Citizen Science in the Classroom Series: Phytoplankton Monitoring Network

By March 6th, 2014 at 10:30 am | Comment 1

Citizen Science in the Classroom and the Phytoplankton Monitoring Network  

PMN logo 2

Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (NASA)

 

NOAA National Ocean Service Phytoplankton Monitoring Network Citizen Science Project to Meet Common Core and Next Generation Teaching Standards

Grades:

1st-12th (*see notes below about elementary grades)

Description:

The Phytoplankton Monitoring Network (PMN) is hosted through the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA). This project is a part of the REDM or Regional Ecosystem Data Management system, which establishes and catalogs regional data about ecosystem health. Phytoplankton is the base of the food web, it provides over ½ our oxygen, and is the foundation for life in the oceans. Too much plankton can cause harmful algal blooms (HAB) and poisoning of shellfish as well as low oxygen in marine waters. Researchers with PMN are focused on monitoring native and invasive populations of phytoplankton in coastal US waters as well as tracking HABs. You do not have to be a plankton expert for this project. The researchers will provide you with ID support, a phytoplankton image gallery, and a plankton ID app for your smart phones.

This citizen science project is a bit different than others that we’ve talked about because it is region specific. To participate you must live along coastal waterways with water that has a salinity of at least 10-15 ppt (parts per thousand).  The other difference in this project is that it requires two trainings (of a teacher or class) online or in person (about 4 hours total time) and you must commit to taking and observing water samples two times a week (5-10 minutes each) for a year. Time will also need to be allocated for students to process the samples. This could range from 2 hours to 20 minutes depending on the sample and how fast the students become in their IDs. The project could be broken up by class or shared with other teachers and volunteers.

*This citizen science activity tends to lend itself towards middle to high school classes; however, it can easily be approached as a platform for early education. In the standards section below there are some ideas for elementary students and activities they may do to participate in conjunction with middle to high school grades that could do the actual sampling and ID processing.

Materials You’ll Need:

  • Live in an area with access to water that has 10-15 ppt salinity. If you’re not sure of your water’s salinity PMN staff will send you a hydrometer, and instructions, for measuring this.
  • Computer access with printer.
  • Online access and ability to upload data.
  • All materials are provided by PMN except a rope and a compound microscope with 200-400x magnification.
  • Materials provided by PMN include a plankton net, data sheets, and water testing equipment.
  • Clipboards and pencils for data collection.

Why This Citizen Science Project is a Strong Candidate for the Classroom:

  • Even though there is a one year time commitment this project could lend itself to students feeling a sense of ownership through a meaningful long term project.
  • This may be used as a service or research project for volunteer hours for students needing community service.
  • Almost all of the materials for the project are supplied by the PMN.
  • Phytoplankton monitoring also includes water analysis, which may be used as supplemental water chemistry lessons; this includes pH, temperature, dissolved oxygen and more.

Teaching Materials:  

The down-side to the project is that they do not provide pre-made lesson plans. They do provide volunteer training, plankton identification training, a plankton ID app for smart phones, and a beautiful phytoplankton photo gallery online as well as pre-made data collection sheets. Because of this lack of teaching materials I will be referencing outside teaching resources that you may want to consider. This includes the books: “Sea Soup: Phytoplankton” and “SeaSoup: Zooplankton” by Mary M. Cerullo and Bill Curtsinger. The Center for Microbial Oceanography (CMO) has assembled a 70 page lesson plan for 3rd-12th grade that is very comprehensive, especially for those that don’t have enough microscopes for all students. UCLA has published a short set of plankton lesson plans, to meet NGSS standards, for grades 4-12. You can also find a plankton sampling lesson through the New Jersey Marine Science Center Consortium (grades 4-12).

NOAA app

NOAA plankton app (Photo: NOAA PMN)

 

Online Safety for Children

For this project you will need to submit a form for your sampling site to become an official location. This does require public sharing of your school/site’s address and the contact information of at least one representative. Students do not need to create their own account. Only one account for data uploading is required and this may be done through the teacher. However, multiple teachers or volunteers may access the account to upload information.

fresh water algae

An example of fresh water algae (plankton). (Photo: NOAA PMN, Dr. Steve Morton)

Common Core and Next Gen. Standards Met:

First Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 1-LS3-1 Make observations to construct an evidence-based account that young plants and animals are like, but not exactly like their parents.

Using the lesson plan from UCLA teachers may have students sort plankton by phyto and zoo and then discuss how they differ from land and plant animals. Student may also then compare the larval life cycle phase of the zooplankton to adults. Resources with pictures of adult and larval plankton are also in the CMO Lesson 3. If students are observing plankton under the microscopes they may also make the comparisons mentioned above. The image gallery provided by the PMN would be helpful for ID, including freshwater algae.

