Teaching Notes

Example Output

Example Output
Map and graph created with Virtual Ocean software. Click on the image for a larger view.

Students will use Virtual Ocean software to produce various outputs for analysis. The example here displays a map and graph of temperature and sediment.

Grade Level

This chapter is most appropriate for grades 9-16.

Learning Goals

After completing this chapter, students will be able to:

  • use Virtual Ocean as a geospatial tool for locating ocean sediment cores;
  • generate and interpret visualizations for age appropriate sediments and plate boundaries;
  • download specific foraminifera data from CHRONOS data portal and upload into Virtual Ocean; and
  • hypothesize about the ideal method for identifying locations that contain evidence of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum (PETM).


Virtual Ocean is a visualization software that allows students to access scientific data about the ocean. Students will learn to navigate and interpret the visualization and data for improving their data literacy skills.

Background Information

Scientists utilize deposits of marine sediments, which, when extracted in a core from the ocean floor, illustrate a rich biological history that can then be interpreted climatologically. For example, some foraminifera species are sensitive to changes in ocean temperature, which might be associated with ice ages and de-glaciation periods (i.e., cooling climates vs. warming climates). There are specific warm water and cool water species that scientists can search for in the marine sediment cores. The vast data, examined across latitudes and longitudes, provides opportunity for dialog on historical global climate change.

Additional Background Information on Paleoclimate and Ocean Drilling

Pre-Requisite Knowledge

Middle and high school students in their first Earth Science class, without any prior biology background, will need some additional background information on foraminifera. In addition, students will also need some background on the geologic time scale. Teachers are encouraged to have students examine foraminifera under a microscope to provide some context for the chapter. 

You can find out more about the data collected by and used for marine research at the Marine Geoscience Data System.

Instructional Strategies

Instructors may want to preface this activity by discussing the importance of the Paleocene-Eocene Thermal Maximum in Earth's climate. If a more constructivist approach to learning is followed, then this activity would provide a good foundation of information about the role foraminifera play in helping scientists reconstruct ocean temperature conditions. This reconstruction allows scientists a glimpse into overall historical global climate conditions (paleoclimate).

Assessment Strategies 
Pre-activity Assessment

The following questions can be used to elicit students' pre-existing understandings before the activity.

  • How deep do you think the ocean is?
  • What is an ocean sediment core?
  • How do you think experts in oceanography know about the seafloor?
  • What are planktonic foraminifera? Where do they live?
  • What is the PETM and why is it an important event in Earth's climate history?

Post-activity Assessment

The chapter ends with students searching for other ocean cores that contain key PETM foraminifera. Students should be encouraged to focus on a particular core and report on the core's characteristics including:

  • Location
  • Depth
  • Shear strength
  • Age
  • Sediment type

Science Standards

The following National Science Education Standards are supported by this chapter:

  • 12ASI1.1 Identify questions and concepts that guide scientific investigations.
  • 12ASI1.3 Use technology and mathematics to improve investigations and communications.
  • 12DESS3.3 Interactions among the solid Earth, the oceans, the atmosphere, and organisms have resulted in the ongoing evolution of the Earth system.

Geography Standards

The following U.S. National Geography Standards are supported by this chapter: 

The World in Spatial Terms
1. How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective.
2. How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places, and environments in a spatial context. 
3. How to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on Earth's surface.

Other Standards

Project 2061: Benchmarks

  • Scientific investigations are conducted for different reasons, including to explore new phenomena, to check on previous results, to test how well a theory predicts, and to compare different theories.
  • Science disciplines differ from one another in what is studied, techniques used, and outcomes sought, but they share a common purpose and philosophy, and all are part of the same scientific enterprise.
  • Technological problems often create a demand for new scientific knowledge, and new technologies make it possible for scientists to extend their research in new ways or to undertake entirely new lines of research. The very availability of new technology itself often sparks scientific advances.
  • Mathematics, creativity, logic and originality are all needed to improve technology.

Time Required

Approximately 3 full class periods.

Other Resources

Ridge 2000 Program: Exploring the links between Planetary Renewal and Life in the Deep Ocean, R2Khttp://www.ridge2000.org/

Data Acquisition, Processing, Interpretation, and ArchivingUSGS Sea Floor Mapping Sitehttp://woodshole.er.usgs.gov/operations/sfmapping/

NOAA Ocean Explorerhttp://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/