Encouraging Student Engagement

In this series, educator Deb Greene walks us through some of the science on the ship. She explores the practices of science and how they fit in with the Next Generation Science Standards. Deb has taught and been involved in curriculum development in both the public and private sector for over 35 years. She currently works in Alaska with the Curriculum and Instruction Department for the Anchorage School District.

Part 4: Ideas for Teachers

Beginning classes in Oceanography/Marine Biology with short videos, photos or models of equipment used to explore/study the marine environment provides a window into exploring the mysteries of the sea. When these tools are used to engage students, allow time for students to discuss what they are seeing. This promotes engagement as it allows students to think about properties/characteristics, cause and effect, and interrelatedness of an object or phenomena.

Some examples of this are:

  • Use an image of the SuperSucker. Tell students: This is an instrument used to gather data about our ocean waters. Ask: What kind of data would be reasonable for an underwater towed vehicle to collect?


  • Show BrinicleSinking Brine (2 min 13 sec) from Frozen Planet

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After viewing the BBC clip, encourage students to formulate questions and develop a model in an attempt to create their own brinicles by freezing salted water. As students experiment with different concentrations of salt water to mimic the varying salt content signature of the oceans around the world, they can model the formation of brinicles that can be found forming in both the Antarctic and the Arctic. * Note that freezing sea water (or salt water at a concentration of about 33%) creates a softer ice than what is considered a ‘normal’ ice cube. This salt water ice resembles a sponge with brine channels in it and must be used within 24 hours or the salt will leach out. The salt ice cubes are placed in a clear beaker of room temperature water. As the brine channels  from the ice cube begin excreting cold salt water from the cube, new ice forms as a ‘straw’ of ice below the cube. As the brine sinks, the fragile ice tube descends and grows into what is called a brinicle. Besides being a cool lab, students can begin asking questions about conditions necessary to form these phenomena.

  • Scientists, in collaboration with engineers, have devised an instrument called a CTD. (For teacher information, CTD stands for Conductivity, Temperature, Depth). Present students with the situation: Thinking about marine studies, what can your group come up with for this acronym that would be reasonable for scientists to collect using this instrument? Encourage them to notice particular aspects of this device such as (but not limited to) (1) it houses a lot of canisters, (2) it has weights strapped to it at the bottom, (3) there is a cable attached at the top.DSCN4831 (1).jpg
  • The Carbon cycle is a complex interaction between carbon and other elements as it cycles through the environment. Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence (COSEE) has developed an activity called the Carbon Cycle Game to help clarify any misconceptions learners may have about this cycle. This link provides all directions and background information necessary to help you and your students grasp the significance of this cycle.Screen Shot 2017-08-17 at 7.42.26 PM.png
  • The Nitrogen Cycle Game has been put together by Oregon State University. This tool, created for high school students, allows the student to play the role of a nitrogen atom as it travels through the nitrogen cycle. 

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Uncover student understanding

Probing students for their current understanding helps guide the direction of a class just as scientists in the field read published articles written by other researchers to provide a greater foundation onto which they build their research project.

One example of such a tool is where learners read and select the individual(s) in the scenario that best matches their current way of thinking. Once they have selected like-minded thinking, they then justify their choice(s). As students develop a greater understanding of content, they may change their choice and add to their justification. Tools such as the one below allow teachers to cater classroom instruction to the level of understanding students have at the time.

Follow this link to get to the engagement activity illustrated below. Then develop your own scenarios that best meet your class objectives. 

Engagement Activity

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