Lesson 4: Arctic Life Aquatic

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Enduring Understanding: What's the point?

In this lesson students will have the opportunity to explore Arctic marine ecosystems with one of the Canadian Museum of Nature (CMN) scientists.  Students will meet the scientist, learn about his career and research methods, and explore some of the collection of Arctic marine organisms at the museum.  Through their explorations students will develop an understanding of several marine organisms, as well as the concept of keystone species and their role in Arctic marine ecosystems.

Essential/Guiding Question:

What are the roles of marine organisms within Arctic ecosystems?

Curriculum Links:

Science, Biology, Oceans

Lesson Framework:

Time required:

1 class period (can be shortened or lengthened using adaptations, enrichments or extensions)


  • Computer lab or tablets/notebooks/laptop cart with internet access.
  • Method of recording observations and reflections

Lesson Content


This lesson will look at a number of aquatic organisms found in Arctic waters.  It would be helpful for students to have a previous understanding of cellular structure and microscopes.


Use a sample of pond water or water from a fish tank and examine it under a microscope.  What signs of life can you see?


On the Expedition Arctic website, students will go through the “Team” link and select Paul Hamilton in order to learn about Arctic aquatic life.

While exploring the page by following along with Paul, have students write down observations and reflections. Have students think about the following:

Specific questions:

  • What roles do aquatic organisms play in Arctic ecosystems?
  • What differences are there in freshwater and marine organisms?
  • What types of organisms are being examined in this lesson?
  • What is a “keystone” species?  Why are keystone species important?
  • How does the Arctic climate affect aquatic organisms?
  • How does a changing Arctic climate affect aquatic organisms?
  • How do aquatic organisms affect the rest of the Arctic ecosystem?
  • How might changes in the extraction of natural resources (for instance drilling in the sea floor) affect Arctic aquatic life?

General questions:

  • What interested you the most?
  • What surprised you to learn?
  • What is one thing you would like to know more about?

Formative Assessment/Debrief:

Think-Pair-Share (Students are given time to think about their response to a specific question or topic, pair up with a partner and discuss, and then share their collective thoughts with the class or another pair).

  • Based on reflection questions
  • Based on guiding question

Have a class discussion based around reflection questions.

Split into small groups and create a poster answer to guiding question using flipchart paper.


Adaptations and Enrichments

Use a SMART Board to explore the site as a class, in part or in whole.

Have students work in pairs.

Explore more specimens through the “Collection” link on the Expedition Arctic webpage.

Look at pictures and videos of Arctic landscapes using the “Expedition” link.


Expand the activity by using Lesson 2: Explorations in Science to guide learning about scientific careers to fulfill career expectations of science curriculum.

Link this lesson to the closer examination of Arctic food webs and trophic structures using Lesson 3: Arctic Food Webs.

Learn about adaptations of organisms to extreme environments through Lesson 5: Life at the Top of the World.

Link this lesson to the geology of the Arctic over time using Lesson 6: The Age of Ice

Learn about fossil records and what Arctic fossils can teach us with Lesson 7: Ancient Arctic.

Explore how changes in the global climate are affecting the Arctic, and how these changes affect the rest of the world in Lesson 8: Changing Climate.