Teach the Earth > Oceanography > Teaching Activities > Case Study: Coastal Stabilization Structures

Case Study: Coastal Stabilization Structures

Al Trujillo, atrujillo@palomar.edu, Palomar College
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This page first made public: May 29, 2013


This ocean activity is used to help students analyze different solutions to a real-world case study of the problem of using various coastal stabilization structures. It is intended to be used as a small group activity (3-5 students in each group) following a short introductory lecture about coastal processes (especially longshore drift) and the different types of coastal stabilization structures (jetties, groins, and breakwaters). At the end of the activity, successful students will be able to critically evaluate the benefits and drawbacks of various types of coastal stabilization structures.



This activity works well in an introductory oceanography course (Topic: Beaches and Shoreline Processes) but could be also used in a coastal oceanography course or an introductory geology course.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have knowledge about coastal processes (especially longshore drift) and the various types of coastal stabilization structures (jetties, groins, and breakwaters).

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is done as a small group lecture activity during the topic of Beaches and Coastal Processes.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

At the end of this activity, students should be able to:

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

At the end of this activity, students should be able to:

Other skills goals for this activity

Working in groups, analyzing various scenarios, and reporting out to the class.

Description and Teaching Materials

This case study activity has students work in groups to evaluate various characters' proposals to eliminate a bulge of sand at a beach that occurred as a result of the construction of a breakwater just offshore. The location is kept hidden for now. The activity begins with an introduction to the basic types of coastal stabilization: jetties, groins, and breakwaters (see attached PowerPoint slides). Then each group of students is given 1 copy of the case study informational sheet handout (2 pages; see attached document). Students read through the case study (can also be read aloud to the class by various students in class). Note that the case study establishes rules that must be followed. Then the groups must debate amongst themselves and rank which of the seven characters in the case study have the most feasible to the least feasible idea.

Materials include:

1) PowerPoint Presentation: Sample PowerPoint Presentation covering coastal processes and types of coastal stabilization structures; also has instructions about the activity.

2) Handout: Case Study: Coastal Stabilization Structures: The narrative of the case study, which includes students' ideas for solving a real-world problem involving coastal stabilization structures; includes instructions to students.

3) Answers: Whose idea is best...and where exactly IS this case study?: Answer sheet that includes a review of each student's idea, the location of the case study, and some possible alternative solutions.

4) Sample exam questions: Sample questions for assessment of the activity to be used as exam questions or to be solved in groups during class (can also be used for think-pair-share or group activity).

Teaching Notes and Tips

The activity begins with a short lecture on coastal processes (especially longshore transport) and types of coastal stabilization structures (such as jetties, groins, and breakwaters; see sample PowerPoint Presentation). Discuss the rules of the exercise. Then students are organized into groups of 3-5 students per group. A copy of the case study (see Handout) is distributed to each group, which has ~10 minutes to analyze the situation and rank the characters' ideas from #1 (most feasible) to #7 (least feasible). Each person in the group must agree, so this usually generates much debate amongst group members. Each group then puts its #1, #2, and #7 ranking on the board. There will usually be quite a variety of answers expressed.

Quickly analyze the results. Sometimes half the class will pick one character's answer, so have them team up with another group with a different answer and allow them to discuss their answers. Or if most groups chose a different character for their #7 (least feasible) choice, ask each group to explain to the class their #7 choice. If most groups chose the same character as #7, have them state why. Or as a class, evaluate the drawbacks of each character's idea. Analysis of this situation can be handled in a variety of ways depending on the instructor and the time allotted. The key point is to get them analyzing the situation and talking to one another. Also, the instructor can ask if there were any other ideas to solve the problem.

Students are always eager to know what was done to solve the problem and where the case study is located. The instructor can show the remaining PowerPoint slides and/or distribute the case study answers (see Answers) to each group. To assess the activity, the sample questions (see Sample Exam Questions) can be discussed in groups, given as exam questions, or done as think-pair-share or group activities.

This activity also works well as a discussion board topic for an online oceanography class. Feel free to use/modify/adapt this activity.


Once groups determine their rankings of the characters in the case study, they put this information on the board. Then each group teams up with another group that had a different answer for their #1 ranking and debate why they ranked the characters how they did. Groups then return to their home groups and are provided with the answer sheet (see Answers; this can be done interactively with the class as well). Alternatively, groups can state why they chose their #7 choice and the drawbacks associated with it. The location of the case study is revealed (it's Santa Monica, California). More details can be provided to the students (see attached PowerPoint Presentation). Students are asked for other ideas about how to solve the problem of the bulge of sand on the beach. In terms of assessment, multiple choice or essay questions about what was done to solve the problem of the bulge of sand at Santa Monica can be included in an upcoming exam. Also, some sample questions from the exercise are included in the teaching materials (see Sample Exam Questions). These questions can be used as questions on an exam or to solve in groups during class (can also be used for think-pair-share or group activity).

References and Resources

Ref and source of images used in PowerPoint Presentation: Oceanography textbook Trujillo and Thurman Essentials of Oceanography, 11th Edition © 2014, Pearson Education Pubs., Chapter 10 (The Coast: Beaches and Shoreline Processes)

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