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Lesson Plans
Too Hot? Gotta Vent!

OverviewProcedure for teachersStudent Resources and Materials
Prep for Teachers

Prior to teaching the lesson, bookmark all of the Web sites used in the lesson on each computer in your classroom. You may also create a Web site with links to each Web resource, or use an online bookmarking utility like Portaportal ( or Backflip ( to increase time on task at the computers. Load the Shockwave and Flash plug-ins, available at, onto all computers in your classroom or computer lab. Cue the videotape to the appropriate starting point. Prepare copies of the student organizers.

View the video clip in its entirety to become familiar with all starts and stops. Practice the pauses and fast forwards to insure smooth transitions during viewing.

Prepare the student organizers and handouts for each part of the lesson by copying them for each student. Make sure students also have generic notetaking materials as needed.

Be sure that video cameras are fully charged and have rewound, writeable DV tapes loaded. If the camera is to remain stationery it is advisable to use a power adaptor when filming and/or have extra batteries on hand. Be sure to have the necessary video editing software loaded on computers and camera-to-computer cables available for downloading video clips.

When using media, provide students with a Focus for Media Interaction, a specific task to complete and/or information to identify during or after viewing of video segments, Web sites, or other multimedia elements.

Introductory Activities: Setting the Stage

Setting the Stage

Students will view segments of the NATURE episode #2003, "Dive to the Abyss," which chronicles three deep sea dives using ocean submersibles. The specific focus of this lesson will be the exploration of underwater volcanoes in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. However, students will be given the chance to see the different kinds of submersibles used in deep ocean exploration in other areas of the world, in the waters around the Cayman Islands and off the coast of Monterey, California. The viewing of these segments and the discussions should take one classroom period.

Step 1:

In preparation for viewing the video, ask students to hypothesize about the conditions that might be encountered on the ocean floor at great depths. What would the ocean floor look like? What conditions might be encountered? What might be the best way to explore the deep ocean? Answers will vary depending on prior knowledge. Record student responses for later review.

Step 2:

CUE video to immediately after "Viewers like you." Distribute the "Dive to the Abyss Video Organizer" to each student. Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to take notes about the three kinds of vehicles and their areas of exploration. PLAY the tape.

PAUSE after Alastair Fothergill says, "Victor is highly experienced. He's dived on the wreck of the Titanic, the Bismark, and many, many times to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. So I feel very, very safe in his hands" and the Mir is seen beginning its descent. Ask students to compare and complete their organizers while you FAST FORWARD to the next time the Mid-Atlantic Ridge map appears. Note to teacher: The portion of the video you will be fast forwarding through includes the following scenes: Giant sponges in the Cayman Islands, the luminescent creature, a Giant Medusa off the Monterey coast, and the Haystack zone in the Cayman Islands.

Check for student comprehension and understanding about the three dives, where they are occurring, what is being explored, and the submersible vehicles being used in each. Use the following questions with your students.

1) In Monterey, California: What vehicle is being used in this exploration? (The Tiberon is a remotely operated vehicle (ROV), an unmanned submersible.)

What tools does it have? (Equipped with six electric thrusters, can go 4000 meters deep, has lights and 6 cameras for monitoring navigation, science equipment for sampling including a suction device.)

How deep can it dive? (4000 feet; it's built to study the mysteries of the deep sea.)

Where is the exploration taking place? (Off the coast of Monterey, California. Off shore is an underwater canyon, well over a mile deep.)

What is the focus of the exploration? (Studying life in the abyss.)

2) In the Cayman Islands, Caribbean: What is the focus of the exploration? (looking for deep water sharks.)

Why was this site chosen? (The Caymans are tips of mountains and there are underwater cliffs.)

Where is the exploration taking place and what kind of vehicle is being used? (Exploration will take researchers down the wall of one of the cliffs in a mini-submarine.)

3) Mid-Atlantic Ridge, 1200 miles off the coast of Portugal: What is the focus of the exploration? (Looking at undersea volcanic activity.)

What kind of vehicle is being used? (The Keldysh is the research vessel from which the Mir submersibles are launched. "Mir" is Russian for "peace." It is one of the few submersibles capable of diving more than a mile. Two submersibles enable dual filming.)

CUE the video to the next map of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. It will be shown after Kate Humble in the Cayman Islands says, "There's a shipwreck somewhere around here, which, according to Gary, has become the most amazing artificial reef. We're going to go and try and find it and see what life there is on there." The submarine is seen in dark, almost black waters and then the Mid-Atlantic Ridge map is shown.

Step 3

Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to focus now on the Mir dive in the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. What does Alastair tell us about the Mir that helps explain why scientists use submersibles? RESUME PLAY.

PAUSE as Alastair says, "What you never, never do in a submersible is hit the ground hard," and the "Ping, Ping" of the sonar is heard as the Mir slides into darkness.

Check for student comprehension. How far down can the Mir go? (6000 meters, 4 miles down)

Why can the Mir go down farther than a nuclear submarine? (Because of its small size, and it is constructed out of very strong steel, even the windows are 18 inches thick)

Why are submersibles used for deep sea exploration? (They facilitate manned exploration despite the cold and tremendous pressure.)

