Billion Oyster Project

Extension Activities for the Field


New York’s Urban Ecosystem Lessons



Class Periods




Subject Areas

ELA, Math, Science, Social Studies


These short activities are designed to complement ORS (Oyster Restoration Station) monitoring expeditions.  

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

  • In the field, it is important to keep students engaged at all times. Students who finish more quickly, can be a distraction to others. Use these activities to keep students engaged and active while outdoors.
  • Note: the extension activities are color coded based on category.

Instruction Plan


Site Conditions

Soft Sediment Sampling (15 min)

Learn about the composition of the sediment at your field site by taking a benthic sample. Use either a homemade core sampler (PVC tube) or a bucket grab sampler (Ekman) to collect sediment. Observe sediment using a field microscope to compare the different types of particles present.

Site Conditions

Nature Walk  (15 min)

Observe, collect, and press leaves in the area.  Observe and identify trees.  Sketch an animal.

Site Conditions

Scavenger Hunt (15 min)

Students find, document, and take data on specific plant species and/or other features of the site.

Teacher Tip: This must be prepared in advance, based on specific features of the specific ORS site.  Possible hunt items include:

  • A CSO

  • A bird: what kind is it?  What is it doing?)

  • Something there are many of: now count them

  • The vehicles you see

  • A nearby person: how are they using the space?

  • A human-made object in the water: what is it?

  • An insect: sketch it.

  • A living thing that is green.

  • A non-living thing.

  • The nearest trash can.

  • A living thing that crawls.

  • Something floating in the water.

  • Something they think was there before they were born.

  • Something they think arrived or was placed there during their lifetime.

  • Students could also map the hunt items.

Site Conditions

Map it (15 min)

Students map the site using either a pre-prepared outline or from scratch.

Site Conditions

Photograph it (10 min)

Students document the site in photographs.  One option is to use off-line apps to label and create a landscape view of the site.

Site Conditions

Narrate it

Students document the site via audio recording.  Students could also shoot short videos to document the site.

Site Conditions

Naturalist’s Journal (15 min)

Students chart their observations and inferences about the site.

Teacher Tip: It might be interesting to compare students’ Journals across different seasons. Students could be directed to focus on a particular type of observation and/or inference, e.g.:

  • Observe abiotic factors, and draw inferences about how each abiotic factor might impact the ecosystem within the estuary.

  • Choose 3 interesting observations and draw inferences about how they migh affect oysters.

  • Chart qualitative observations and quantitative observations.

  • Sit and listen to the city around you.  Record as many different sounds as you can. Include both natural and human-made sounds.

  • Sit and smell the city around you.  Record as many different smells as you can.  Include both natural and human-made smells.

  • Sit and look at...etc.

  • Survey the trees.

  • Collect traffic data.  Then draw inferences about ways that air pollution might affect the water.

  • Collect boat traffic data (# boats/unit time)

Site Conditions

Imagine the past

After completing a Naturalist’s Journal-type assignment, students write: How might this place have been different 50, 100, 200, or 400 years ago?  What might account for these differences?  What organisms might have been found here at different moments in the past? Students might represent their idea of the past of this site in pictures, maps, and/or descriptions.

Site Conditions

Take Inspiration (15 min)

After completing a Naturalist’s Journal and/or Imagine the past-type assignment, students write a poem or other piece of creative writing inspired by the site.  One possibility is to write a short story that illustrates what they think life might have been like in this place at a particular moment in the past.

Site Conditions

The Built Environment (15 min)

Students sketch the skyline, a building, or a scene of relatively long-lasting human-made structures.  They describe the subject in detail and then answer: what impact do they think it has on the living creatures in the coastal area?

Site Conditions

Why here? (15 min)

Students write what they know about the site.  Then they answer the question:  Why here?  What are the advantages of studying this particular place?  What are the disadvantages?

Site Conditions

On the other side

Students compare and contrast two sides of the waterbody, e.g. How is the Manhattan side of the East River similar to and different from the Queens side?

Site Conditions

Terrestrial Monitoring

Monitor all the species you can, for example: birds, squirrels.

Mobile Organisms

Deploy Fish Trap (note: contingent upon DEC permits) (10 min)

To gather data on larger mobile organisms (>1 inch) students and teachers can deploy a fish trap attached to or near the oyster cage for a period of 12-48 hours (any longer could result in fish mortality). This would be a standard single opening trap ranging in size from 3 to12”. Fish trap could be constructed by teachers or students using our standard 14 gauge vinyl coated mesh. Another option would be to use a seine or trawl net however this would likely require wading, which few if any sites allow.

