The Curriculum of the Steiner School - Class 8

Notes and Lesson Plans

Ecology: The Ocean
updated March 24, 2022

Recorded here is my own personal collection of articles, resources, favorite links, teaching ideas, and lesson plans. It encompasses many years, from the very beginning of my experience studying and learning about Waldorf to the present time. People from all around the world visit my site and recommend it to others. Welcome!

This site records my journey. I hope my honesty is encouraging and helps break down some barriers that may prevent people from trying Waldorf methods. Because this is an ongoing site documenting my curriculum planning and ideas, some materials are more Waldorf-y than others. Please feel free to take what you like and leave the rest.

The Ocean

Mission Statement - Consulting Services - Lending Library

Ecology is a wide-ranging topic and you'll need to choose one particular theme to focus on. We chose The Ocean and I'm really excited about it! Here are my notes as I plan this block.

Pinterest - Renee Schwartz
My curated collection of visuals! Browse sample main lesson book pages, watercolor paintings, chalkboard drawings, etc. for Ecology.

What happens when you mix math, coral, and crochet? It's mind-blowing: How two Australian sisters channeled their love of STEM and coral reefs into the most glorious participatory art project article at the Waldorf Today newsletter!

lots of lesson plans from the Georgia Aquarium

They're Blue, Pink and Purple, and No One Has Ever Seen Them Before
Atacama trench snailfish article from The New York Times

The Mariana Trench: Earth's Deepest Place lesson plan from National Geographic, grades 6-8

Color-It-Yourself Map of Mariana Trench

goes well with the Contour Model Kit for 2-D Topographic Map

Essential Documentary Film

A Plastic Ocean

Booklist: Suggested Resources

Activity One:

Activity Two:

    read Galapagos George by Jean Craighead George, talk about adaptation

    create the Ocean Zones in a Jar -- new and improved notes about this in my blog post!

    gather thoughts from the class about what animals might live in each zone, consider how the zones are different (darker, colder, more water pressure as you go farther down), introduce the idea of vertical migration in the water column

Activity Three:

Activity Four:

    Melting Ice Science Experiment with Salt and Liquid Watercolors activity

      exploring the idea of changing the temperature at which something freezes since we read about animals with antifreeze in their blood in the Polar biome nomenclature for Antarctica

      I froze water in two containers: a Pyrex loaf pan and a Pyrex pie plate

    also... find two freezer-safe containers and fill both with water except add rubbing alcohol to one of the containers along with the water, place them both in the freezer at the same time, see which one freezes first

      we used some IPA that was tinted blue; not only was the tinted rubbing alcohol handy since it was leftover from Ocean Zones in a Jar activity but it ensures that the kids can tell them apart and no ones tries to eat the alcohol-ice

      Fun Fact: rubbing alcohol was an old-fashioned automotive antifreeze

    read Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea

    plan art installation for Ocean Zones, assign children to different zones, have them pick animal(s) they want to portray, brainstorm art materials and techniques based on the animal and plant life that interests them

      NOTE: Immediately teach students to begin to organize their notes by color coding the zones. I put out different colors of construction paper and had students write the names of animals they were intrigued by on the correct color of paper. That way, we could see if all zones were covered and we could begin to organize our art ideas for the zones as well as for the calendar project.

      I wrote the common name for the zone, the scientific name for the zone, and the zone depth in meters on top of each piece of paper.

      Paper Color Common Name Scientific Name Depth in Meters
      Orange Sunlight Epipelagic 0 - 200 m
      Yellow Twilight Mesopelagic 200 - 1000 m
      Green Midnight Bathypelagic 1000 - 4000 m
      Blue Abyss Abyssopelagic 4000 - 6000 m
      Brown Trench Hadalpelagic 6000 m and below

    also have available Scary Creatures of the Deep for research

    look at An Ocean Garden: The Secret Life of Seaweed
    taste sea vegetables

    • Dulse Palmaria palmata (Atlantic Ocean)
      do not eat -- read California Warning on label -- discuss why this might be
    • Nori Pyropia yezoensis (Pacific Ocean)
    • Wakame Undaria pinnatifida (Pacific Ocean)
    • Kombu Laminaria japonica (Pacific Ocean)

    start Pagoo as a read aloud story

Activity Five:

    art projects!
    large museum exhibits for the Parent Expo... and small art for the 2018 calendar project

    explain calendar art project, begin to make art

      Front Cover (starfish on newsprint)
      July (marine snow on black paper)
      December (worms on black paper)

    start dyeing coffee filters for coral reef. this works best with a shallow jar such as the glass jars from Oui! yogurt. they get their color very quickly and dry quickly too, so lay out several folded old towels and transfer the dyed coffee filters to them every few minutes and make a new batch. put something under the coffee filters when you are drawing on them with the markers, since it will bleed through. another note: if done correctly, the color will not transfer into the water, so the jars of water can be reused over and over