Step 4:

FAST FORWARD past underwater creatures in Monterey Bay and shipwrecks in the Cayman Islands to the next Mid-Atlantic Ridge map. Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to listen carefully as Alastair describes the Mir's descent to the sea bed. What "landmarks" do the occupants of the Mir see? Note: This portion of the video requires careful listening due to the background sounds from the submersible. RESUME PLAY.

PAUSE after Alastair says, "What we're looking for is evidence of volcanic activity happening right now. Victor is searching for black smokers, extraordinary chimneys where red hot water comes pouring out of the sea floor. I know it should be very spectacular if only we could find one," and the Mir is seen with the propeller turning slowly.

Check for student understanding. What "landmarks" do the occupants of the Mir see? (Answers may include: The Mid-Atlantic Ridge is actually the top of submarine mountain chain, 30 miles wide and high as the Rockies. In the center is a canyon into which the Mir is headed. At the top of the ridge there is no light from the surface. As they descend they see volcanic scenery. It is apparent that new sea bed is forming as two crustal plates are moving apart. Continental drift is actually occurring. Piles of lava make maneuvering difficult.

Deep ocean creatures are seen as well. Rattail or Grenadier fish feed on rotting flesh that drops down from the surface. Rabbit fish or Caymira, and a Dumbo Octopus, about the size of a football, are also seen.

Spires coming up from the sea bed show evidence of colorful mineral deposits but they are "dead" chimneys, not active vents.)

Step 5:

FAST FORWARD past sharks in the Cayman Islands, more luminescent creatures in Monterey, and sharks in the Cayman Islands again in infra red light, to the carcass of fish in infrared light (after Kate Humble says, "and we'll fool them.") Provide your students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking students to be prepared to describe the field of black smokers in their own words. RESUME PLAY.

PAUSE as Alastair says, "From the point of view of life, there's actually very little life on these small smokers. But what I do know is that on the bigger ones we really have a high chance of finding spectacular quantities of life," and the Mir is obscured by the black smoke.

Check for student understanding. Ask students to describe the field of black smokers. (Answers may include: Two to three hundred hydrothermal vents, "black smokers" appear on the on the "hillside" in an area about the size of football field. These are relatively new, small chimneys that may not have been here 2 or 3 years ago. Water escaping from hydrothermal vents is 350 degrees centigrade. The hot water dissolves out minerals in the rocks, mainly iron and sulfite, creating the "black smoke." As the red hot water comes out of the sea bed, it cools very suddenly as it meets the freezing cold water. All of the minerals precipitate out, dropped out of suspension. Gradually the chimney builds from these minerals, as much a 6 meters a year.)

Step 6:

FAST FORWARD past fish and jelly fish in Monterey, sharks in the Cayman Islands under infrared light, and the small yellow creatures on the ocean floor to the next time the Mir is seen (and Mike says, "Let's check in on Alastair who is now a mile and a half down." ) Provide a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION, asking your students to describe what is discovered on the large chimneys, and how do they exist in such a hostile environment? RESUME PLAY.

STOP after Alastair says, "It seems may be looking at the very birth of life on earth right down here at the very depth of the abyss," and the music begins as the Mir moves off.

Check for student understanding. What is discovered on the large chimneys? (Large black smoker chimneys are covered with thousands of shrimp. These were only discovered in 1985.)

How do they survive? (They survive on the bacteria that survive on the sulfites. The shrimp live off the sulfurous bacteria found closest to the hot water coming out of the vents. Up until people saw life on the hot vents they thought life needed sunlight to exist.)

Step 7:

Review student predictions about the conditions that might be found on the ocean floor at great depths. How accurate were they? What did they learn? What would they like to know more about? (Student answers will vary.)

Learning Activities

Students will utilize Internet resources listed above to learn more about deep sea vents, specifically the geological explanation for their existence. These sites offer unique opportunities for virtual, "hands-on" study utilizing Flash animations and interactive Shockwave simulations to enhance understanding.

Provide students with a FOCUS FOR MEDIA INTERACTION using the following guiding questions to focus their research. (These questions are listed in the Dive to the Abyss - Internet Research Organizer.)

List and explain each stage in the development of deep sea vents. Create an illustration of each stage. (A good model for illustrations can be found at each of the Internet resource sites).

What is the difference between white and black smokers? (White smokers are "younger" hydrothermal vents. They are cooler and their smoke is white since it doesn't contain metals.) Where do each occur? (Both occur at along the mid-ocean ridges. White smokers are usually found on the outskirts of a vent field.)

What role do temperature and pressure have in the creation of deep sea vents? (The heat of the magna superheats the ocean water that seeps into the magna chamber. The deeper you go, the greater the pressure and the higher the boiling point rises.)

How are the dynamic forces of shifting plates related to deep sea vents? (The shifting plates create magna chambers and cracks in the sea floor through which water seeps.)

