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Sinking Races
During this activity students will learn that the tiny animals and plants of the ocean's plankton are the basis of ocean food chains and that planktonic plants are called phytoplankton while planktonic animals are known as zooplankton. They will also discover that these plants, like plants on land, use chlorophyll to capture the energy of the sun to make food and release oxygen in the process known as photosynthesis. Because virtually all aquatic life depends upon these microscopic single-celled organisms for food, students learn that the food chain in the ocean depends on the well-being of phytoplankton. In this activity students build plankton models and compete to see which models sink most slowly. They are introduced to the terms phytoplankton, zooplankton, photic zone, aphotic zone, and surface area.
Intended for grade levels:
  • Primary (K-2)
  • Intermediate (3-5)
  • Middle (6-8)
Type of resource:
  • For the classroom:
    • Classroom activity
  • Ecology
  • Ocean Sciences:
    • Biological oceanography
Technical requirements:
No specific technical requirements, just a browser required
Cost / Copyright:
No cost
Copyright 1998-2008 by Sea Education Association, all rights reserved.
DLESE Catalog ID: DLESE-000-000-009-574
Educational standards:
  • National Science Education Standards (NSES):
    • K-4:
      • Unifying concepts and processes:
        • Form and function
      • C - Life science:
        • Characteristics of organisms
        • Organisms and environments
    • 5-8:
      • Unifying concepts and processes:
        • Form and function
      • C - Life science:
        • Diversity and adaptations of organisms
        • Structure and function in living systems
Resource contact / Creator / Publisher:
Publisher: Sea Education Association

Contributor: Dr Valerie Chase
National Aquarium, Baltimore