Image7.gif (3196 bytes)OCEAN MURALS
By Rachael Johnson
University of Idaho

ITV Series: Bill Nye Science Guy   Ocean Exploration #404

The four to six day unit provides a way for elementary teachers to include other subjects, such as science and math, into their art lessons. Through information and exploration of the ocean its inhabitants, the students will build a foundation of knowledge. With the knowledge they have attained the students will paint on a school wall or a large piece of paper, a mural containing the oceanic properties they have discovered. The project encourages cooperative learning and the artistic, collaborative process of having the students paint the mural together and work on individual projects in small groups. Students will understand what water pressure is and the properties of the ocean floor.

Learning Objectives for the Unit
  • The student will be able to identify characteristics of water; for example how much of the earth is covered with water.
  • The student will be able to describe the process by which light decreases and pressure increases as water depth increases.
  • The student will demonstrate the principle of water pressure in a small group experiment.
  • The student will be able to describe the ocean floor and that it has valleys, canyons, rifts, and mountains.
  • The student will be able to identify the two methods scientists can use to discover how the ocean floor looks.
  • The student will practice one of the methods in collaboration with a math assignment.
  • The student will work collaboratively with other students to create an original, group artwork.
  • The student will be able to demonstrate their knowledge of the ocean in the mural.
  • The student will be able to mix colors.
  • The students will be able to cover the entire painting surface in a unified, cohesive manner.
Materials Needed for Unit
  • Pop bottles
  • Tape
  • Water
  • Paper
  • Pencils
  • Weight or rock
  • String
  • Rulers
  • Fish tanks
  • Gravel
  • Utensil to punch small holes
  • Acrylic Paint
  • Brushes of various sizes
  • Containers for palettes and water
  • A surface to paint on
  • Crayons/markers 
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Lesson 1

Pre-viewing Activity
Begin the discussion by asking, "Who has been to the ocean? Oceans are one of the largest ecosystems in the world. We are going to spend the next week learning about oceans so that we can paint a mural about ocean life."
Ask the students what kind of things they have seen at the beach. Then say, "Now let's talk about all the things you do not see when you go to the beach. There are many living things under the water, let's brainstorm what some of those items are and list them on the board." When a sufficient list has been formed, say, "Alright, this is a great list. Now, let me ask another question. Has anyone ever been swimming, went down under the water really deep, and it made your ears hurt? Who knows why this happens? It happens because of something called water pressure. We will be learning about water pressure and the ocean with Bill Nye the Science Guy."

Provide a focus for students
Have the students take out a piece of paper and a writing utensil. Instruct the students to specifically watch for anything under the water: animals, objects, life forms, machines, anything they might see in the ocean that is not already on the list on the board. Have students write down all things they observe.



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Viewing Activity

the tape when Bill says, "To know the world's oceans...". Continue viewing and then PAUSE the tape when Bill says, "75% of the world is water."  Ask the students how much of the world is ocean. Then ask, including lakes, ponds, rivers, and streams how much of the world is water. Make sure the students understand the difference between ocean surface and the total water surface of the planet. PLAY the tape. Continue viewing until Bill says, "At the bottom you can't see a thing." STOP the video here. Point out to the students the two important points Bill talked about:
Water pressure: the lower you go the higher the pressure is. Water has weight. The more water that is above you the more it weighs and the higher the pressure.
Ocean water absorbs light. The deeper you go the darker it gets.Post-Viewing Activity

As a hands on experiment with water pressure, the students will do the experiment with the child on Bill Nye Science Guy. PLAY the tape when the screen says "Nifty Home Experiment." STOP the tape when he says, "When you're ready, pull the tape off the holes." Students are given a preview of the experiment and how to put it together, but are allowed to draw their own conclusions about the outcome. Divide the class into groups of four to five students. Have the pop bottles ready, tops and bottoms cut off two and just the top cut off of one, for each group. Provide students with tape to join the bottles and then punch a hole in the side of each bottle.

Make sure the holes are lined up. Cover the holes with tape. Fill the container with water. Take the students outside. Instruct students to watch how the water comes out of each hole. Let the groups remove the tape over the holes. The water shoots out harder and further from the bottom hole because the water pressure is the highest at the bottom of the container.

