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Dead Diatoms Do Tell Tales

LuAnn Dahlman, ANDRILL

This activity engages learners to make a model of sediment cores using different kinds of glass beads and sand. They learn how to examine the types, numbers, and conditions of diatom skeletons in the model sediment cores and tell something about the hypothetical paleoclimate that existed when they were deposited. The students get to be climate detectives.

Activity takes 2 to 3 hours. Additional materials required.

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Climate Literacy
About Teaching Climate Literacy

Climate impacts ecosystems and past species extinctions
About Teaching Principle 3
Other materials addressing 3c
Changes in climate is normal but varies over times/ space
About Teaching Principle 4
Other materials addressing 4d
Observations are the foundation for understanding the climate system
About Teaching Principle 5
Other materials addressing 5b

Excellence in Environmental Education Guidelines

1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:B) Designing investigations
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B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
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C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
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A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:B) Heredity and evolution
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B) Heredity and evolution.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
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C) Systems and connections.

Notes From Our Reviewers The CLEAN collection is hand-picked and rigorously reviewed for scientific accuracy and classroom effectiveness. Read what our review team had to say about this resource below or learn more about how CLEAN reviews teaching materials
Teaching Tips | Science | Pedagogy | Technical Details

Teaching Tips

  • There is an associated video podcast about diatoms at http://www.andrill.org/flexhibit/flexhibit/materials/podcasts/index.html and leader notes at http://www.andrill.org/flexhibit/flexhibit/materials/activities/Leader_Notes.pdf
  • Educators may wish to use this unit in association with others in the "Antarctica's Climate Secrets" package to provide the needed climate context for this activity.
  • To conserve time, students could break up into four groups and each group make one core. The groups could then swap cores and sample the core and determine the climate history of that core.
  • If safety is an issue (using hammers to crush beads), the educator can prepare the beads beforehand.
  • Maybe too childish for high school students? Font used makes it feel too young for high school students.
  • For high school: add videos and augment with more online, real-life examples.

About the Science

  • In the activity, the cores are referred to as "rock cores" so teachers need to let students know that these are models of marine sediment cores from the ocean.
  • Comments from expert scientist: I think this is a great activity to get started thinking about diatom paleontology and how it is done. I think it provides a good model for middle school aged children to think about the interactions between sediment type, preservation, and physical processes.

About the Pedagogy

  • The illustrated directions for students are exceptionally well done and each step is accompanied by excellent images to guide students.
  • An excellent use of models to illustrate how scientists determine the nature of past climate history.
  • Teaches process science.
  • This resource is part of a Flexhibit (“flexible exhibit”) package. The hands-on activity allows students to use their experience with the unit to host a public science event or installing an exhibit for a science museum or other venue. They build and interact with models and then learn to give science demonstrations to visitors. They become the experts—they do the teaching at their event, or they prepare interpretive signs for the props at their exhibit.

Technical Details/Ease of Use

Related URLs These related sites were noted by our reviewers but have not been reviewed by CLEAN

Example of how scientists use sediment cores to pinpoint specific events in Earth's history: http://paleobiology.si.edu/blastPast/index.html. Also see: http://www.andrill.org/flexhibit/flexhibit/materials/podcasts/index.html and http://www.andrill.org/flexhibit/flexhibit/materials/activities/Leader_Notes.pdf

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