Resource Type
Completion Time
Less than a week
Middle School and Up
Download, Share, and Remix
McMurdo Field Station, Antarctica
Amy Osborne
Related Members
Lesson Materials (PDF)
10 items that are between the size of a penny and a quarter
Two containers, each large enough to hold all ten items
Mini-whiteboard and whiteboard marker or something you can use to record data so all students can see
Organisms and Their Environments
Climate Change
General Environmental Studies


This lesson introduces students to the impacts of increasing ocean temperatures on marine life. Through this kinesthetic activity, students will learn more about marine ectotherms and what researchers in Antarctica have learned so far about how increasing temperature in Antarctic waters will affect their growth. Through the elaborate section of the activity students will connect what they learned about animals in Antarctica to the varying effect warming ocean temperatures are predicted to have on marine animals in California.


  • Students will be able to identify the challenges, like growing too quickly and producing unhealthy larvae, animals in the ocean are facing as ocean temperatures increase.

  • Students will be able to recognize that marine life will be impacted in a variety of ways by the increase in ocean temperatures. Some animals will experience potential challenges, like an increase in growth rate, and others may benefit, like an increase in population and distribution, from increasing ocean temperatures.

  • Students will be able to state the impacts that changes in the ocean ecosystem will have on living things within that ecosystem.

  • Students will understand the role that researchers play in helping understand the impacts the changing ecosystems will have on the animals and plants that call them home.

Product Preparation

Summary of lesson

In this lesson, students will learn more about the life cycle of marine ectotherms that live in the consistently cold waters of Antarctica and about the research that’s being done on the impacts of warming ocean temperatures on marine ectotherm growth. Students will then do an activity that involves going through a spinning jump rope. The spinning rope will begin to spin faster representing the challenges marine animals are facing as the ocean water temperatures increase. Some student “marine animals” will make it through the spinning rope as the rope spins faster and some will not. Students will connect the challenges that marine animals in Antarctica are facing to the challenges that marine animals along the California coast are facing as ocean temperatures rise.

Prior knowledge of students/lessons to do prior to this activity:

  1. Students should know that the average global temperature is increasing due to global climate change and this increase in temperature also includes an increase in average ocean temperature.
  2. If used by NatureBridge Educators - lessons to do prior to activity:

  3. Greenhouse gas tag: demonstrates the effect that increased gases have on raising the earth’s temperature.

  4. Ocean Food Webs
  5. Jump Rope Team Challenge (Lesson is below in Extensions)


  • Currents
  • Marine Ectotherms
  • Endotherms
  • Climate Change

Background Information: As the average temperature of the global ocean is rising due to climate change, the ocean ecosystems are and will continue to be impacted. Scientists around the globe are studying the impacts that even small temperature changes might have on life in the ocean.

Due to the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), marine animals located in Antarctica have lived in a fairly stable environment for millions of years. The ACC, along with upwelling, means the ocean around Antarctica maintains a steady temperature throughout the year. This makes Antarctica a key location for scientists to research the effects that even small increases in ocean temperature will have on animals that live in the Antarctic marine ecosystem.

Dr. Amy Moran and her team of researchers traveled to Antarctica to study the impacts that increasing ocean temperatures will have on marine ectotherms like sea spiders and nudibranchs (aka sea slugs). They found that as ocean temperatures warm some of these animals are growing at a faster rate. Dr. Moran and her team are now studying how this rapid growth rate will affect the development of these animals. See Antarctic Sun article “Larvae La Vida Loca: How Will Warming Oceans Affect Young Invertebrates When They're At Their Most Vulnerable?” by Michael Lucibella for more information: To stay up-to-date on what Dr. Moran and her team are learning about the way warming seas will impact marine ectotherms see the website of the research team, Invertebrates in the Antarctic: Metabolism, Development, Biomechanics, and Polar Gigantism

Scientists predict that animals in the ocean will be impacted in a variety of ways. Scientists hypothesize that some animals in the ocean will increase in distribution and/or abundance (e.g. jellyfish, crown-of-thorns starfish, some species of nudibranchs) and some will decrease in distribution and/or abundance (e.g. salmon, sea lions, mussels). These impacts will affect ocean food webs across the globe.