    start dyeing cotton swabs for coral reef by dipping tips in FW Fluorescent Artists Acrylic Ink, Neon, Set of 6. this works best with a very shallow dish so that you dont get ink on your fingers when you flip the cotton swab over to dye the other side... we learned this the hard way! Gerber stage 2 baby food jars are perfect

    start posters for museum: Sponges (sunlight zone)

    things I planned but didn't get to:
    Salt Water Density Straw activity from Steve Spangler

      if you want to make a rainbow of colors, 1 tsp salt in cup #1 (dye red), 2 tsp salt in cup #2 (dye orange), 3 tsp salt in cup #3 (dye yellow), 4 tsp salt in cup #4 (dye green), 5 tsp of salt in cup #5 (dye blue), 6 tsp of salt in cup #6 (dye violet)

    read The Drop in My Drink, review water cycle, the Dead Sea, the Great Salt Lake

    NOAA answers the question, Why is the Ocean Salty?

Activity Six:

    continue with art projects!

    hang pompom yarn in lengths from ceiling (seaweed), attach with clear pushpins

    read several chapters of Pagoo (finish chapter 2, read chapter 3, read chapter 4) while people were quietly working on art projects

    dye more cotton swabs and more coffee filters for Coral Reef Art Installation

    paint the interior of toilet paper tubes red, to be later cut into sea anemones

    add title to Sponges poster created last week

    make a large collaborative krill swarm

    research animals which have bioluminescence, in preparation for Museum activity a la Steve Jenkins in Down Down Down (pages "Glowing in the Dark" and "Lights Out")

      a student came up with this fun idea... parents entering the Twilight zone will need to take a glow stick bracelet and an animal matching card, then look at their card to see a full-color picture of an animal which uses bioluminescence, then try to match their card to a poster on the wall which shows ONLY the parts of the animal which light up... in glow-in-the-dark paint

    work on calendar art:

      December 2017 CLOUDS
      March 2018 PING-PONG TREE SPONGE
      April 2018 KRILL
      May 2018 DIATOMS

Activity Seven:

    make Expo invitations
      extra large manila tags sponge painted with Martha Steward "cloud" pale blue on both sides, starfish stamp with Ranger Archival Ink pad in Aquamarine on both sides, tied with brown sparkly yarn, Expo details in black felt-tipped pen

      Side A: You're Invited to...

      Side B: "Creep into the Deep"
      date, time, address

    dye extra white pompom yarn to the different shades of seaweed using food coloring

    read Horseshoe Crabs and Shorebirds, discuss food web

    Penguin Camo activity

      2 mm thick craft foam in white and black, glue, bowl of water, flashlight, piece of black paper, scissors, and penguin pattern (which I printed at 60%)

    work on individual museum projects

    work on calendar art: January 2018 SEAL

    things I planned but didn't get to:
    emperor penguin chalkboard drawing -- put on chalkboard and keep there!

      on date of Expo, use chalkboard as divider between Sunlight and Twilight Zones, they hunt in the Twilight but live in the Sunlight

      "At sea, emperor penguins can dive to 1,850 feet -- deeper than any other bird -- and stay under for more than 20 minutes."

    add pictures above the krill swarm of animals that are in the food web in Antarctica, connect predator to prey with orange pieces of string

    Shark Buoyancy activity

    Whale Feast Feeding Discovery Lab (PDF)

Activity Eight:

    read Moonsnail Song by Sheryl McFarlane, compare mollusks which are gastropods and those which are bivalves, add seashells and starfish and sand dollars to coral reef display (set up on playstands with a blue/violet silk canopy overhead)

    Cornmeal Currents activity

    Deep-Water Currents activity

    read and display Actual Size by Steve Jenkins (giant squid eyeball)

    continue with art projects, including building a life-size construction paper collage of a giant squid!

    things I planned but didn't get to:
    Water/Shoreline Erosion activity

    Beach Glass vs. Broken Glass activity

      you can find sea glass on Etsy
      I got a large piece for the activity and small pieces to give to each child to keep

Activity Nine:

    read Where the River Begins by Thomas Locker

    focus on conservation, continue with art projects, prep for Expo, plan science experiments & demonstrations for Expo

    "Oil-Coated Feathers" experiment from The Curious Kid's Science Book
    we used Toasted Sesame oil

      Asia Citro focuses on having kids design their own experiments: our kids tried canola oil, water, milk, lemon water, apple cider vinegar, Dawn dish soap

      or if, you want a packet to hand out, here's a nice Oil and Feathers science experiment from Project Beak (PDF)

    cutting out 80 ft of giant squid tentacles for the Midnight Zone (calculating how many pieces of paper it will take to make 80 feet if your paper is 1 1/2 feet long) and covering every bit of that length with traced two inch circles (we used the cardboard ring inside the glue dots)

    making construction paper collage sea lilies for the Abyssal Plain

    hanging the last of the dyed pompom yard seaweed from the ceiling in the Sunlight Zone

    calendar art:

Activity Ten:

    finish calendar artwork:

      September - SNAILFISH - chalk pastels on black paper

      October - SWIMMING DEEP-SEA HOLOTHURIAN - tissue paper

      November - MICROSCOPIC BACTERIA - mono printing with acrylic paint

    set up Mariana Trench art installation in crawlspace with black fabric and animal artwork (crustaceans, worms)

    relax and read another Steve Jenkins collage artwork book: What Do You Do With a Tail Like This?

Activity Eleven:

    set up dolphin exhibit in Sunlight Zone, write fact cards, decide on color of index card for each zone, write title of fact card in gold Sharpie and fact in black

    finish spraying remaining coffee filters with starch

    finish hanging artwork in Mariana Trench

    read One Well: The Story of Water on Earth, choose facts for fact cards

Activity Twelve:

    discuss how all life on Earth began in the water...
    look at Franz Lanting's incredible Life: A Journey through Time, add to display of books

    finish exhibits!

    wrap completed calendars!

    make expo foods!

    Parent Expo on December 21, 2017!
    Walk parents through museum displays and present calendars as holiday gifts.

    Monterey Bay Aquarium live web cams (there are many; these are just a few favorites)

    Foods to serve at the Expo:

Blank Scrapbook Calendar Project

    An idea I'm really excited about in lieu of -- or in addition to -- hosting a Parent Expo!

    Every year my students use blank wall calendars to create holiday gifts for their parents. They write in the month names, week names, and dates, as well as creating the art for each month. It is always fun to present parents with these handmade gifts!

    One year we did the entire Timeline of Life as a wall calendar, representing all of the time from the creation of the earth (January 1) until present day (December 31) TO SCALE. Each day was equal to approximately 13 million years. The artwork month by month showed what the earth looked like and what new organisms had evolved. It was so fun, and it gave the kids such a clear understanding idea of how things changed radically over time.

    This year I decided to use a similar concept for Ecology. Each child can create a 2018 wall calendar showing how the ocean world changes as you go deeper and deeper in the water. It won't be hard to duplicate some of the most successful art projects and make extra art for the calendars. The art simply needs to fit on a 12 x 12 inch scrapbook page and be flat.

    As it turns out, the deepest part of the ocean -- the Challenger Deep in the Mariana Trench -- is believed to be 36,070 feet. With 12 months and each piece of art being 12 inches tall, we will have 144 inches of height. The math is easy; our scale will be 1 inch = 250 feet.

    I will make the sample artwork for each month and we can lay the examples all down on the floor to show the entire depth of the ocean in a 12 foot high display. It will just look like one of the Expo displays. Then after the parents walk through the entire Expo (December 14 or December 21), the children can present them with their calendars. And they will find out that they each have their own personal copy of our trip to the bottom of the sea!

    Just as with The Deep, which has a tick-mark next to each organism's photograph showing how deep each is found (with the scale printed on the inside front cover and inside back cover flaps), we will be clearly showing the correct depth of each animal. And... empty squares on the calendar which are not used for dates can hold interesting facts about the animal(s) in the artwork. I'm in love with this idea!!!!

    If you do this, I highly recommend you make a sample calendar to show the children.

    I also strongly suggest that you use Glue Dots (use one in each of the four corners) to adhere the artwork to the calendar pages. Glue Dots are quick and easy. They are instant and permanent and they are mess-free. The only downside is that the teacher has to be the one to do all the glueing, since they are permanent and mistakes can't be easily rectified. I have my students put their name on stickers, which I put on the back of all the cardstock art paper, since you can't easily write your name on black paper. Then I know whose is whose and I can glue the art in after the artwork has dried and the kids have left for the day.

    Here are the Ocean Layers and a few art ideas I came up with. The ones we used for the calendar are written in all caps:

    Front Cover
    Creep into the Deep

    December 2017 - sunlight and blue sky
    explain concept of calendar, explain calendar scale (1 inch = 250 feet)

    January 2018 - ocean surface to 3,000 feet below
    Epipelagic Zone - "Sunlight Zone" - 0 to 200 m - 0 to 656 ft

      painting of the seal (wet on dry watercolor, Live Education!)

      also the sea turtles (wet on dry watercolor, Rick Tan)

      also the school of fish (colored pencil, Live Education!)

