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Traditional NADS Scum Run

Teaching Materials originally developed by the North American Diatom Symposium - Starting Point page by R.E. Teed (SERC)
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This material is replicated on a number of sites as part of the SERC Pedagogic Service Project
Initial Publication Date: September 13, 2006 | Reviewed: November 25, 2019


The North American Diatom Symposium takes place every two years and features and unusual academic sporting event. One description, from 1993, recounts that: "relay teams of three diatomists were required to run along the beach wearing chest waders, identifying diatoms shown in photographs along the way." The variant that I participated in in 1997 had us using actual microscopes. The instructor could have students identify photographs of thin sections, or microfossils, or answer questions or even do simple lab tests. Use different samples for each player. The important feature is the relay race format, which means all three players contribute to the effort and that the students are made to get out of their chairs and move around a little.

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Learning Goals

This contest represents an opportunity for informal assessment of whatever skills the instructor cares to test: particularly identification. It also requires teamwork and active involvement.

Context for Use

Due to the noise and chaos, this activity should probably be run out of doors.

Teaching Materials

There's no particular reason to run the race in waders (unless, as in the case of diatomists, students are actually going into the water to collect specimens to identify). For rocks, you may want to use samples instead of photos. Likewise, for plants, you could use twigs, leaves, or herbarium specimens.

Teaching Notes and Tips

This exercise is intended to give you an idea of how your students are doing and for them to have some fun in the process. You may want to assign teams or pick them randomly. May be most useful for 8 AM or after-lunch classes when students are at their sleepiest.

Physically handicapped students could do their identifications at a central station, but don't get to start until their designated runner (a teamm-mate) reaches each station.


As the score is a combination of three students' non-collaborative responses, this exercise should not be used for formal assessment.

References and Resources