ENGAGE (10 minutes):

Story of an Antarctic Research Team 1. Ask students to find a comfortable seat and close their eyes. (You can also do this with eyes open and show the pictures as you tell the story.) 2. Tell students you are going to tell them a short story and they will visualize what they are hearing. 3. Read “Story of an Antarctic Research Team” (see attached resource) 4. Ask students to open their eyes. Share pictures of keywords and concepts from the story: sea ice, Pisten bully, sea ice road with flags, dive hut, divers with dry suits, nudibranch egg case, sea spider with eggs, dive tender, taking salinity and temperature measurements in the water, exploring underwater, nudibranch, sea spider, putting specimens into cooler. (see attached resource) 5. Explain that Dr. Amy Moran and her team in Antarctica are studying the impacts that warming ocean temperatures will have on marine ectotherms like sea spiders and sea slugs (at this point you can show pictures of adult sea spiders and nudibranchs aka sea slugs) 6. Tell students that warming oceans is one of the impacts that climate change is having on the ocean. You can show graphs of warming ocean temperatures. (see attached resource) 7. Ask students to write about the following... "What do you know about the challenges animals in the ocean are facing due to climate change?” “What questions do you have about the challenges marine animals are facing?”

EXPLORE (20 minutes):

This activity will be done in several rounds and will become more challenging each round.

  1. Tell students they will need something to write with and a piece of paper.
  2. Ask students to gather the following items from around the area where they are learning:
  • 10 items that are between the size of a penny and a quarter (examples of items that can be used-paper clips, pennies, nuts, small rocks, small leaves, small pieces of paper). The exact size isn’t important as long as they are small enough to fit into a container.
  • Two containers. Each container should be able to hold all 10 items.
  1. Tell students they should place the containers about 7 feet away from each other. (This length can be adjusted based on the circumstances of your students but the length should be the same for all students).
  2. Ask students to place one container on the ground and walk 7 heel-to-toe paces and place the other container.
  3. They should then put all of their 10 items into one of the containers.
  4. Tell students we are now going to do an activity about marine animals and warming ocean temperatures. Explain that the researchers in Antarctica and researchers all over the world are studying the impacts that warming ocean temperatures have on marine life.
  5. Explain to the group that they are now all animals in the ocean. One container represents their home and the other container represents the area of the ocean where they find their food. The 10 items they have gathered represent the food that they must bring back to their home. If you want to you can have students become ocean animals that scientists have been studying. (Show pictures of sea spiders, nudibranchs, jellyfish, mussels). These animals are ectotherms.
  6. Explain that endotherms, often called warm-blooded, can regulate their body temperature from within, and ectotherms, often called cold-blooded, depend on the environment around them for their body temperature. Tell students you will be timing them to find out how long it takes them to get their food and bring it back to their home.

Here are the rules:

  • They can only move one item at a time.
  • They cannot move the containers.
  • They must move between the containers. (They cannot just stand in the middle and reach from one container to the other.)
  • Once they have moved all of their items from one container to another they should listen to the educator who will be reading off times. Students should record the time they hear the educator say once they have placed their last item into the container.
  1. Once the rules have been given, ask students to stand next to the container that is empty. When the educator says “Go” the educator starts a timer and students can begin moving their items. After about 15 seconds the educator should start reading off the time so students can hear and record how long it took them to move the items.
  2. Ask students how long it took them and record their answers.
  3. Tell students that since the ocean temperatures are rising some marine animals will have more challenges so the game will become more challenging. To represent the challenges that some animals are facing due to warming ocean temperatures, students will now have to move from one container to the other by hopping. (If you have students that have a mobility challenge you can change this challenge to doing it with one eye closed or zig-zagging back and forth as they move between containers)
  4. Ask students to predict how long they think it will take them to move their food by hopping.
  5. Ask students to do the activity one more time and add an additional challenge-this can represent the continued increase of ocean temperatures OR you can brainstorm additional challenges that ocean animals are facing like plastics, ocean acidification, pollution, overfishing, etc. This time they must move from one container to the other by hopping on one foot or by having one eye closed. Again, record students’ times. (If there is more time you can have students do one more round and add another challenge like instead of hopping, crawling from container to container or moving with both eyes closed)
  6. Have students graph the data they have collected and note the change in the time it took them to move their food from container to container.

Debrief the activity:

  • Ask students what they notice about their graphs. Have students share the difference in time it took them to move from container to container as challenges were added.
  • Discuss the challenges students faced as the way they could move their items from one side to the other changed. Did some students do better than others with different challenges? Were they able to adapt to a different way of moving their items from one container to the other? How quickly do you think marine animals can adapt to changes in their environment?
  • Tell students that scientists are researching marine animals to determine if and how they might be able to adapt to warming ocean temperatures.
  • Tell students that scientists in Antarctica have been studying some animals like sea spiders and nudibranchs-aka sea slugs-and have found that they will grow faster as the oceans warm.