Teacher Tip: Encourage the group to think carefully about the placement of the trap in relation to any shoreline hazards

Mobile Organisms

Crustacean Anatomy (15 min)

In this activity, students can examine the body plans of different types of crustaceans in more detail. After performing a basic sort of the mobile invertebrate found within the mesh netting, choose 2–3 different types of crustaceans – amphipods, isopods or crabs (refer to the species ID guide and remember that amphipods are flattened laterally, along the length of their bodies, whereas isopods or pill bugs, are flattened dorso-ventrally). Show students the basic crustacean body plan diagram and discuss the segmentation into head, thorax and abdomen. Using handheld field microscopes, describe the form of the body parts for the different species chosen and discuss their possible functions. For example, consider the size of the animal, the size of the body part in relation to the rest of the body, where the animal was found and how mobile it is in the sample dish.

Teacher Tip: This activity will be most interesting if very different species are found in the sample, particularly caprellid species.

Sessile Organisms

A Life Less Mobile (15 min)

Find an example of a solitary ascidian, barnacle or mussel on a tile. Think about how these animals might be adhering to the surface and discuss the process of adhesion and settlement (using additional supporting documents). How does an animal get its food if it can’t move around? Closely observe some of the animals and watch for any movement (of siphons in an ascidian, shell opening in a mussel, feeding appendages in a barnacle). Remove a tile from the water and gently push a solitary ascidian such as Molgula manhattensis and observe water coming out of the siphons; note that there are 2 siphons and discuss how water is pumped through its body and filtered.

Teacher Tip: Keep very still and the animals fully submerged whilst observing them initially as you will be more likely to see feeding activity

Sessile Organisms

Growing with the flow

Examine the surfaces of tiles that were facing ‘outwards’ from the shore, into the flow direction, and compare the dominant cover found to that found on tiles facing ‘inwards’ on the shore.  What types of organisms are found on each?  What physical (abiotic) and biological (biotic) factors do you think might influence any differences in the organisms found? How many of these are filter feeders? Does this number differ according to the direction the ties are facing?

Teacher Tip: This activity will be more valuable if a pre-field class on harbor ecology and/or invertebrate biology has been completed

Sessile Organisms

Draw it (10 min)

Students create a life drawing of an ORS organism.

Sessile Organisms

Different Substrates (10 min)

Use different materials for tiles and compare growth of sessile organisms.

Human Relationships with the Site

Site Stewardship: Garbage (15 min)

Document and then collect trash at the site.

Teacher Tip: Remind students that some kinds of trash should be picked up by adults, e.g. broken glass, needles, and any other sharps or likely sources of pathogens.

Human Relationships with the Site

Get to Know the Locals (15 min)

Students interview site users, such as fishermen, park visitors, etc.  And/or students prepare a survey or questionnaire to administer to as many people as they can who frequent the site.

Human Relationships with the Site

Who cares about this site? (15 min)

Students chart their observations of human activities at the site (e.g. boat tours) and inferences about the major interests associated with each activity (e.g. jobs, recreation).  Then students reflect on what activities they would like to see made possible on their waterfront, and what would need to happen in order to make those activities possible.

Student leadership within the class

Each One Teach One

Students teach a classmate how to use a specific piece of equipment.  Students then practice using that tool.

Teacher Tip: This could be scaffolded with a prepared handout that shows:

  • Images of tools (e.g. calipers in one picture, sling psychrometer in the next)

  • What does that tool do?

  • What is the procedure for using that tool?

Student leadership within the class

Advance Team

Selected students set up each protocol station while the teacher retrieves the ORS from the water.

Student leadership within the class

How It’s Done (10 min)

Students review safety protocols and expectations, and delegate roles within their small groups.

Student leadership within the class

Sell It!

Students create a poem, song, or commercial to inform the community about BOP’s goals and/or the purpose of having BOP as part of our school.

Research Skills

Design An Experiment

Inspired by their surroundings, students identify a problem or question they think can be solved through experimentation.  Then they propose hypotheses and procedures for testing those hypotheses.

Research Skills

KWL @ORS, Illustrated (15 min)

After completing one protocol, students draw a picture of the thing that interested them most while doing that protocol.  They can include a sketch of their tools and equipment.  Then students write: two statements about what they know about what they observed, two questions they still have about what they observed, and two solutions or resources they can use to find out more about what they observed.

Teacher Tip: Alternatively, the assignment could start with a focus on just questions, and ask the students to brainstorm as many questions as they can think of within three minutes. Another variation on KWL is See-Think-Wonder

Research Skills

Design an experiment

Inspired by their surroundings, students identify a problem or question they think can be solved through experimentation.  Then they propose hypotheses and procedures for testing those hypotheses.

Research Skills

Dig Deeper (15 min)

Students read an article or other text prepared by the teacher.  The assignment might include discussion prompts and/or questions to answer in writing

Teacher Tip: This must be prepared in advance.  Copies must be available at the site. Possibilities include:

  • Photographs of the site from different time periods

  • Primary source descriptions of the site from different time periods or perspectives

  • Secondary sources, e.g. an excerpt from The Big Oyster

Research Skills

Do You Agree? (15 min)

After completing one of the assignments that calls for inferences, students can trade papers and write about a classmate’s inferences: Do you agree with your classmate (e.g. that the lack of greenery on land may affect the oysters in the water)? Write a response using evidence from the site to support your position.