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Protecting Ocean Hotspots Activity - Tweaked for 6-8th Grade ;)

grades 6-8 math science tweaked lesson plans vizualizations

Tweaked Lesson Plans 

This article is part of the “LP Tweaks” blog series showcasing how small adjustments to the questions, organization, and/or data moves within your existing curriculum can help align the learning to different data skills for your learners. This original lesson is strong, and the intention is not to communicate otherwise but rather to share how you could adjust things for a different desired outcome.

Written by: Naomi W


You are looking for a lesson to help your students better explore either 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” and/or MS-ESS2-3 “Analyze and interpret data on the distribution of fossils and rocks, continental shapes, and seafloor structures to provide evidence of the past plate motions”.  Your students have been studying interdependent relationships in ecosystems in this unit and throughout the year they have enjoyed working with graphs.

You come across a great data-based lesson from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries in collaboration with Oikonos Ecosystem Knowledge. The lesson uses scientific data to determine Winged Albatross Hotspots based on noon-time locations.

However, based on your student's performance in the last unit you are looking to give them more time to “Understand the Structure of Graphs or Maps” in a practiced way to deepen their “Visualizing Data” skills as part of “Analyzing & Interpreting Data” (see Building Blocks for Data Literacy to explore the corresponding data skills of these areas more).

You are torn, you like the Protecting Ocean Hotspots lesson, but you are worried the questions aren’t directly getting at the data skills your learners need to practice at this point in the year, but the content is. What do you do?

Let’s check out some easy optional tweaks to make the lesson more of what you are looking for now.

To get started, ask your students what hemisphere is being represented in each map, as each is zoomed in on a different location in the world.

With that initial orientation, here is an example of how we can add a few questions to the lesson to more directly help your current students practice data skills we know they are weaker on (or we are more interested in targeting this specific data interaction) at this point in the year.

The questions are designed to help students “recognize that the colors in a graph or map represent attribute values or categories, not necessarily actual colors ” in grades 6-8  in appropriate ways. They do not add a large amount to the workload of the students, but they do provide more targeted practice of these skills. Core to helping students understand the data they are looking at is making sure they recognize what the color represents in the maps. With that strong foundation in what is being represented is how to set students up for success in asking questions to see if there are correlations between that data and where the black-footed albatross spent more time.

The original lesson asks great questions to get towards this:

  • What seafloor feature is found there?

  • Why do you think the Albatross spent the most time in that area?

Even though the students have been analyzing maps before, these maps show underwater topography, not just latitude, and longitude. Your students need to analyze and understand how to be able to read the maps properly in order to obtain the data first so they can answer the questions on the worksheets.  These added questions are designed specifically to create scaffolded support for students to see the features of a map (especially the color) and recognize what that represents in the real world to analyze the given data and read the maps properly. Therefore, with the addition of 3 new questions per map, you can continue to use this exciting new lesson you found while also better aligning it to your current learners' needs and/or your desired focus areas for your learners to practice data skills. 

To me that feels like a win-win…using a lesson that you are excited about with a more strategic data focus to help learners build their skills :)

Will this exact tweak work for everyone or every lesson? Absolutely not!

In fact, other suggested adjustments in this lesson would help students that are needing to work on their Understanding of the Structure of Graphs and Maps skills at this time of the year. So rather than just Visualizing the Data, you could work on reading maps properly and determining the proper quadrant the data is located in. Students need to recognize that the range of data on a map does not necessarily include all 4 quadrants which would require the map to be centered at the origin of the Equator and Prime Meridian.