Coastal Investigation Using SandSnap Database

Shelley Whitmeyer, James Madison University
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Initial Publication Date: December 9, 2022


Students will learn about sediment properties and use these properties to analyze coastal processes. Data for this activity is provided. Students will infer the direction of longshore transport and test their hypothesis with aerial imagery from Google Earth. Students will also investigate the relationship between sediment size and shoreline stability. These investigations were designed to support the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS). The content presented here addresses the disciplinary core idea ESS2.A (Earth Materials and Systems). These activities use the principles of weathering processes and the resulting sediment characteristics to make predictions about the coast. Students will also validate their predictions with imagery from Google Earth.

This lesson was developed with the help of Gretchen Cessna from Harrisonburg High School (VA), Brian McFall (USACE), and Andrew Stinson (undergraduate at JMU).

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This activity has been designed to address the NGSS for Earth Sciences at the 4th-grade level. However, this activity could be used through high school by varying the amount of support provided by the instructor.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

No previous knowledge needed.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is designed as a stand-alone exercise.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will...
Predict the direction of sediment transport based on sediment properties. (investigation 1)
Test their predictions using imagery from Google Earth. (investigation 2)
Develop an explanation for why sediment size varies by location and test their explanation with data. (investigation 3)

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

qualitative data analysis
critical thinking

Other skills goals for this activity

working in groups
online research to collect virtual data
optional: group presentation

Description and Teaching Materials

Teaching Notes and Tips

Teaching notes are included in the instructor's materials.


A student handout is included to guide students through this activity. The worksheet can also be used for assessment. Instructors may choose to have students orally present their findings or write a lab report, depending on the students' ability and the time available.