Life on the Edge Education

These lesson plans focus on the habitats and species of the outer shelf hard grounds and midslope deep coral (Lophelia) banks off the Carolinas.


The Life on the Edge expedition presents a unique opportunity to engage explorers of all ages as we journey to a world that few have seen. Scientists using the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution’s research vessel Seward Johnson and its submersible, the Johnson-Sea-Link II, will explore the North Carolina Lophelia Banks, a system of deep-water coral reefs comprised almost entirely of the branching coral Lophelia pertusa. Scientists have determined that these reefs are quite old and have formed very large rubble mounds consisting of dead coral skeletons and sediments, with live coral colonies growing on the surface. Little is known of the fish and invertebrate species associated with these reefs. Scientists will study these deep reefs, as well as the surface and midwater zones, during this mission.

Educators and scientists working with NOAA during July 2003 developed a series of lesson plans for students in Grades 5 – 12 that are specifically tied to the Life on the Edge exploration. These lesson plans focus on cutting-edge ocean exploration and research, using state-of-the-art technologies. Lessons focus on alien and invasive species, seasonal variations in primary productivity in the region, warm- and cold-water rings of the Gulf Stream, the biology and ecology of Lophelia, and trophic relationships.

In addition to being tied to the National Science Education Standards, the hands-on, inquiry-based activities include focus questions, background information for teachers, links to interesting Internet sites, and extensions. Web logs that document the latest discoveries and complement the lesson plans, complete with compelling images and video, will be sent back each day from sea. Teachers are encouraged to use the daily logs from the Life on the Edge Expedition, which are posted on this site to supplement the lesson plans.

The lesson plans are grouped into the following categories:
Grades 5-6
Grades 7-8
Grades 9-12 (chemical, biological, earth, and physical science)

All of the lesson plans are available in pdf format, and may be viewed and printed with the free Adobe Acrobat Reader exit icon. To download a lesson plan, click on its title from the list below.

Grades 5-6

Alien Invasion! (4 pages, 353k)
Focus: Invasive species (Life Science)

In this activity, students will be able to compare and contrast “alien species” and “invasive species,” explain positive and negative impacts associated with the introduction of non-native species, and give a specific example of species that produce these impacts. Students will also describe at least three ways in which species may be introduced into non-native environments and discuss actions that can be taken to mitigate negative impacts caused by non-native species.

Going for the Green (5 pages, 392k)
Focus: Seasonal variation in primary production over the southeastern U.S. continental shelf (Life Science/Earth Science)

In this activity, students will use satellite imagery to obtain information on chlorophyll concentration at selected locations in the Earth’s oceans, explain the relationship between chlorophyll concentration and primary production, and describe seasonal variations in primary production over the southeastern United States. Students will also be able to describe the potential significance of observed variations in primary production to biological communities.

Grades 7-8

Faking It (6 pages, 416k)
Focus: Coriolis force (Earth Science)

In this activity, students will be able to describe and explain the Coriolis force, and compare and contrast conditions under which the Coriolis force has a significant impact on objects in motion with conditions under which the influence of the Coriolis force is negligible.

Ring Detectives (4 pages, 352k)
Focus: Warm- and cold-core rings in the Gulf Stream (Physical Science/Earth Science)

In this activity, students will describe the overall flow of the Gulf Stream, explain how it affects biological communities in the North Atlantic Ocean, and describe Gulf Stream rings and how they are formed. Students will also compare and contrast warm-core rings and cold-core rings and explain how Gulf Stream rings may affect biological communities on the edge and slope of the continental shelf adjacent to the coasts of North and South Carolina.

Grades 9-12

Cool Corals (7 pages, 476k)
Focus: Biology and ecology of Lophelia corals (Life Science)

In this activity, students will describe the basic morphology of Lophelia corals and explain the significance of these organisms, interpret preliminary observations on the behavior of Lophelia polyps, and infer possible explanations for these observations. Students will also discuss why biological communities associated with Lophelia corals are the focus of major worldwide conservation efforts.

What was for dinner? (5 pages, 400k)
Focus: Use of isotopes to help define trophic relationships (Life Science)

In this activity, students will describe at least three energy-obtaining strategies used by organisms in deep-reef communities and interpret analyses of _15N, _13C, and _34S isotope values.

So, what’s it doing today? (5 pages, 392k)
Focus: Short-term variations in sea-surface phenomena of the Gulf Stream (Earth Science)

In this activity, students will use satellite imagery to obtain information on selected oceanographic parameters in the Gulf Stream and describe short-term variations in selected oceanographic parameters that they have observed in the Gulf Stream. Students will also infer and explain the potential significance of observed oceanographic parameter variations to biological communities.

Who’s your neighbor? (6 pages, 420k)
Focus: Benthic invertebrate groups associated with deep-sea coral reefs (Life Science)

In this activity, students will be able to recognize and identify some of the fauna groups found in deep-sea coral reef communities, describe common feeding strategies used by benthic animals in deep-sea coral reef communities, and discuss relationships between groups of animals in deep-sea coral reef communities.

For More Information

Please contact Paula Keener-Chavis, National Education Coordinator for the NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration if you have questions about these lesson plans or if you need additional information about their development.

Contact Paula Keener-Chavis,
Director, Education Programs
NOAA Office of Ocean Exploration

Other lesson plans developed for this Web site are available in the Education Section.