Coastal Habitats & Species—The Brant Project

Summary: Studying and monitoring shorebirds exposes students to a host of natural history and ecological principles that play a role in some of the longest migration found on earth. The Brant Monitoring Project has been developed for classrooms along the Pacific Flyway to participate in an on-going international monitoring of Brant geese populations while learning of their adaptations and habitat requirements that allow them to make this long journey every year. At a minimum this curriculum can be used in the classroom anywhere and later on be optionally expanded for field monitoring along the Brant’s migration route or adapted to observe many other species of shorebirds traveling through Oregon.

Concepts to teach: Natural history, adaptations of waterfowl survival, wetland and estuarine habitats, observation, data collection, graphing populations

Goals: Students will understand the ecology of shorebirds, specifically the Brant goose, along the Pacific Flyway through observation and field monitoring.

4.2L.1, 5.2L.1, 3.3S.2, 4.3S.2, 5.3S.2, SS.03.CG.04, SS.03.GE.01, SS.05.GE.01, SS.05.GE.02

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to describe the adaptations and habitat requirements of the Brant Goose and other migrating shorebirds.
  2. Students will be able to map and identify the Pacific and Atlantic Flyways locating wintering and breeding grounds.
  3. Students will use optics (spotting scopes and binoculars) to successfully identify shorebirds and observe behavior at a distance.
  4. Students will observe and count brant and other shorebirds using sampling techniques.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • The International Brant Monitoring Project Curriculum hosted by Padilla Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve and designed by South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve. The curriculum was originally designed for middle school grade levels, but lessons have been used successfully with elementary students.
  • Migratory Superheroes! The Shorebird Sister Schools Program, USFWS, provides additional shorebird education materials, more opportunities for students to connect to other classrooms along the Pacific flyway, and where to go to observe shorebirds in Oregon.


Coastal Habitats & Species—Estuary in a Bottle

Summary: This lesson is a fun, hands-on activity to give students and introductory activity to better understand how salty ocean water and fresh water interact and mix in an estuary.

Concepts to teach: Tidal cycles, interconnectedness, estuaries

Goals: Students will be able to describe physical features of fresh, salty and estuary water and explain in simple terms how they mix in an estuary.

3.2E.1, 3.3S, 4.3S, 5.3S, 5.2P.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to describe what an estuary is and where the water comes from.
  2. Students will be able to name and describe two water quality parameters that affect estuary water.
  3. Students will investigate samples of water to determine their temperature and salinity as a measure of water quality.

Activity Links and Resources:

Coastal Habitats & Species—Tides of the Estuary

Summary: This lesson is designed to give an introduction to how tides and tidal cycles work by having students visualize, act out, reading and graph how tidal cycles work. Context is given to tides by way of discussing and understanding how they influence life around the estuary and open coast.

Concepts to teach: Tidal cycles, interconnectedness and balance

Goals: Students will develop an understanding of the fundamental role and ways that tidal forces play on the waters and habitats of the estuary.

3.2P.1, 4.2E.1, 5.1E.1, 5.2P.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to describe the tides and the forces that influence their height and frequency.
  2. Students will be able to accurately read a tabular and graph form tide table and identify at least two high tides and two low tides by time and elevation.
  3. Students will be able to describe at least three ways the tides influence life and activities in the estuary.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • The TIDES “Tides of Change” lessons were developed by the South Slough National Estuarine Research Reserve.
  • Tide Predictions for Hatfield Marine Science Center in Newport, OR
  • NOAA Ocean Explorer: Tides—This narrated video provides a great visual for both how tides work and how they impact the earth
    • Predicting the Tides activity provides information, assessment questions, and an opportunity to apply knowledge
  • Understanding Tides—This inexpensive 20-page publication available from Oregon Sea Grant describes the creation of tides, the roles of the moon and the sun in producing tides, the effects of elliptical orbits, the interactions among astronomical movements, and types of tides. The author, a high school teacher, also looks at phenomena such as seiches and tidal currents that are associated with tides.


  • Tide Table Discussion Guide included in “Tides of the Estuary” OCEP Summary

Introduction—Welcome to the Estuary!

Summary: Estuaries are unique and often fragile coastal ecosystems that connect aquatic and marine ecosystems. This topic guide provides definitions and images that orient students and promote a sense of place and understanding.

Concepts to teach: Estuarine ecosystems and habitats, tidal cycles, productivity, ecosystem balance

Goals: Students understand components of an estuarine ecosystem, basic associated vocabulary, and the concept that watersheds connect to the ocean through estuaries.

