Billion Oyster Project

Estimation with Invertebrates


Oysters & Organisms Lessons



Class Periods




Subject Areas



This lesson allows students to investigate how scientists count quantities that are hard to measure exactly. They create their own method and compare it to BOP’s method.


Students will explore different methods of counting invertebrates and evaluate BOP’s protocol.

Materials and Resources


  • Picture of Tiger

  • Pictures of Settlement tiles

  • BOP Protocol 4

Before you get started


An ongoing discussion in the scientific community is how to quantify and count things that don’t fit into simple boxes. The invertebrates that populate BOP settlement tiles are a great example. How can we count organisms when we don’t know where the organisms begin and end? How can we standardize our data on invertebrates? This lesson seeks to answer these questions.

Instruction Plan


  1. Give the direction to “Count the stripes on the tiger’s face.” Creatively avoid providing any decisive information, and encourage students to write down the question and come up with a provisional answer -- all of which will be discussed together very soon! Reassure them that they need a system for counting, but there is no incorrect system. Tell them you're very interested to see what methods they'll come up with! Refuse to answer any other questions or give any instructions (What constitutes a stripe? What color? Do the dots by the eyes count as stripes? etc.)

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Once students complete this activity, discuss it. Ask about some pros and cons of different methods / choices. Congratulate original thinking and risk-taking, even if the results aren't so practical. Some example statements:

  1. I counted all the black stripes, I decided every black mark counted as a stripe.

  2. I counted stripes of all colors but only if they were longer than they were wide.

  3. I didn’t count the marks around the eyes and ears (etc.)


Show the students two pictures of settlement tiles: There are two examples below. OR, you can have them draw from photos they took on their field visits.

  1. Ask the students to write down a list of questions they have when you ask them the following question:   HOW MANY ORGANISMS ARE ON THE TILE?

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Possible Student Questions:

What is an organism?

How do you know where one organism starts and another stops?

Are the small brown things organisms?

How do you decide what an organism is?

Share, clarify what the different approaches are, and discuss some pros and cons of each.

Also, what new questions have come up? Anybody have any answers?

Teacher says : Instead, here is another way. Once you understand it, tell us what you think of it!


Hand out the BOP Protocol technique: notes below

  1. Note: Keep the tiles just below the surface of the water so the organisms are in their natural state.  They will stay alive longer and be easier to recognize.

  1. Identify the number of each tile (1 – 4)  and locate the top of each tile.

  1. Photograph each tile.  Make sure each tile fills up the camera screen as completely as possible without chopping off any of the tile surface.  Use a towel or umbrella while photographing to reduce the glare.

  1. Lay the 25-point grid on the tile.  

  1. Closely observe the organism that is located at each point on the grid, in the center of the cross-hatch (see below).

5 Point Grid.jpg

  1. If it looks like there is more than one organism in the center, choose the organism that is more dominant.

  1. There are 25 points for each of the four tiles – so there is a total of 100 points where you need to identify an organism.

  1. Use the Species ID Guide (on the tablet or the hard copy) to help you identify each organism.  

  1. If you cannot identify an organism make a note of the tile and grid-point in the “Other Observations” section of this protocol.  More detailed analysis of the photographs can be done back at school.

Have students practice this technique on two different tiles photos. Use the photos from the opening of the lesson.


Compare the count you just got to the count that you got when you just counted the organisms.

Questions to discuss with students:

  1. What are the pros and cons of the protocol technique?

  2. What questions do you have about the protocol?

  3. What are the pros and cons of the method you came up with on your own?


In your opinion, has BOP made a good decision about how to measure the life on a tile? Explain using specific evidence from the class discussions.


CCLS - ELA Science & Technical Subjects

    • Follow precisely a multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.
    • Introduce claim(s) about a topic or issue, acknowledge and distinguish the claim(s) from alternate or opposing claims, and organize the reasons and evidence logically.

CCLS - Mathematics

    • Reporting the number of observations.
    • Describing the nature of the attribute under investigation, including how it was measured and its units of measurement.

NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Patterns

    • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
  • Scale, Proportion, and Quantity

    • Phenomena that can be observed at one scale may not be observable at another scale.
  • Structure and Function

    • Complex and microscopic structures and systems can be visualized, modeled, and used to describe how their function depends on the relationships among its parts, therefore complex natural structures/systems can be analyzed to determine how they function.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ETS1.C: Optimizing the Design Solution

    • Although one design may not perform the best across all tests, identifying the characteristics of the design that performed the best in each test can provide useful information for the redesign process—that is, some of those characteristics may be incorporated into the new design.
  • LS1.A: Structure and Function

    • All living things are made up of cells, which is the smallest unit that can be said to be alive. An organism may consist of one single cell (unicellular) or many different numbers and types of cells (multicellular).

NGSS - Science and Engineering Practices

  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

    • Apply scientific ideas or principles to design, construct, and test a design of an object, tool, process or system.
  • Developing and Using Models

    • Develop a model to predict and/or describe phenomena

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 3

    • Diversity of Life
  • Grade 7, Unit 4

    • Dynamic Equilibrium: Other Organisms

NYS Science Standards - Key Ideas

  • LE Key Idea 1

    • Living things are both similar to and different from each other and from nonliving things.
  • LE Key Idea 5

    • Organisms maintain a dynamic equilibrium that sustains life.

NYS Science Standards - Major Understandings

    • Living things are composed of cells. Cells provide structure and carry on major functions to sustain life. Cells are usually microscopic in size.
    • Some organisms are single cells; others, including humans, are multicellular.
    • Cells are organized for more effective functioning in multicellular organisms. Levels of organization for structure and function of a multicellular organism include cells, tissues, organs, and organ systems.
    • An organism’s overall body plan and its environment determine the way that the organism carries out the life processes.

NYS Science Standards - MST

    • Students will use mathematical analysis, scientific inquiry, and engineering design, as appropriate, to pose questions, seek answers, and develop solutions.
    • Students will understand mathematics and become mathematically confident by communicating and reasoning mathematically, by applying mathematics in real-world settings, and by solving problems through the integrated study of number systems, geometry, algebra, data analysis, probability, and trigonometry.