EXPLAIN (10-20 minutes):

  1. Have students look at the graph created during activity. Ask what they notice.
  2. Tell students some animals will struggle as the ocean temperatures rise. Connect to animals that are predicted to thrive and animals that are predicted to be stressed as ocean temperatures increase. Cold water species will most likely be impacted more than warm water species. Warm water species can change locations whereas cold water species will be left with no place to go. Animals that made it through rope every time are highly adaptable like jellyfish. Animals that struggled every round are already facing challenges and are highly sensitive like coral, krill, and fish. For some species, like mussels, the impacts will vary even within the same species. A lot is still unknown so scientists are continuing to conduct long-term studies to determine the impacts of warming oceans on marine life.
  3. Continue the Antarctic story. When researchers and divers brought animals back to the aquarium they used their eggs to conduct experiments. The eggs were placed in incubators at different temperatures and researchers checked on the growth each week.
  4. Provide students photos with captions of the life cycle of nudibranchs and sea spiders (see attached) as well as visuals of sea spider and nudibranch eggs growing under increased temperatures. What do you notice?
  5. Since the ocean is a web of ecosystems, the impacts go beyond just individual species. Entire marine food webs and the ocean community will most likely be impacted as some species die or eat less and its predators, prey, and competitors are affected. For more information see the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s article “Climate change produces complex effects on marine communities”

ELABORATE (15-20 minutes):

Connect to local animals by sharing information cards about:

  • Sea nettles
  • California mussels
  • Nudibranchs
  • Copepods
  • Chinook salmon
  • Sea lions
  1. Split students into 6 small groups.
  2. Write down a list of the animals above. In small groups, the students predict what they think will happen to each of the listed California marine animals as sea temperatures increase.
  3. Give each group a California marine animal card to read that has information about what scientists suggest will happen to each animal as the sea temperature increases. (Sea nettle, California mussels, Aeolid Nudibranch-Phidiana hiltoni, Copepod, Chinook Salmon, Sea Lion)
  4. Each small group can then share with the big group what they learned about their animal.

EVALUATE (10 minutes):

  1. Option 1: Tell students to choose one of the marine animals you learned about in this lesson. Write or draw a short story or comic strip of their life as the ocean begins to warm.
  2. Option 2: Ask students to draw two different pictures: One picture of what they think the ocean looks like now and what they think the ocean will look like in the future as the oceans warm up.
  3. Revisit initial question: ”What do you know about the challenges animals in the ocean are facing due to climate change?” “What questions do you have about the challenges marine animals are facing?”


1.5-2 hours


  • Add in other challenges that marine animals are facing like a change in oxygen levels, predators, and ocean acidification. (For example, you could discuss how, as water warms, ectotherms have an increased need for oxygen and, as a result, as ocean temperatures warm more oxygen is being removed from the water by ectotherms so oxygen concentrations decrease.) Do the jump rope challenge again but this time you can add additional challenges to the game like students needing to hop through the rope, crawl through the rope, or go through the rope as a pair with their feet attached to represent the additional challenges animals are facing in the ocean.
  • For younger students: To make it easier for younger students don’t spin the rope, instead keep it on the ground and wiggle it.
  • For older students: Read some of the articles listed in the resources section about the impacts climate change is having on marine life. Ask students to share their thoughts about all of the challenges.
  • For NatureBridge educators and educators with access to hermit crabs: follow up with the Hermit Crab Temperature Inquiry lesson.
  • End on a positive note: Share ways that students can take action to mitigate climate change.
  • Equity & Inclusion Extension-connect the ease and challenges students have getting through the rope to privileges we are born with to make it through challenges
  • Social and Emotional Learning Extension- after the activity, ask students how they adapt to changes in life-who helps you through the rope?
  • Team building Extension/Lesson-Add a team-building element to the spinning rope activity. (This is the original version of the Jump Rope Challenge which is a commonly used outdoor education team building activity that can also lead into an introduction to scientific inquiry) Everyone must make it from one side of the spinning rope to the other. If a person is hit by the rope or doesn’t make it through the whole group starts over again. If the group did this quickly and you have time try making this activity more difficult:
  1. Try different variations on how the group must get through the rope. Examples might be: trying it one at a time, then make one jump in the rope and get to the other side, then try it without missing a beat of the rope between people.
  2. Try in pairs or triplets.
  3. Once participants can fairly easily get through the rope, make it a harder team challenge that introduces inquiry by choosing a pattern, without telling them, that they must use to get everyone through the rope. (For example, the facilitator might decide, without telling the group, that the pattern needs to be one person goes under, then two people go under, then one person goes under, then two people go under. The participants try different variations to figure out the pattern. When they are following the pattern correctly the rope keeps spinning. If they mess up the pattern the rope stops spinning and they must start over again.)

Team building Debrief:

Watch for communication, decision making, and working together.

