Learning Module

Models, Food Webs, and a Warming Gulf of Maine

How do scientists use models to understand what is happening in an ecosystem? How is the marine food web changing as a result of warming ocean waters in the Gulf of Maine? This curriculum asks students to explore some of the potential impacts and consequences that climate change, and specifically warming oceans, will have on marine ecosystems. As the answers to these questions are not fully understood, this curriculum has students using scientific modeling and data analysis to explore ideas, connections, and potential outcomes of a changing climate. The lesson sequence has students focus on these questions:

  • What is happening in the Gulf of Maine?
  • How do we know?
  • Why does it matter?

Learning Outcomes

  • Model a marine food web, including the transfer of energy from the sun through higher trophic levels.
  • Understand how scientists use models to understand patterns and changes in a system
  • Demonstrate how warming in the Gulf of Maine impacts the food web
  • Consider future-focused responses to a changing Gulf of Maine

Time Estimate
4 to 10 class periods


Learning Space

The content from this module is similar to the content in the LabVenture experience. Before beginning this module, if your students have not already, consider starting with the two lessons from Preparing for LabVenture: Exploring Global and Regional Climate Trends sequence to build students’ understanding of current climate trends.

Lesson 1: Meet the Species In Our Ecosystem

In this lesson, students are oriented to the Gulf of Maine and research some of the species that call it home. Special attention is given to plankton as the base of the marine food web. At the end of the lesson, students synthesize their learning by drafting a model of the relationships among the species using a food web. This work sets students up for following lessons that dive deeper into models of energy and interdependence throughout the ecosystem as well as research being conducted by scientists studying the health of the ecosystem in the Gulf of Maine.

Student Slides | Handout | Teacher Guide

Lesson 2: Modeling Energy Flow in a Marine Food Web

Students engage with an embodied modeling game that explores energy flow in a simplified marine ecosystem beginning with the sun and then working its way through multiple trophic levels from phytoplankton to zooplankton to consumers further up the food web. Students also consider how a natural system is represented by a model.

Student Slides | Ecosystem Species Cards | 20th Century Sun sign | Teacher Guide

Lesson 3: Data Stations - Warming in the Gulf of Maine

In this lesson, students will move through a series of data stations to take a closer look at models and research about ocean warming to directly address our three research questions: What is happening in the Gulf of Maine? How do we know? and Why does it matter?

Student Slides | Station 1: Gulf of Maine SST Graph Analysis | Station 2: NASA Sea Surface Temperature Map Analysis | Station 3: Scientist Talk - Warming in the Gulf of Maine |Station 2 NASA Sea Surface Temperature Maps | Teacher Guide

Lesson 4: Modeling a Marine Food Web in a Changing Climate

In this lesson, students revisit the embodied modeling game, applying new information about the impact of warming on plankton populations. Students then take some time to reflect on how models can be used as tools to initiate change and develop solutions, highlighting the progress we have made towards addressing global warming as a result of past climate projections.

Student Slides | Ecosystem Species Cards | 2022 Sun Sign | Teacher Guide

Lesson 5: Spreading the Word and Planning for the Future

In this lesson, students synthesize their learning in a final product taking a form of their choosing. Students will address the key questions explored in this module, using research and evidence to support their thinking. A note catcher is provided for students to outline their thinking and a checklist and rubric are available for students to ensure they have included all pieces in their final product. Suggestions for the final product include making a PSA, slideshow presentation, research paper, children’s book, board game, writing a song and so on. As an exceeds option, students suggest research-based solutions to address problems caused by warming in the Gulf of Maine.

Student Slides | Rubric and Checklist | Digital Note Catcher | Teacher Guide