Culminating Activity

Using digital video, students will demonstrate their understanding of the nature of deep sea vents and the geological and environmental discoveries that scientists have uncovered. They may incorporate clay animation, models, simulated interviews, selected video clips and other copyright-friendly resources. Be sure to encourage students to obtain permission to use Internet resources and provide proper citations.

The culminating activity may take other forms. This lesson offers the opportunity for differentiated instruction, enabling students with varied levels of understanding to enhance their learning through alternative activities. This will enable students to work in small groups, with a variety of materials and options. Students may produce models of sea vent chimneys, design their own submersible equipped to study deep sea vents, do a multimedia presentation of pictures of hydrothermal vents found in the oceans of the world or a map of the locations of hydrothermal vents. They may stage a debate about the benefits and environmental risks involved in exploring the deep ocean. By providing other differentiated options you can engage students in the learning process with activities that both motivate and challenge students to remain on task.

The following steps provide a framework for a digital video project.

Step 1:

Identify students who will be creating a video project and organize them into production teams (4-5 students or less). Provide them with specific guidelines and handouts (see resources above in the "Student Materials" section that will help them plan their production. The guidelines should include the purpose of the video (to inform others about some aspect of hydrothermal vents), and a suggested length (may range from 60-90 seconds up to a few minutes depending on the time available to develop the project). Students should be encouraged to be clear and concise and tell their story in a short amount of time.

Step 2:

Working as a team, students will develop a storyboard for their video. Storyboards help organize projects, identify the shots or frames that will be recorded and the information needed to support them. Students should not use the equipment until the storyboards are complete and approved. This will keep their project focused.

Step 3:

Assign roles for each team member. These roles may include: Producer: plan each shot and determine any "remote" locations Director: supervise the recording sessions, sets up the shots, cues the actors Videographer : use the camera with skill and knowledge of what makes a good shot Narrator: narrate the video by providing background comments to explain scenes Set designer: design the set or, alternatively, clay animation scenes

All team members will assist in locating print and Web resources to support the content of their video, as well as assist in building props, clay animation figures and scenery.

Step 4:

Teach students how to use the digital camera. Although some students may be familiar with digital video equipment show them the basics of the equipment they will be using. This could include starting and pausing recording, focusing, zooming, panning, taking still clips. The advantage of digital editing software is that longer clips are better than shorter ones. Keep it simple. Have students film planned scenes.

Step 5:

Edit video clips using video editing software (iMovie for Mac or MovieWorks for PC) Students edit the video to include titles, credits, still shots, transitions, and additional audio as needed. Remember to observe copyright restrictions, obtaining permissions for using Internet images, sound clips from CDs (should be limited to 30 seconds) and other proprietary material. Although educational fair use generally permits use in student projects, some permissions may still be required. Make this an authentic activity by providing real life guidelines for video production.

Step 6:

After students complete their video, provide the opportunity for them to share their work with others. They can use their video to discuss their learning and to educate their peers.

Cross-Curricilar Extensions

Geography: Students research the geography of of the ocean floor and create a map of the earth's underwater crust, the Pacific and Atlantic ridges. Compare with a map of known areas of active plate tectonic movement above sea level. What can be learned from these maps about the the earth?

Language Arts: Students research the nature of deep ocean exploration and the vehicles scientists use. With that knowledge and their imaginations they create a ocean voyage story. What kind of creature will they find? What discoveries will their adventurer characters make?

In the book 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, we see into the world of Captain Nemo and his adventures in underwater discovery. When the book was written, the submarine and many other oceanography tools had not yet been invented. Read excerpts of the book to students, or have them read it on their own. Have them compare and contrast the vision of Jules Verne with today's reality of undersea exploration.

Technology (Engineering and Design): Have students design their own underwater exploration vehicle. How would it be equipped? Would it be manned or unmanned? What environmental accommodations would have to be incorporated into their design? A scale drawing or model could be created.

Community Connections
  • Visit your local aquarium to investigate different types of deep-sea life.
  • Invite an engineer to your classroom to discuss the effects of pressure on manufactured materials.
  • Invite a local scuba enthusiast in to talk about diving safety.
Additional RESOURCES

Blue Planet Challenge
You can complete this mission in one of two ways. Either play the Flash game and take a Journey to the Deep, or play Life Beneath the Waves, a non-Flash animated alternative.

Blue Planet Challenge - Dive to the Abyss
Flash animation dive simulation provides students with a chance to apply their knowledge as they "explore" the deep ocean.

Nova - Into the Abyss - Deep Sea Machines
This two part history of the submersibles used in exploring the deep ocean provides background information on machines from the bathysphere developed in the 1930's to Deep Flight, a prototype one-man submersible designed like a miniature spaceship.

Dive to the Abyss
The Web site companion to the video provides background information about each of the dives and the researchers.

Community Connections
  • Interview a pharmacist about natural products and drugs that have their origins in the rainforest. Interview local stakeholders, pharmaceutical firms, researchers, medical doctors for their perspective.
  • Learn more about rainforest activism and letter writing campaigns. The Rainforest Action Network ( has activities in which kids can participate.