Common Core:

Literacy: RI.1.1 Ask and answer questions about key details in a text. RI.1.2 Identify the main topic and retell key details of a text. RI.1.10 With prompting and support, read informational texts appropriately complex for grade. W.1.8 With guidance and support from adults, recall information from experience or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

Teachers should use the book “Sea Soup Phytoplankton” or “Sea Soup: Zooplankton” as supporting reading text and research for students to meet these standards.

Second Grade

Next. Gen. Science: 2.LS-1 Plan and conduct an investigation to determine if plants need sunlight and water to grow.

This may be approached either by having students take samples of phytoplankton and exposing them to varying levels of light, or taking samples of plankton from various depths of water. A secci disc would also help determine light penetration due to the presence of plankton if sampling in deeper waters. The UCLA lesson plan has instructions on how to make a plankton net if not using one from PMN.

2-LS4-1 Make observations of plants and animals to compare the diversity of life in different habitats.

Plankton caught in various waters (and chemistry conditions such as salinity) may be compared, counted, and studied. The “Pick Your Plankton” lesson has step by step information for this.

K-2-ETS1-3 Develop a simple sketch, drawing, or physical model to illustrate how the shape of an object helps it function as needed to solve a given problem.

Students should research the shapes and structures of plankton. Teachers may use the lesson plan from the U. of AZ and conduct a plankton design competition testing buoyancy of designs of plankton models.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.2.7 Participate in shared research and writing projects. W.2.8 Recall information from experiences or gather information from provided sources to answer a question.

In the NGSS standards mentioned above, students may create a hypothesis, develop an experimental design, and run the experiment. They may then write and explain their results.

Math: MP.4. Model with Mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically. 2.MD.D.10 Draw a picture graph and a bar graph to represent a data set with up to four categories.

Students may conduct the experiment mentioned in NGSS 2.LS-1 above, collect data, sort data into categories, and then graph. For long term experiments for the PLN students may also help do the same.

Third Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 3-LS4-3 Construct an argument with evidence that in a particular habitat some organisms can survive well, some survive less, and some cannot survive at all.

Students may compare plankton samples from different locations, depths, or water chemistry conditions (pH, salinity, etc.) to compare where animals live, and construct a hypothesis about their findings. Teachers may also use NOAA’s PMN world map to track plankton around the world. The map is interactive and students can sort by specific times of year, species, and water conditions such as temperature or salinity. This may be useful in comparisons of populations and modeling.

3-LS4-4 Make a claim about the merit of a solution to a problem caused when the environment changes and the types of plants and animals there change.

Teachers may use the lesson plan from Project Oceanography on harmful algal blooms. Students will conduct an experiment on changing environments and algae growth and then extrapolate information about environmental changes caused by humans affecting HABs.

3-LS1-1 Develop models to describe that organisms have unique and diverse life cycles but all have in common birth, growth, reproduction, and death.

Using the lesson plan from UCLA teachers may have students sort plankton by phyto and zoo and then discuss how they differ from land and plant animals. Student may also then compare the larval life cycle phase of the zooplankton to adults. Resources with pictures of adult and larval plankton are also in the CMO Lesson 3. If students are observing plankton under the microscopes they may also make the comparisons mentioned above. The image gallery provided by the PMN would be helpful for ID, including freshwater algae. Students may draw out the life cycles of the various organisms.

3-LS3-3 Use evidence to support the explanation that traits can be influenced by the environment. Students should research the shapes and structures of plankton.

Teachers may use the lesson plan from the U. of AZ and conduct a plankton design competition testing buoyancy of designs of plankton models. Plankton shape may then be discussed in relation to function in the environment. Students may also make comparisons, using observations from samples collected for the PMN project, using microscopes.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RI.3.1 Ask and answer questions to demonstrate understanding of a text, referring explicitly to the text as the basis of the answers. RI.3.2 Determine the main idea of a text; recount the key details and explore how the support the main idea.

Teachers should use the book “Sea Soup Phytoplankton” or “Sea Soup: Zooplankton” as supporting reading text and research for students to meet this standard and in support of the NGSS standards listed above.

W.3.1. Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons.

Using the experiment listed in the NGSS standard for 3-LS4-4 have students write an opinion piece on how humans influence HABs.

W.3.2 Write informative/explanatory texts to examine a topic and convey information and ideas clearly.

This standard may be met for all of the NGSS standard listed above by having students write an explanatory report of their research and findings.

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically. 3.MD.B.3 Draw a scaled picture graph and a scaled bar graph to represent a data set with several categories.