Ask students the following questions:

  • How did you communicate? Was everybody on board with what was happening?
  • Did anyone step up as a leader? Was this done in a good way?
  • How did you react when people didn’t make it through the rope?
  • How did it feel to be the person who didn’t make it through the rope?
  • How do you think this relates to the rest of life?


  • All educators can connect local changes and phenomena to this lesson.
  • All educators can use the GLOBE or iNaturalist programs to observe and record sightings of local species and to observe changes in behavior, including migration, blooming, reproduction over time.


Resources related to Antarctic research on marine ectotherms: Lucibella, Michael (2020, January 6) “Larvae La Vida Loca: How Will Warming Oceans Affect Young Invertebrates When They're At Their Most Vulnerable?” Antarctic Sun. Retrieved from

Resources related to increasing ocean temperatures impact on marine animal distribution and abundance: Borunda, Alojandra (2019 August 14) “Ocean Warming, Explained.”, National Geographic. Retrieved from

Tucker, Abigail (2010 August) “Jellyfish: The Next King of the Sea.” Smithsonian Magazine Retrieved from

Rapp Learn, Joshua (2018 October 8) “Venomous Sea Creatures on the Rise Thanks to Climate Change.” National Geographic. Retrieved from

California impacts: Schwing, Franklin B. (2005) “The Impact of Climate Change on California’s Marine Ecosystems: Beyond Sea Level Rise” NOAA Fisheries Service Retrieved from

Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, California Environmental Protection Agency (2018). Indicators of Climate Change in California. “2018 Report: Indicators of Climate Change in California” includes information about marine animals including nudibranchs, copepods, and sea lions. Retrieved from

Mussels: Simons, Eric (2019, June 26) “California’s Early June Heat Wave Cooked Coastal Mussels in Place.” Bay Nature Retrieved from Hines, Sandra (2006, June) “Mussel strain: Same species responds differently to same warming depending on location.” University of Washington News Retrieved from

Resources related to global climate change and the ocean: NOAA “Assessing the Global Climate in 2019”: NOAA Global Climate Report: NOAA Climate at a Glance (you can choose the month and start/end year to create a time series of surface temperature anomalies):


  • Students will create before/after pictures of the ocean as temperatures warm.
  • Students will create a story or comic strip of a marine animal living with rising ocean temperatures.
  • For English Language Learners or younger students: Students collaboratively create a poster of what is happening during activity.
  • Everybody has to write, each person has a different color marker. Create a picture of what researchers think might happen to ocean animals due to warming oceans. (Four squares-drawing, words, predictions)


Amy Osborne, PolarTREC Educator 2019 NatureBridge Sausalito, CA ozontheroad07 [at]

Adapted from “Jump Rope Challenge” by Headlands Institute, now NatureBridge, and a leadership lesson commonly used in outdoor education

Standards Other

MS-LS1-5 From Molecules to Organisms: Structures and Processes

Construct a scientific explanation based on evidence for how environmental and genetic factors influence the growth of organisms.

MS-LS2-1 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem. [Clarification Statement: Emphasis is on cause and effect relationships between resources and growth of individual organisms and the numbers of organisms in ecosystems during periods of abundant and scarce resources.]

MS-LS2.A Interdependent Relationships in Ecosystems

  • Organisms, and populations of organisms, are dependent on their environmental interactions both with other living things and with nonliving factors.
  • In any ecosystem, organisms and populations with similar requirements for food, water, oxygen, or other resources may compete with each other for limited resources, access to which consequently constrains their growth and reproduction.
  • Growth of organisms and population increases are limited by access to resources. Cause and Effect
  • Cause and effect relationships may be used to predict phenomena in natural or designed systems.

MS-ESS3.C Earth and Human Activity, Human Impacts on Earth Systems

  • Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things.
  • Typically as human populations and per-capita consumption of natural resources increase, so do the negative impacts on Earth unless the activities and technologies involved are engineered otherwise.

Polar Literacy Principle #1

The Arctic and Antarctic Regions are unique because of their location on Earth.

Polar Literacy Principle #7

New technologies, sensors and tools — as well as new applications of existing technologies — are expanding scientists’ abilities to study the land, ice, ocean, atmosphere and living creatures of the Polar Regions.

Ocean Literacy Principles:

5 The ocean supports a great diversity of life and ecosystems.

d. Ocean biology provides many unique examples of life cycles, adaptations, and important relationships among organisms (symbiosis, predator-prey dynamics, and energy transfer) that do not occur on land.

6 The ocean and humans are inextricably interconnected.

e. Changes in ocean temperature and pH due to human activities can affect the survival of some organisms and impact biological diversity (coral bleaching due to increased temperature and inhibition of shell formation due to ocean acidification)

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This program is supported by the National Science Foundation. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed by this program are those of the PIs and coordinating team, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.