This page first made public: Aug 12, 2008

Lab 1: Coral Reefs, The Human View

The lab activity described here was created by Erin Bardar of TERC for the EarthLabs project.

Summary and Learning Objectives

Students are introduced to coral reef ecosystems and the importance of corals to humans. Students watch the IMAX film Coral Reef Adventure to experience the human view of coral reefs through the eyes of ocean explorers and underwater filmmakers Howard and Michele Hall. The students then use microscopes to examine coral and identify its features.

After completing this investigation, students will be able to:

  • name at least three reasons why coral reefs are important to humans;
  • explain the role of symbiosis in reef ecosystems; and
  • explain the differences between living corals in the ocean and the pieces of coral one might see washed up on a beach.
Open the Student Lab »

Context for Use

Lab 1: Coral Reefs, the Human View is intended to be an introductory lesson about coral reefs to help students appreciate both the beauty and value of corals from the human perspective. This activity should take between one and two 50-60 minute class periods. Part A requires the advance purchase of the Coral Reef Adventure DVD and arrangements for DVD player/TV or projection screen setup. Part B requires coral samples (provided by the teacher and/or students) and a microscope or magnifying glass.

Activity Overview and Teaching Materials

Part A introduces students to the beautiful underwater world of coral reefs through the film Coral Reef Adventure. The film is available for purchase on DVD from ($6.98 + shipping and handling) and other major retailers.

In Part B of this lab, students examine pieces of coral to get a better understanding of the relationship between live coral and the skeletons one might find washed up on a beach. You can purchase inexpensive coral samples from a scientific supply store such as coral specimen. If possible, arrange a field trip to a local aquarium with a coral reef exhibit. Check this list of public aquariums for information about aquariums in your home state. To watch streaming video from the New England Aquarium Giant Ocean Tank, computers must be equipped with software that supports .wmv files such as Windows Media Player or Flip4Mac WMV plug-in for Quicktime.

Printable Materials

  • Activity Sheet (PDF (Acrobat (PDF) 40kB Apr1 08) and Word (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 20kB Aug7 18))

Teaching Notes and Tips

During the film and field trip (if applicable), have students take notes so they will be able to answer follow-up questions.


You can assess student understanding of topics addressed in this Investigation by grading their responses to the Stop and Think questions.

State and National Science Teaching Standards

California Science Teaching Standards met by this activity

Developer will correlate activity to standards in these documents:
Earth science content standards - Grades 9 to 12
Biology content standards (see Ecology) - Grades 9 to 12
Investigation and Experimentation Standards - Grades 9 to 12

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

PDF of Science and technology standards Earth science standards begin on page 112

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

Learning standards for science

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

North Carolina Standard Course of Study

Developer will correlate activity to standards in this document:

Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills (TEKS)

Developer will correlate activity to standards listed at this site:

National Science Education Standards (SRI)

Additional Resources

Background Information

Content Extension

  • Go to the Coral Reef Adventure website for: more information about the film, coral reef FAQs, fun activities and games, information about how to support coral reefs, and information about books to supplement the film.