Teachers may meet all of these standards using the experiments listed above for NGSS, with data collection, using tools, and graphing of data. Quantitative data may also be collected, and graphed, for the one year term of the PMN project.

Fourth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 4-LS1-1 Construct an argument that plants and animals have internal and external structures that function to support survival, growth, behavior, and reproduction.

Teachers may use the lesson plan from the U. of AZ and conduct a plankton design competition testing buoyancy of designs of plankton models. Plankton’s external shape may then be discussed in relation to function in the environment. Students may also make comparisons, using observations from samples collected for the PMN project, using microscopes. They may also observe samples of plankton taken from local ecosystems, compare, and quantify the features most commonly occurring in their samples. They may then discuss their findings relating to survival.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.4.1 Write opinion pieces on topics or texts, supporting a point of view with reasons for information. SL.4.5 Add audio recordings or visual displays to presentations when appropriate to enhance the development of main ideas or themes.

Teachers should use the book “Sea Soup Phytoplankton” or “Sea Soup: Zooplankton” as supporting reading text and research for students to meet this standard and in support of the NGSS standards listed above. Students may research different types of plankton, create an opinion piece about structure and function, and/or create visual displays to support this research.

Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics.

Students may use data collected from the PMN project to support their hypothesis/opinion piece about the most frequently shape, form, and structures found in their plankton samples. They may model their findings using graphs.

Fifth Grade:

Next. Gen. Science: 3-5-ETS1-1 Design a simple design problem reflecting a need or want that includes specified criteria for success and constraints on materials, time, or cost. 3-5-ETS1-2 Generate and compare multiple possible solutions to a problem based on how well each is likely to meet the criteria and constraints of the problem. 3-5-ETS1-3 Plan and carry out fair tests in which variables are controlled and failure points are considered to identify aspects of a model or prototype that can be improved.

Teachers should have students study the occurrence of plankton in their local ecosystem (from their samples), consider the location of harmful algal blooms (if present), and the flow of water through their watershed. They should discuss how this water carries nutrients to feed HABs and phytoplankton. Teachers may use the “Watershed in a Pan” lesson plan to model design solutions for water carrying nutrients that flows through a watershed. They may then construct design solutions for managing runoff and compare solutions. The VA Soil and Water lesson plan on watersheds also has 44 pages of comprehensive information on watersheds.

Common Core:

Literacy:  W.5.7 Conduct short research projects that use several sources to build knowledge through investigation of different aspects of a topic.W.5.9 Draw evidence from literary or informational texts to support analysis, reflection, and research.

Teachers may assign students research projects regarding management of runoff (and nutrients) into watersheds. Topics may include riparian buffers, HABs, anoxia, hypoxia, etc. They may then use their research to support design choices in the activities mentioned above for NGSS.

Math: MP.4 Model with mathematics.

In the “Watershed in a Pan” lesson listed above, students will be required to measure quantities of water and runoff during their experiment. They may then model their findings using mathematics.

diatom from NOAA

An example of a diatom from a plankton sample. (Photo: NOAA PMN, Dr. Steve Morton)

Middle School:

Next. Gen. Science: MS-LS1-6 Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for the role of photosynthesis in the cycling of matter and flow of energy into and out of organisms.

Students may use population data collected through PMN to create a model of the abundance of phyto and zoo plankton based on water chemistry and seasonal conditions present in their region. This may then be correlated with day length and sunlight availability as well as how phytoplankton populations affect dissolved oxygen available for other organisms in an ecosystem. Teachers may use the lesson plan from Project Oceanography on harmful algal blooms. In this lesson students conduct an experiment on changing light levels and algae growth and then extrapolate information about environmental changes caused by humans affecting HABs. Teachers may also use NOAA’s PMN world map to track plankton regionally or around the world. The map is interactive and teachers can sort by specific times of year, species, and water conditions such as temperature or salinity. This may be useful in comparisons of light availability and plankton populations.

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. MS-LS2-4 Construct an argument supported by empirical evidence that changes to physical or biological components of an ecosystem affect populations.

Both of these standards may be met by having students compare plankton samples collected in different types of habitats with different resource inputs, such as nutrients, sunlight, water flow, water stagnancy, etc. Students may then compare population of plankton and extrapolate about resource availability and population abundances. Teachers may also have students use population data collected through PMN to create a model of the abundance of phyto and zoo plankton based on water chemistry and seasonal conditions present in their region. This may then be correlated with day length and sunlight availability as well as how phytoplankton populations affect dissolved oxygen available for other organisms in an ecosystem. Teachers may also use NOAA’s PMN world map to track plankton around the world. The map is interactive and students can sort by specific times of year, species, and water conditions such as temperature or salinity. This may be useful in comparisons of populations and modeling.