Lesson 2

Pre-viewing activity:

Begin the discussion by reviewing what was learned the day before. Ask who remembers how much of the earth is water, and how light and water pressure work in the ocean. Ask the students to get out the piece of paper they were writing on yesterday and ask if anyone found things to add the list still on the board. Then say, "Who can tell me what the ocean floor is? What does it look like?"

Provide a focus for students:
Have the students keep the same piece of paper on their desk that they were writing on the day before. Remind them to write down any new objects as they watch the video. Also tell the students to try to watch for the two ways scientists measure the ocean floor.

Viewing Activities:
viewing when the video says, "You might think that the bottom of the ocean floor is...". PAUSE when it says, "Anyway, it's always there, you just can't see it." Ask the students what kind of geographical features are found under the ocean (mountains, rifts, valleys, volcanoes, etc.) Add any of these items to the list as necessary. Remind the students that the bottom of the ocean is not just flat. PLAY the tape. PAUSE when Bill says, "Timing how long it takes for the echoes to come back, we can figure out how deep the ocean is." Ask the students' "Who can tell me one way scientists find out what the bottom of the ocean looks like? Who knows another way? Scientists use a weight attached to a long cable to measure how deep the water is and then chart that on a graph to make a picture of the bottom. Now, let's see how echoes work." PLAY the tape. STOP the tape when Bill says, "There's a picture of the ocean floor." Re-state that scientists send a sound into the water and time how long it takes the sound to return to them. This is how they get a picture of the bottom of the ocean.

Post  Viewing Activity:

This portion of the lesson should correspond with a math lesson on measurement. You will need to set up fish tanks ahead of time with gravel in the bottom forming bumps and dips to simulate the ocean floor. In groups the students will place a string with a weight or rock attached to the end into the tank. Then, mark where the top of the water hits the string. Remove the string and measure from the rock to the water mark. Record the length on a piece of paper. The students will measure in two different places and observe the difference between the two spots, demonstrating how scientists could discover what the ocean floor is like.

Post Viewing Activity
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Mural Painting
Painting the mural should be a three to four day process minimum.

On the first day, give each student white paper and crayons or markers. Each student will draw something found under the sea on the white paper either fictional or real. When complete, tape the drawings to the painting surface. These will serve as a basis for objects to include in the mural.

On the next day, students should begin painting the mural, starting with the ocean floor. When the floor is complete, begin planning and painting the rest of the ocean: how the water actually looks, the creatures, humans, machines, land, and above ground air that is desired.

Depending on the size of the painting surface, the process should take a few days. When the mural is completed discuss with students all the features of the ocean that they have learned about. Also talk about the painting process and the final piece of art.


Although there are only two lessons of the ocean included in this unit, other lessons could be used in addition before painting. Using the same Bill Nye Science Guy episode on Ocean Exploration, a lesson on how humans explore the ocean and the machines that they use could be developed. Or, using Bill Nye's episode on Ocean Life #152 lessons on sea grass, whales, and other sea life could also be included.

Lessons about mountains, plate tectonics, floor plains, and other geographical features would reinforce the learning features of this unit.

Fish printing is easy, fun, and water-life related. Buy a fish at the grocery store-Red Snapper works well. Keep it slightly frozen. Roll printing paint onto the fish and make prints on paper. This is a good way to teach students about how colors mix and the surface features of fish.

Students who know how to swim may have their parents take them to the swimming pool. They can feel water pressure for themselves. Students should notice that when they are just under the water surface there is little pressure, but when they go down to the bottom of the pool pressure is increased.

Scuba instructors from the local pool or community programs could be brought in to talk to students about underwater exploration. They could discuss how scuba gear works and good diving practices.

For additional lesson plans and ideas relating to this topic and many others try TeacherSource!   You will find activities, lesson plans, teacher guides and links to other great educational web sites!  Search the database by keyword, grade level or subject area! 

Mathline and Scienceline are also great resources for teachers seeking teaching tips, lesson plans, assessment methods, professional development, and much more!  Look for a localized version of Mathline and Scienceline on IdahoPTV next year!

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