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Two Things We Did to Make Studying the Ocean Fun

We studied the ocean recently and my students really enjoyed some activities I am going to share with you. We estimated and measured out the first ocean layer (600 feet) with a very long tape measure of 100 feet. After each 100 feet we made a mark with chalk so that we could see each distance. I put some children in charge of carrying chalk, yard sticks, and the measuring tape. When we weren’t on a hard surface anymore, we stuck a yardstick upright in the ground to hold our measurement mark. Measuring this ocean layer not only helped children with their understanding of measurement, they were able to relate the expanse of the sunlight layer to the size of their own small bodies.

Secondly, we built ocean layers in a bottle. The children LOVED this! There are many people who post about this activity on different websites. I will tell you how our worked. We made density predictions first. The bottom layer was the trenches. We used corn syrup here and we dyed it with red, green, and blue food coloring to make it brown. The next layer–the abyss–we used Dawn dish soap. This worked out okay since it was already blue. The midnight layer was water that we dyed blue. I’m not crazy about using water for this layer because it blended in with the soap and you couldn’t really distinguish much of a difference. At least the students knew there was another layer even though it blended. Next, the twilight layer was cooking oil. This easily worked, and I didn’t attempt to dye it since I knew the food coloring I had wouldn’t mix with oil. I kind of like that it vividly shows up as a different color though. Finally, we added the sunlight layer. This is a layer of alcohol. Make sure to get 90% isopropyl alcohol so it doesn’t mix. We added one drop of blue food coloring to a tablespoon of alcohol.

The problems and what I liked. The bottom three layers are dark and you really can’t tell the difference in them. I think it is good that we put the layers in there so students knew that there were three bottom layers. Know that it is hard to tell the difference in the bottom layers though.

Next, know that this is messy, and you will be having to wash materials. I had some small plastic cups available so children could mix the food coloring. I also had funnels available. Funnels are useful to minimize messes, and I had the children pour this over a paper plate. I had students work in partners and hold one another’s bottle while the other child held the funnel and poured. This worked well.

Originally, I thought I would have the children make the layers proportional to the size they really are in the ocean, but I realized after making a sample that it would be more reasonable for the activity to make all the layers one fourth of a cup except the top layer which was a tablespoon. I gave the children labels and had them write the name of each layer on them as you can see from the pictures. The whole activity took around 90 minutes after instructions were given. My students are well behaved, and I probably wouldn’t have done this if they hadn’t been. If you want to still do this with students who don’t follow directions well, I suggest only making the top three layers and using smaller containers. Happy “diving”!

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