Billion Oyster Project

Propose a NY Harbor Population Study


NY Harbor Populations Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas

Science, Math, ELA, Social Studies


By the end of this multi-day lesson, students will propose a large-scale study about a population found in New York Harbor.  To inform this process, students will first sort their own questions about small estuarine arthropod, and then students will read and discuss ‘digests’ of four original scientific journal articles on small estuarine arthropods.


  • Distinguish questions that are best answered by consulting experts from questions that are best answered by collecting original data.

  • Use studies from the professional scientific literature to inform study designs.

  • Make and defend decisions about study topic and design.

Before you get started


First, teach Small Tanks for Small Arthropods and Improve Conditions in Your Small Tank.  Type up a list of students’ questions from those lessons.  They will need that list of questions to complete the “Engage” section of this lesson.  

After your students sort the questions according to “how you would go about finding an answer to the question,” prepare a handout that shows the questions in those categories.  They’ll use that in the “Evaluate” section of the lesson.  You may want to prepare a different handout for each group, if their sorts are notably different.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students have the list to-date of their own questions about small arthropods.  They read the list, ask clarifying questions, and add to it.  

  2. Students sort the questions into any categories they want.  This will ensure that they read the questions and think about what the questions mean.  It will also help you assess their understanding of the questions.

  3. In small groups, students share their individual sorts.

  4. In groups, students do a fresh sort of all the questions, using categories defined by “how you would go about finding an answer to the question.”  You can let the groups define those categories, or you can agree on them as a class.  Key categories include:

    1. Consult an expert -- by interviewing them or by reading their writings.

    2. Collect your own data -- from the lab or from the field.

  5. As a full class, students share their group sorts and discuss the points of disagreement -- the questions that some people thought would be best answered by experiment, but others thought would be best answered by consulting experts.  

    1. During the discussion, challenge students to describe the experiment, and be specific about the type of expert and where/how to find out what they know.

    2. After the discussion, consider allowing extra time for students to follow up on some of their most pressing “consult an expert” questions.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.


  1. Explain: “We now have a lot of our own questions, and we have some ideas about how to answer them.  Now we will read the writings of some scientists who collected their own data, also in search of answers about small estuarine arthropods.  In the process, you may answer some of our questions.  After that, you will propose your own large-scale study of NY Harbor populations, designed to answer a still-unanswered question.”

  2. Students get Borrowsky & Borrowsky (1990) in its original published format.  

  3. Explain: “This is a professional scientific journal article.  When scientists think they’ve figured something  out, they publish articles like this.  This article is written for other scientists in the same field.  Now you will figure out what it means!”

  4. Individually, without reading, but just by observing, students point out features of the article (e.g. there’s a title.  There’s a data table.  Etc.)

  5. Students share their observations and raise initial questions.

  6. Students get Digest: Borrowsky & Borrowsky (1990).

  7. At their own pace, students work their way through the handout.

  8. Stop regularly for small-group and/or full-class discussion.  Then send students back into the text.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.  You might schedule more than two periods for students to work through this reading.

  1. When a critical mass of students are ready, students get Take Notes on Other Scientists’ Population Studies.  In small groups, they complete this handout for Borrowsky.


  1. Students debrief the process of making sense of Borrowsky, first in small groups, and then as a full class.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.

  1. Students get into small groups.

  2. Each group selects or is assigned to one of the following digests of other scientific journal articles about small estuarine arthropods:

    • Digest: Van Dolah (1978)

    • Digest: Reid et al 2015  (excerpts from the original text are also present on the page)

    • Digest: Collin & Johnson 2014 - V. 1

    • Digest: Collin & Johnson 2014 - V. 2  

    • Digest: Collin & Johnson 2014 - V. 3

    • Note: the three versions of Collin & Johnson have the same Abstract, Introduction, and Discussion.  Each version has a different part of the study described in the Methods & Results.

  3. Every student in the group gets the Digest and another copy of Take Notes on Other Scientists’ Population Studies.

  4. Students work in their groups to complete the notes for their assigned Digest.

  5. Optional: any of the Collin & Johnson groups can also take a crack at a longer version of the Discussion section of that article: Extension for Digest: Collin & Johnson (2014) Invasive species contribute to biotic resistance: negative effect of caprellid amphipods on an invasive tunicate

This would be a good time to break until the next class. You might schedule multiple periods for students to work through their readings.


