6th Grade Science : Unit #6 - Oceanography : Lesson #2

Currents and The Great Ducky Spill

Objective: SWBAT identify the primary causes for ocean currents, and explain the effect of currents on human activity in the ocean.
Standards: MS-ESS2-6
Subject(s): Science
60 minutes
1 Engage - 5 minutes


I start the lesson by displaying one of the live ocean webcams at Explore. Not only do they capture the attention of the students, but they also put them in a proper frame of mind for the content they are about to be exposed to.

Students love to view the animals and plants caught on these webcams. In fact, they are so popular and provide so much authenticity tot he lesson, that I often keep them projected throughout many of the lessons and activities for students to view as they work. (It doesn't hurt that they are relaxing and keep students calm, as well!)

2 Explore - 30 minutes

Students start by completing page 1 of the currents lab. This section has them predict what will happen when they place an ice cube in a glass of warm-hot water. After making their predictions, they perform the experiment and record their results/observations both by writing and drawing. They explain why they got the results they did.

At this time, their explanation will probably be very vague and may not take into account any changes in density or temperature between the ice and the water. We will revisit this portion of the lab again after students are exposed to more information about currents.

Next, they will watch Ocean Currents by Bill Nye to gain a basic understanding about currents:


After watching the video, students read through page 2 of their lab, highlighting important information. Next, they conduct some additional research to help them learn more about how currents are formed and what they look like if they could be seen.They then draw a diagram that shows the path of the water and how it is caused.

3 Explain - 10 minutes

Now that students have learned more about how changes in density and temperature can form currents, they return to page 1 of their lab and revise their explanation using a different color than they originally used.

I like to have students use a different color so that they can see how their thinking has changed and developed over the course of the lesson. This also draws their attention to the revised response, which will be useful to refer to later in the unit.

4 Elaborate - 10 minutes

To learn more about the effect of currents in the ocean, students complete the Rubber Ducky Activity. In this activity, students read an article about the Great Ducky Spill of 1992, when a shipping crate containing 28,000 plastic bath toys was lost at sea when it fell overboard on its way from Hong Kong to the United States. Students track the duckies as they follow the major ocean currents, map their journey, and write about the currents they traveled and the countries they visited. 

Update on Ducky Spill
Real World Applications

Many students might want to know what happened to the ducks after the spill. This article discusses how many of these ducks washed up on shore over 15 years after the spill. It is a great way to bring some relevance to the learning!

5 Evaluate - 5 minutes

As a final demonstration of their learning students complete the Nike Shoe Investigation. This assessment is similar to the Ducky Activity, but requires students to research and apply new terminology (gyre, eddy) to the learning, log latitude and longitude points to track the path of Nike shoes along currents, and calculate distance and speed of specific currents.