      poster project: sponges

      art display: seaweed (use clear pushpins and lengths of Pomp-a-Doodle pompom yarn draped in large swaths from the ceiling -- I used the blue "Shoreline" yarn as well as the white yarn, which we dyed other seaweedy colors)

      art display: coral reef (stacks of dyed coffee filters and cotton swabs arranged to be a coral reef and placed in front of a large picture window, with plenty of colorful fish drawn on the window with window crayons. this works best if you create a structure for the coral reef with vertical elements using toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, and wrapping paper tubes. weight the tubes to keep them from falling over, if needed, by putting dried beans in old spice jars, tying a long string to the jars, and slowly lowering them into the tubes until they stand on the ground inside the tubes and are hidden from view. I built our coral reef on a long piece of wax paper and placed it underneath of Zac's playstands, with a long blue/violet canopy silk above it, and I put seashells and sand dollars and starfish on the shelves of the playstands and sprinkled sand on the wax paper after the coral reef pieces were in place.)

    February 2018 - 3,000 to 6,000 feet below
    Mesopelagic Zone - "Twilight Zone" - 200 to 1000 m - 656 to 3281 ft

    March 2018 - 6,000 to 9,000 feet below
    Bathypelagic Zone - "Midnight Zone" - 1000 to 4000 m - 3281 to 13,124 ft

      stamp ends of wine corks into light green (Pistachio Mint) paint, add stems with more light green paint and a small brush

      Ping-Pong Tree Sponge - Found at depths of around 9,000 feet, the ping-pong tree is a carnivorous sponge that can grow up to 20 inches in height. While they may not look dangerous, they are covered in tiny hair hooks which catch any small creature passing by. Then, slowly, cells in the sponge move towards the prey and digest it."

      also the green bomber worm

      violet sea cucumber swimming video

      also the battles between sperm whales and giant squid -- this would make a great shadow puppetry!

      art display: giant construction paper collage squid LIFE SIZE! this enormous tan creature ran from my kitchen all the way down the hallway. we did the mantle (7 feet long), placed the Actual Size book with the picture of eye (1 foot long) right in the location where the eye would be, and made the eight arms (each 9 feet long) and the two tentacles (each 40 feet long). the beak is in the center of the arms and is two inches long.

    April 2018 - 9,000 to 12,000 feet below
    Bathypelagic Zone cont.

      KRILL (from Down Down Down)
      pinkie finger painting krill with orange paint, add Sharpie dot eyes

      Dumbo Octopus - "The ear-like fins of this octopus have earned it the name "Dumbo." The octopus lives at extreme depths of 10,000 to 11,000 feet, searching for worms and other crustaceans at the seafloor."

      also a huge poster of the krill swarm and cards listing the animals which eat it, and the animals which eat those

    May 2018 - 12,000 to 15,000 feet below
    Abyssopelagic Zone - "The Abyss" - 4000 to 6000 m - 13,124 to 19,686 ft

      spray white and yellow Shimmer MIster on black cardstock

      make poster of the Abyssal Plain and the sea lily (from Down Down Down)

    June 2018 - 15,000 to 18,000 feet below
    Abyssopelagic Zone cont.


      Enypniastes - "Enypniastes is a deep sea cucumber which leaves nothing to the imagination and lives up to 16,400 feet down. The red area is the animal's mouth. Around it are tentacles, which scoop up edible mud from the seafloor. From there, well, you can see."

    July 2018 - 18,000 to 21,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone - "The Trench" - 6000 m to the bottom of the deepest parts of the ocean

      splatter paint "light buttermilk" paint with old toothbrushes and wire screen on black paper

    August 2018 - 21,000 to 24,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone cont.

    September 2018 - 24,000 to 27,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone cont.


      deepest known living fish - "Setting the record at 8,143 meters, (26,872 feet) was a completely unknown variety of snailfish, which stunned scientists when it was filmed several times during seafloor experiments. The white translucent fish had broad wing-like fins and an eel-like tail, and slowly glided over the bottom."

      chalk pastels on black paper, Faber-Castell, set of 72 soft pastels

    October 2018 - 27,000 to 30,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone cont.


      deep-sea holothurian AKA sea cucumber
      awesome video!

      crumple a 6 1/4 inch square page of deep purple art tissue, open it back up, cut out into a sea cucumber tubular shape, then attach onto black paper with a few glue dots (only at the top so that it hangs and can move and "dance")

    November 2018 - 30,000 to 33,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone cont.

    December 2018 - 33,000 to 36,000 feet below
    Hadalpelagic Zone cont.

      WORM (from Down Down Down)
      oil pastel squiggles on black paper

Blog posts from when I was teaching this in Science Club (making calendars):

UPDATED BOOK LIST - July 6, 2020
Habitats: Mesopelagic, Bathypelagic, Abyssopelagic, Hadalpelagic Zones

Blog posts from when I was teaching this topic in main lesson (making MLBs):



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