  1. Everyone gets copies of all the Digests.

  2. Each group describes the study they read about to the class.  Students ask questions, reference the Digests, and clarify their understandings.

  3. To help them take notes on each other’s presentations, each student completes a fresh copy of Take Notes on Other Scientists’ Population Studies for each study -- except the one they completed as a group:

    • Van Dolah

    • Reid

    • Collin & Johnson (one set of notes for the three versions, combined)

    • Borrowsky (already completed in the “Explore” section)

This would be a good time to break until the next class.  You might also schedule the student presentations over multiple class days.


  1. Students get typed up copies of their sorted questions from the “Engage” section of this lesson.

    • Students mark the questions that they can answer, now that they have read and heard about Van Dolah’s, Reid’s, Collin & Johnson’s, and Borrowsky’s studies.

    • Starting with the remaining questions as inspiration, students brainstorm, first individually and then in small groups: what are the most important things that you would like to learn about our local small arthropods?

  2. In small groups, students identify the questions they think could be answered by collecting original data, along the lines of the professional studies they’ve now read and heard about.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.

  1. Individually or in small groups, students select one good question to focus on.

  2. Students review the notes they took on the four professional studies (their four copies of Take Notes on Other Scientists’ Population Studies), and then, using their own chosen question, students complete Propose a New York Harbor Population Study.

This would be a good time to break until the next class.

  1. Students present their proposals to the class (or to small groups) for questions and suggestions.


  1. In a full-class discussion with your input, students determine which and how many of the class’ proposed studies are feasible.  

  2. Students conduct the feasible proposed studies, or choose some and conduct those.

  3. Students write a longer narrative describing and justifying their proposal -- as if they were applying for funding for their scientific research.  For example, here’s an adaptation of some instructions for writing a proposal to the National Science Foundation, adapted from:

    • An overview of what you would do if you got the funding.  Be sure to describe your goals and your methods.  

    • How will your proposed study advance knowledge?  In other words, what new information can you get by doing this study, information that no one has yet, not even scientists?

    • How will your proposal benefit society? Explain how this study can contribute to specific goals for society.


NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Cause and Effect

    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.
    • Phenomena may have more than one cause, and some cause and effect relationships in systems can only be described using probability.
    • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural systems.
    • Relationships can be classified as causal or correlational, and correlation does not necessarily imply causation.
  • Energy and Matter

    • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a designed or natural system
    • The transfer of energy can be tracked as energy flows through a natural system.
  • Influence of Engineering, Technology, and Science on Society and the Natural World

    • All human activity draws on natural resources and has both short and long-term consequences, positive as well as negative, for the health of people and the natural environment.
  • Patterns

    • Graphs and charts can be used to identify patterns in data.
    • Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data.
  • Stability and Change

    • Stability might be disturbed either by sudden events or gradual changes that accumulate over time.
  • Systems and System Models

    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions.
    • Models can be used to represent systems and their interactions—such as inputs, processes and outputs—and energy and matter flows within systems.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • LS1.A: Structure and Function

    • Within cells, special structures are responsible for particular functions, and the cell membrane forms the boundary that controls what enters and leaves the cell.
  • LS2.A: Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

    • Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources.
    • Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.
  • LS2.B: Cycle of Matter and Energy Transfer in Ecosystems

    • Food webs are models that demonstrate how matter and energy is transferred between producers, consumers, and decomposers as the three groups interact within an ecosystem. Transfers of matter into and out of the physical environment occur at every level. Decomposers recycle nutrients from dead plant or animal matter back to the soil in terrestrial environments or to the water in aquatic environments. The atoms that make up the organisms in an ecosystem are cycled repeatedly between the living and nonliving parts of the ecosystem.
  • LS2.C: Ecosystem Dynamics, Functioning, and Resilience

    • Ecosystems are dynamic in nature; their characteristics can vary over time. Disruptions to any physical or biological component of an ecosystem can lead to shifts in all its populations.

NGSS - Science and Engineering Practices

  • Analyzing and Interpreting Data

    • Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for phenomena.
  • Constructing Explanations and Designing Solutions

    • Construct an explanation that includes qualitative or quantitative relationships between variables that predict phenomena.
  • Engaging in Argument from Evidence

    • Construct and present oral and written arguments supported by empirical evidence and scientific reasoning to support or refute an explanation or a model for a phenomenon or a solution to a problem.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 4

    • Interdependence