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Dead Diatoms Do Tell Tales

LuAnn Dahlman, ANDRILL

The students get to be climate detectives as they 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.

Activity takes 2 to 3 hours. Additional materials required.

Learn more about Teaching Climate Literacy and Energy Awareness»

ngssSee how this Activity supports the Next Generation Science Standards»
Middle School: 1 Performance Expectation, 1 Disciplinary Core Idea, 4 Cross Cutting Concepts, 6 Science and Engineering Practices
High School: 2 Cross Cutting Concepts, 3 Science and Engineering Practices

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
Other materials addressing:
B) Designing investigations.
1. Questioning, Analysis and Interpretation Skills:C) Collecting information
Other materials addressing:
C) Collecting information.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:A) Organisms, populations, and communities
Other materials addressing:
A) Organisms, populations, and communities.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:B) Heredity and evolution
Other materials addressing:
B) Heredity and evolution.
2. Knowledge of Environmental Processes and Systems:2.2 The Living Environment:C) Systems and connections
Other materials addressing:
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 real-life examples or case studies.

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 build 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

Next Generation Science Standards See how this Activity supports:

Middle School

Performance Expectations: 1

MS-LS4-1: Analyze and interpret data for patterns in the fossil record that document the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of life forms throughout the history of life on Earth under the assumption that natural laws operate today as in the past

Disciplinary Core Ideas: 1

MS-LS4.A1:The collection of fossils and their placement in chronological order (e.g., through the location of the sedimentary layers in which they are found or through radioactive dating) is known as the fossil record. It documents the existence, diversity, extinction, and change of many life forms throughout the history of life on Earth.

Cross Cutting Concepts: 4

Systems and System Models, Stability and Change, Patterns, Cause and effect

MS-C1.2: Patterns in rates of change and other numerical relationships can provide information about natural and human designed systems

MS-C2.2:Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-C4.2: Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy, matter, and information flows within systems.

MS-C7.3:Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.

Science and Engineering Practices: 6

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

MS-P2.2:Develop or modify a model— based on evidence – to match what happens if a variable or component of a system is changed.

MS-P2.4:Develop and/or revise a model to show the relationships among variables, including those that are not observable but predict observable phenomena.

MS-P4.1:Construct, analyze, and/or interpret graphical displays of data and/or large data sets to identify linear and nonlinear relationships.

MS-P4.4:Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.

MS-P6.2:Construct an explanation using models or representations.

MS-P6.3:Construct a scientific explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from sources (including the students’ own experiments) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

High School

Cross Cutting Concepts: 2

Systems and System Models, Stability and Change

HS-C4.3:Models (e.g., physical, mathematical, computer models) can be used to simulate systems and interactions—including energy, matter, and information flows—within and between systems at different scales.

HS-C7.2:Change and rates of change can be quantified and modeled over very short or very long periods of time. Some system changes are irreversible.

Science and Engineering Practices: 3

Developing and Using Models, Analyzing and Interpreting Data, Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

HS-P2.3:Develop, revise, and/or use a model based on evidence to illustrate and/or predict the relationships between systems or between components of a system

HS-P4.1:Analyze data using tools, technologies, and/or models (e.g., computational, mathematical) in order to make valid and reliable scientific claims or determine an optimal design solution.

HS-P6.2:Construct and revise an explanation based on valid and reliable evidence obtained from a variety of sources (including students’ own investigations, models, theories, simulations, peer review) and the assumption that theories and laws that describe the natural world operate today as they did in the past and will continue to do so in the future.

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