MS-LS2-5 Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services. Teachers should have students analyze the biodiversity of plankton in their PMN samples.

These may be compared to other locations or sampling sights. Students should then study topographical maps and overlays (possibly using Google Earth) of their watersheds and suggest their results. They may then hypothesize design solutions for increasing or maintaining biodiversity of plankton in their waterways. Harmful algal blooms may also provide an opportunity for comparison of compromised ecosystem services due to anoxia and lack of sunlight penetration in the area. On a larger scale teachers may have students discuss lack of plankton biodiversity in entire ecosystems, such as the Arctic, and have them hypothesize the chain effect on planetary biodiversity.

MS-ESS3-3 Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment. MS-ETS1-1 Define the criteria and constraints of a design problem with sufficient precision to ensure a successful solution, taking into account relevant scientific principles and potential impacts on people and the natural environment that may limit possible solutions. MS-ETS1-2 Evaluate competing design solutions using a systematic process to determine how well they meet the criteria and constraints of the problem.

Teachers may have students study the occurrence of plankton in their local ecosystem (from their samples), consider the location of harmful algal blooms (if present), and the flow of water through their watershed. They should discuss how this water carries nutrients to feed HABs and phytoplankton. Teachers may use the “Watershed in a Pan” lesson plan to model design solutions for water carrying nutrients that flows through a watershed. They may then construct design solutions for managing runoff and compare solutions. The VA Soil and Water lesson plan on watersheds also has 44 pages of comprehensive information on watersheds. After conducting the modeling experiment student may then research the topographical features of their local watershed, pervious and impervious surfaces, using the USGS free waters spatial data (teachers may download this for students) and develop design solutions for managing water runoff of the local watershed.

Teachers may also use NOAA’s PMN world map to track plankton around the world. The map is interactive and students can sort by specific times of year, species, and water conditions such as temperature or salinity. This may be useful in comparisons of populations and modeling.

Common Core:

Literacy:  RST.6.8.3 Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks. WHST.6-8.7 Conduct short research projects to answer a question, drawing on several sources and generating additional related focused questions that allow multiple avenues of exploration.

These standards are met by having students conduct the research projects mentioned in the NGSS standards above.

RST.6-8.7 Integrate quantitative or technical information expressed in words in a text with a version of information expressed visually.

Students may research and then construct an energy flow diagram of a food web with plankton as the base of this flow chart. This may then be used to discuss energy flow in ecosystems.

Math: MP.2 Reason abstractly and quantitatively. MP.4 Model with mathematics. MP.5 Use appropriate tools strategically.

Mathematical analysis of plankton populations and biodiversity may be modeled, using microscopes and tools provided by PMN. See the projects listed above for NGSS.

High School:

Next. Gen. Science: HS-LS2-2 Use mathematical representations to support and revise explanations based on evidence about factors affecting biodiversity and populations in ecosystems of different scales.  HS-LS2-6 Evaluate the claims, evidence, and reasoning that the complex interactions in ecosystems maintain relatively consistent numbers and types of organisms in stable conditions, but changing conditions may result in a new ecosystem. HS-LS4-6 Create or revise a simulation to test a solution to mitigate adverse impacts of human activity on biodiversity. HS-ETS1-2 Design a solution to a complex real-world problem by breaking it down into smaller, more manageable problems that can be solved through engineering. HS-ETS1-3 Evaluate a solution to a complex real-word problem based on prioritized criteria and trade-offs that account for a range of constraints, including cost, safety, reliability, aesthetics, as well as possible cultural and environmental impacts.

The PMN project provides the opportunity for students to gather a long-term data set about environmental conditions, water quality, and plankton populations. Students may use this data to discuss factors affecting biodiversity in their samples, or they may compare data and samples from different regions and make comparisons about populations and their stability. Students may research the topographical features of their local watershed (especially land use, pervious and impervious surfaces, farms, houses etc) using the USGS free water spatial data information maps, or Google Earth, and then develop a working hypothesis for the trends they see based on natural and man-made influences. They may also offer design solutions for managing water runoff (affecting plankton) from the local watershed, taking into account cost, safety, reliability, etc. relating to human land use. This may be done as a “city planning” scenario, with students taking on different roles such as farmer, land owner, factory owner, governor, park manager, etc.

Teachers may also use NOAA’s PMN world map to track plankton around the world. The map is interactive and students can sort by specific times of year, species, and water conditions such as temperature or salinity. This may be useful in comparisons of populations and modeling.

One Response to 'Citizen Science in the Classroom Series: Phytoplankton Monitoring Network'

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  1. I would like to get my students involved in this project. Im a high school teacher in Boston Massachusetts

    Craig Ruiter

    15 Apr 16 at 9:43 am

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