Mystery Marine Organisms: Teaching Marine Ecology with Charismatic Megafauna...and Overlooked Microorganisms

Wednesday 4:30pm-5:45pm TSU - Humphries: 118
Poster Session Part of Wednesday


Rebecca Freeman, University of Kentucky
In introductory oceanography, as in all introductory courses, learning a new discipline necessarily requires familiarity with associated terminology. Yet while most students will enthusiastically construct flashcards for this purpose, nudging the students towards a higher level of learning in Bloom's taxonomy is challenging, especially in very large lecture classes with no lab supplies or set-up time. A lesson on marine ecology, however, can leverage another challenge of an physical oceanography-focused course, disproportionate student interest in the marine animals seen in ocean-themed nature documentaries, i.e. whales and sharks.

After learning terminology related to how, where, and what types of organisms live in the ocean (nekton/plankton/benthos; eukaryote/prokaryote; autotroph/heterotroph; chemoautotroph/photoautotroph, and more), students play a game of "mystery marine organisms". They read a description of the organism and how it lives in the ocean. They then try to determine which terms apply to that organism. Although the point of the exercise is practicing application of knowledge, most students are very curious as to the identity of the organisms. Some are the charismatic fauna that are so popular with students (narwhals! jellyfish!), while others are ecologically important but often overlooked by nature documentaries, such as Prochlorococcus. In their zeal to identify the mystery organisms, the students inadvertently learn something of the complexity and diversity of the marine ecosystem.

Follow-up includes discussion of correct answers, with "reveals" of the mystery organisms featuring videos whenever possible. This formative assessment is followed by similar problems on the summative assessment, the mid-term exam. While identifying the actual organism is not the point of the exercise, many students do not want to leave the exam without knowing which organism exam questions concerned. This exercise builds on student interest in the charismatic megafauna of the ocean while encouraging application of marine ecological concepts.