had on the wildlife living there. Students identify changes in different areas of the photographs. Then,  species cards, located in Appendix A, determine possible impacts on the wildlife in each area as a result of the changes. Students then use a timeline to relate historical events to the photographs.

The recommended time for this activity is 1 hour, although it may take longer.

Intended Audience

Educational Level
  • High School
Access Restrictions

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

Performance Expectations

HS-ESS3-6 Use a computational representation to illustrate the relationships among Earth systems and how those relationships are being modified due to human activity.

Clarification Statement: Examples of Earth systems to be considered are the hydrosphere, atmosphere, cryosphere, geosphere, and/or biosphere. An example of the far-reaching impacts from a human activity is how an increase in atmospheric carbon dioxide results in an increase in photosynthetic biomass on land and an increase in ocean acidification, with resulting impacts on sea organism health and marine populations.

Assessment Boundary: Assessment does not include running computational representations but is limited to using the published results of scientific computational models.

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

Comments about Including the Performance Expectation
Students are engaged in determining how humans have changed an environment both physically and biologically while examining aerial photographs of the same location over 63 years. Students are first presented with the aerial photographs and directed to record changes they see in 10 different areas on the photograph. Teachers may need to take some time going through where the areas are found on each photograph with students as they are in black and white, so they may be hard to discern. Teachers could show students a current satellite image found here:,-117.8902513,4326m/data=!3m1!1e3 to help them examine the photographs in the activity. Next, students are given species cards and determine the possible impacts on the wildlife as a result of the changes they noticed. Finally, students are presented with a timeline to relate historical events to the changes they observed in the aerial photographs. Teachers should be aware that the timeline and aerial photographs are on the same handout and should be separated as to give students the data to examine in separate pieces.

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
While students are not directed to develop a model to predict what the Bay will look like in 50 years, they will need to develop mental models in order to fully answer this question, as the lesson is currently written. Teachers could direct students to develop a model, in a poster or similar presentation, showing changes to the Upper Newport Bay based on the evidence they have seen and identified and then use that model to make their predictions about the future of the Bay.

Disciplinary Core Ideas

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

Comments about Including the Disciplinary Core Idea
Students are explicitly deciding how the wildlife, flora and fauna, of the Upper Newport Bay area have been impacted as a result of human activities. This is further cemented when the class discusses if they feel the wildlife, both flora and fauna, was better off in 1938, 1975, or 2001 (the dates of the aerial photographs). This disciplinary core idea is further explored when students answer questions asking them to identify what anthropogenic features have been harmful to wildlife and what they think the Bay will look like in 50 years, keeping in mind that global climate change data estimates that sea level will rise three millimeters each year. To fully address this disciplinary core idea, teachers could lead students into a discussion about why scientists estimate that sea level will rise (and is rising) to incorporate human impacts to the atmosphere causing an increase in global temperatures, therefore increasing sea level. Teachers could use lessons from Earth’s Dynamically Changing Planet ( to help support this discussion.

Crosscutting Concepts

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

Comments about Including the Crosscutting Concept
Students could explore the changes they see to the Bay over short and long periods of time by comparing each photograph to the next (short) and the initial and final photograph over 63 years (long). The student worksheet does have a column for Change, but teachers could make this more of a focus by having students do those time comparisons. The incorporation of the timeline will also help students quantify and model the changes to the Bay. While students are not asked to develop a model, they could model the rates of change to Upper Newport Bay as a part of this activity. Teachers could make sure students identify some irreversible changes that have occurred to the Bay in order to fully address this crosscutting concept.

Resource Quality

  • Alignment to the Dimensions of the NGSS: While students are explicitly using a disciplinary core idea, global climate change and crosscutting concept, stability and change, to make sense of the phenomenon of changing aerial photographs of Upper Newport Bay, students are only implicitly engaged in the science and engineering practice (developing/using models). Teachers will have to have students develop and use a model of the changes to the Bay in order to fully engage in the Developing and Using Models science and engineering practice. By having students develop a model of the changes to the Bay in order to make predictions about what they think the Bay will look like in 50 years, students will be engaged in all three dimensions.

  • Instructional Supports: Students are engaged in a relevant and engaging phenomenon looking at changes to an area and how those changes may have impacted the local wildlife. Students may not have had experience with the location, but teachers could have students explore the same phenomenon in their local area. There are no suggestions for differentiated instruction, it would be up to the teacher to develop.

  • Monitoring Student Progress: Teachers will have some direct evidence of students engaging in three-dimensional learning during the discussion questions of when students feel wildlife was generally better off. Assessment of student proficiency uses methods, vocabulary, and representations that are accessible and unbiased. The teacher’s guide does not provide any embedded formative assessments or aligned rubrics or scoring guides. It would be up to the teacher to develop these.

  • Quality of Technological Interactivity: No interactivity with technology is required, although the teacher will need Internet access for portions of the lesson.