Aquatic Invaders in Maine (AIM) Program
Marine Day – Morning Session

Title: “Look More Closely” – An Observation Activity

Author(s): Beth Owen (Maine Sea Grant) and Sarah Morriseau (GMRI)

Grade Level: Can be adapted for 3-5, 7-8, or 9-12

Setting: Classroom or Laboratory

Time Needed: One hour, or can be adapted for longer time frames with additional discussion/ extensions

Focus Concept: Adaptation

Essential Questions:
· Can you make hypotheses about a species’ unique adaptations, or its environment, based on observations of its physical characteristics?
· How do your observations change as you examine a species in different ways? (looking with your naked eye, writing down or drawing your observations, using a microscope, etc.)
· What can you learn by sharing your observations with others?

Learning Objectives:
· Students practice forming hypotheses and making observations to test their hypotheses
· Students improve scientific observation skills
· Students practice communicating their hypotheses and observations with one another and learning through scientific discussions
· Students learn how to identify key physical features and adaptations that provide clues about a species’ preferred habitat, prey, and behavior

Relevant Standards:
· 2007 MLR – B1, Skills and Traits of Scientific Inquiry
· 2007 MLR – C1, Understandings of Inquiry
· 2007 MLR – E1, Biodiversity

Prior Knowledge Needed:
· None, although prior introductions to the concept “adaptation,” to the terms “native, non-invasive species,” and “non-native, invasive species,” and to marine intertidal habitats are helpful.

Materials Needed:
· Trays of samples of marine intertidal organisms (some native and some invasive)
· Paper, pencils, crayons, and markers
· Microscopes
· Field Guides

Activity Description:

  1. Choose a marine intertidal species to examine more closely and place one on your tray
  2. Take a minute or so to look at all parts of your species, and write down three or four observations you can make about its physical characteristics.
  3. Put your species aside, and draw a picture of it from memory. Try to depict or label the characteristics you wrote down.
  4. Looking at your species again, add features you might have missed during the memory drawing, using a different color. Make a hypothesis about what habitat your species is adapted for, based on your observations of its physical characteristics.
  5. Now, look more closely at your species under a microscope or with a hand lens, and write down any additional observations you can make.
  6. Draw your species again, including these new observations, or add to the original drawing using a third color. Check your hypothesis: did it change?
  7. Now, look up your species in a guidebook to identify it. Look at the photo/drawing, and read what it says about your species. Check your hypothesis again: does it match the description in the book?
  8. Take a final look at your species to see if you can see anything new after learning a bit more in your reference book.

Analysis/Conclusion: “Turn to Your Neighbor” Sharing Session
  1. Did you miss anything with your naked eye, or with the microscope?
  2. Did looking more closely help you understand your species? Did it improve your hypothesis about what type of habitat it is adapted for? Could you make a hypothesis about what it likes to eat, or how it protects itself?
  3. Which important details did you miss that are critical for identifying your species, or for telling it apart from a look-alike species?
  4. If you found out your species is invasive, did you see any unique characteristics during your observations that might make it a particularly good invader?

Assessment Ideas:
· Collect written hypotheses, observations, and drawings as part of a student portfolio. They should be arranged in chronological order, from when they started their observations, to when they finished.
· Ask students to write a scientific explanation in their scientists’ notebooks of how they used a series of observation strategies and tools to test and modify their hypotheses. They should explain why they modified their hypothesis as they went along (if they changed it), and whether/how the “Turn to Your Neighbor” discussion with their classmates affected their final hypothesis.

Extension Ideas:
· Use this activity to compare observations of native species and a look-alike non-native species, and test hypotheses about which species is native and which is invasive.
· Use this activity as a way for students to observe, identify and catalogue samples of the species they find during field surveys.

Field Guides:
· Guide to Marine Invaders in the Gulf of Maine, Salem Sound Coastwatch, URL:
· Peterson, RT. 1999. Field Guide to the Atlantic Seashore: From the Bay of Fundy to Cape Hatteras. Sagebrush Education Resources.
· Watling L, Fegley A, Moring J, and White S. 2003. Life Between the Tides: Marine Plants and Animals of the Northeast. Tillbury House Publishers. Gardiner, ME.
· National Audubon Society. 1998. Regional Guide to New England. Alfred A. Knopf. New York.
Marine Invasive Species Information Websites:
· MIT Sea Grant, Center for Coastal Resources, Marine Bioinvasions Web Page, Links and References. URL:
· Smithsonian Environmental Research Center (SERC), Marine Invasions Research Lab, URL:
· U.S. Geological Survey, Woods Hole Science Center, Marine Nuisance Species Web Page: URL: (focus on the tunicate, Didemnum sp.)