4.2L.1, 5.2L.1, 4.2E1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to identify and describe, in simple terms, what an estuary is and what basic life zones make up an estuary
  2. Students will be able to describe at least two physical factors that influence life forms in the estuary.
  3. Students will be able to locate the major life zones and sources of estuary inputs on a map.

Activity Links and Resources:


  • Assessments and extensions included in the OCEP Welcome to the Estuary summary above.

Coastal Ecology—Making the Connection

Summary: Students explore food chains and food webs to discover interconnecting relationships among organisms in an ecosystem.

Concepts to teach: Food webs, different ecosystems

Goals: Students will learn about ecological relationships by constructing a simple food chain or food web.

4.2L.1, 5.2L.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Describe the difference between various roles in the food chain.
  2. Display the connections between various creatures in the food chain.
  3. Demonstrate the effects of outside influences on food chains and ecosystems.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Making the Connection adapted from Michigan Sea Grant‘s Project Flow.
  • Food Chain descriptions and games
    • Who’s Hungry? – Students use body movement and pantomime to simulate the feeding motions of freshwater organisms and demonstrate the interconnectedness of a food web.
    • Food Chain Quiz—This is a good review of concepts in a fun format from the BBC.
    • Food Chain Game—An interactive animated drag and drop game from
    • Food Web Interactive from—Describes components of pond food chain and webs, and finishes with an experiment to see what happens changes are made to complex food webs.


  • Students look at multiple food chains or webs from different ecological systems and talk about the relationships depicted.

Coastal Habitats & Species—Salmon Studies

Summary: Through the study salmon behavior, anatomy, and life cycles, students learn how salmon are connected to both inland watersheds and the ocean. Students discover some of the challenges salmon face during migration.

Concepts to teach: Adaptations, survival, migration, freshwater vs. saltwater habitats

Goals: Students will learn about the unique life cycle and migration habits of salmon and how they find their way back to their freshwater breeding grounds.

3.1L.1, 3.2L.1, 4.2L.1, 5.2L.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Construct a mnemonic device as a way to remember the stages of the salmon life cycle.
  2. Investigate salmon anatomy and adaptations.
  3. Use sense of smell to locate a home stream.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Smelling like a Fish adapted from Salmon Watch
  • The 550-page Stream Scene curriculum is available in .pdf format on the ODFW website, and covers a variety of watershed topics. The chapter Aquatic Organisms contains several lessons having to do with salmon, including:
    • Riffles and Pools, p. 357—“Students will apply concepts learned about habitat needs of salmonids during their life cycle by completing a work sheet analyzing riffles and pools.”
    • Coming Home, p. 373—“Students will investigate, write, and produce an advertising campaign, in a poster format, that features reasons for salmonids to migrate to a specific stream to spawn.”
  • Salmon Life Cycle Hexaflexagon from the Bonneville Power Administration—Paper craft project sequences a salmon life cycle
  • Salmon dissection
  • Consider rearing salmon in the classroom. For more information, visit the Animals in the Classroom topic guide in OCEP Module 2.
  • Visit the Oregon Hatchery Research Center or a hatchery closer to your school
  • Do the self-guided OHRC Quest, which is a clue-directed interpretive hunt created by 8th graders at Crestview Heights School in Waldport
  • Make your own Quest or other interpretive guide that helps the public learn about salmon and salmon habitat


  • Draw and label the external and internal anatomy of a salmonid.
  • Construct and explain the salmon hexaflexagon as it relates to salmon life cycles.

Coastal Habitats & Species—Macroinvertebrates

Summary: Students watch a student-produced animated video about macroinvertebrates and stream health.

Concepts to teach: Aquatic habitats and species natural history

Goals: Students explain the importance of benthic macroinvertebrates and how their presence or absence can indicate stream health.

3.2L.1, 4.2L.1, 5.2L.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Define the term benthic macroinvertebrate and identify common characteristics and examples.
  2. Describe the role of macroinvertebrates in stream ecosystems.
  3. Explain how macroinvertebrates can be an indicator for stream health.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • StreamWebs—This student stewardship network from OSU Extension provides open-source, web-based tools for watershed data management, analysis, and networking for teachers and students. Includes a data sheet for assessing stream health through macroinvertebrate sampling.
  • The Ponds and Wetlands Exploration lesson plan from the Oregon 4H Center outlines outdoor aquatic sampling and is based on the Project WET “Water Canaries” lesson
    • Visit the Oregon 4H Center for a field trip
    • Apply the lesson plan to a pond and wetland near your school
  • The 550-page Stream Scene curriculum is available in .pdf format on the ODFW website, and covers a variety of watershed topics. The chapter Aquatic Organisms contains two macroinvertebrate lessons:
    • Build a Bug, p. 319—“Students work in small teams to build an aquatic insect model out of simple materials.”
    • Water Wigglers, p. 335—“Students collect material from microhabitats within a determined reach of stream. Invertebrates are taken from these samples and sorted into feeding groups. A count is kept of each feeding group on the data sheet and the percentage of each group/habitat is calculated.”


