Billion Oyster Project

Use the Digital Platform to Study Nitrogen Throughout Our Estuary


Nitrogen Cycle Investigation



Class Periods




Subject Areas



Students access NYC ammonia and nitrates data from, in order to explore their questions about nitrogen beyond the classroom tank and beyond their own ORS.  This lesson plan provides a simple example of how they might choose to do that.


  • Zero in on a subset of data that is of interest, when starting from a much larger set of available data.

  • Organize and present that data in a way that highlights interesting patterns or raises interesting questions.

Materials and Resources


  • A way of projecting Google Map of the New York Harbor Estuary

  • Access to -- See “Preparation” below

  • Access to spreadsheet and graphing application such as Excel

  • Hand-graphing supplies (optional)

Before you get started

Tips for Teachers

You may want to give students a handout describing, step-by-step, how to manipulate information from the Digital Platform.  You could adapt the “Explore” section of this lesson for that purpose.


  1. Decide in advance which parts of the process you want your students to do for themselves, and which ones you will prepare for them, specifically:

    • Will they search within the data available at, looking for things that interest them?  If so, they’ll need access to that website.

    • Will they download the data to Excel or a similar spreadsheet and graphing application, and ‘clean it up’ for themselves?  If so, they’ll need access to such an application.

  2. Leave yourself time between classes to complete any steps that you plan to take on behalf of your students.

Instruction Plan


  1. Students examine a map of the estuary (you can use Google Map street view and/or satellite view), and make predictions:  

    • “Where do you imagine you would find higher and lower levels of ammonia and nitrates in our estuary?  Why?”

    • “What questions come up as you think about this?”

  2. Make note of students’ questions and predictions.


  1. Students login to and navigate to the Dashboard page.  Look at the map of ORS locations.  Students identify an area of interest to them.  Remind them to:

    • Zoom in!

    • Look closely at nooks and crannies in the shape of the shoreline.

  2. On a piece of paper, students write down the names of the ORSs in the places that interest them.

    • Example:  I wanted to look at some nitrogen data in an area that doesn’t flush as well as other parts of the estuary.  So I located “IS 288 ORS”, near the mouth of Coney Island Creek.  

  3. Students navigate to the Data page and select the Download tab.

  4. Under “Filter the Expeditions” students search for the places and times that interest them.

    • Example:  Under “Filter the Expeditions” I typed “IS 288 ORS” into the ORS Name field.

  5. Under “Select Parameters to Display” students click on the the types of data that interest them.

    • Example: I clicked on the following boxes.  I chose them because I thought that flushing might have something to do with currents, and I thought that nitrogen might have something to do with dissolved oxygen.  

      • Tidal current

  • Surface current

  • Dissolved oxygen

  • Ammonia

  • Nitrates

  1. Under “View or Download Data” they click Download Results.

  1. The file downloads, and they open it in Excel or a very similar spreadsheet and graphing application.

  1. They ‘clean up’ the data

    • Example:  In the data I downloaded, the expeditions were listed by name, and I wanted the dates.  So I opened a new tab to the Data page and repeated steps  1, 2 and 3.  That way I could see each expedition on a tile with its name and date.  I typed the dates into my Excel sheet.

    • I made the display look a little nicer by deleting rows I didn’t need, bolding some things, etc.  This is what is looks like:


Students present their findings to small groups or to the whole class, explaining:

  • Why they selected the places and times they selected?

  • Why they looked at the parameters they selected?

  • What they did to ‘clean up’ their data, and why?


The small groups or full class have a discussion focused on:

  • What interested patterns do we notice in the data presented here?

  • What questions do we have, look at the data presented here?

  • How might we learn more by looking at the same data a different way?

  • How might we learn more by looking at more or different data?


Students choose an issue from the class discussion to follow up on.  They go back into the Digital Platform for more or different data, and/or they represent their data in a different way.


NGSS - Cross-Cutting Concepts

  • Energy and Matter

    • Matter is conserved because atoms are conserved in physical and chemical processes.

NGSS - Disciplinary Core Ideas

  • ESS2.A: Earth’s Materials and Systems

    • All Earth processes are the result of energy flowing and matter cycling within and among the planet’s systems. This energy is derived from the sun and Earth’s hot interior. The energy that flows and matter that cycles produce chemical and physical changes in Earth’s materials and living organisms.
  • 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.

NYC Science Scope & Sequence - Units

  • Grade 6, Unit 4

    • Interdependence

NYS Science Standards - Major Understandings

    • Matter is transferred from one organism to another and between organisms and their physical environment. Water, nitrogen, carbon dioxide, and oxygen are examples of substances cycled between the living and nonliving environment.