Introduction—Watershed Modeling

Summary: Students will create and explore small scale models of watersheds made from either paper or in a large group using a shower curtain. Students work to identify various living and nonliving features within their model and look at how they function within a watershed. Run-off, erosion, and sources of pollution are explored using water bottles and props.

Concepts to teach: Watershed features, watershed health, runoff & erosion, point & non-point source pollution.

Goals: Students will explore the features of a watershed and understand how various natural processes might be impacted by human activity.

Science—3.3s.2, 4.2L.1, 4.2E.1, 5.2L.1, 5.3S.1

Specific Objectives:

  1. Identify nonliving and living features found in a watershed and describe how water interacts with those features.
  2. Understand and describe how human activities can affect watersheds.
  3. Name at least two actions they can take to keep a watershed healthy

Activity Links and Resources:

  • A Watershed Model in Your Hands—This activity was written by the Oregon Coast Education Program. Students work individually to create a watershed model using paper.
  • Crumple a Watershed – This similar lesson developed by OMSI includes student instructions, worksheets, and extensions.
  • Shower Curtain Watershed was developed by Monterey Bay Aquarium as a part of their K-12 inquiry based curriculum series. Students work in small groups using a plastic shower curtain or tarp and various common props to model the local watershed.


  • Students create diagrams and descriptions to predict what will happen when water is added to the model. After the experiment, students compare their predictions to what actually happened when the model was used and explain why the model performed the way it did.
  • Create a Venn diagram comparing the model watershed and natural watershed.
  • Journal reflection: Describe how the model demonstrates watershed processes.

Introduction—Watershed Walk

Summary: This topic guide focuses on introducing students to watersheds by experiencing the one right outside their door. Students begin by using mapping programs and brief activities to learn about the water cycle and how water moves through the watershed. Students will then engage in a guided watershed walk on local school grounds to identify features and observe the water cycle in action.

Concepts to teach: Reading maps, local geography, water cycle, watershed features and surfaces.

Goals: Students will learn about how water moves through their local watershed and its related features.

Science—3.1P.1, 4.2P.1, 5.2P.1
Social Science—SS.03.GE.01, SS.03.GE.02, SS.03.GE.03, SS.03.GE.04, SS.05.GE.03.03, SS.05.GE.04, SS.05.GE.07.02

Specific Objectives:

  1. Students will be able to name their home and/or school watershed
  2. Students will be able to identify the main body of water closest to their home and/or school.
  3. Students will be able to define at least four features of a watershed (e.g., rivers, creeks, soils, vegetation, slope, etc.)
  4. Students will be able to describe how water cycles through the local watershed.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Watershed Walk was developed by OCEP Leadership team members and contains the activity description as well as a copy of the “Coastal Water Cycle Journey” (adapted from Project WET’s “Imagine!” activity) that takes students through the life of a water droplet.
  • Quests are interpretive clue-directed hunts that get people outside exploring their communities.
    • Watershed Quest—This lesson plan from PBS KQED outlines activities essential to place-based understanding of your community’s watershed, and then students create a Quest to share their learning with others.
    • If you make your own Watershed Quest, share your creation with Oregon Coast Quests
  • Google earth has many different features and layers that allows students to “fly” to any place around the world while exploring their local watershed and even look at historical imagery if available.
  • EPA Surf Your Watershed—find a myriad of information about your local watershed. Type in your zip code to discover stream flow data from USGS, watershed assessments, and even demographic information.

Additional water cycle activities:


  • Pre/Post Watershed Knowledge survey
  • Use or develop formative assessment probes to gauge student understanding about the water cycle. The following probes from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, vol. 3 could be applied or modified:
    • What are clouds made of
    • Rainfall
    • Where did the water come from
    • Wet jeans and vignette
  • To obtain Uncovering Student Ideas in Science publications or access sample chapters, visit the NSTA website
  • Evaluate completed student worksheets as a way to gauge understanding and address any misconceptions about watershed knowledge.