Designing investigations with teachers

Curriculum Development

The Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) are designed to bring the content and practices of science and engineering into the classroom, but teachers need new curricula to support these standards. I have participated in multiple workshops with California K-12 teachers to develop NGSS-aligned curricula, including lesson plans, teacher notes, and student handouts, which feature underwater acoustic data from my research.

Lesson-study is a process in which teachers collaboratively plan, research and evaluate a lesson in order to create an effective lesson for anyone to teach. It allows teachers to reflect on teaching methods and actual student learning with the support of their colleagues. 


The materials are now hosted on the San Diego County of Education Resource Center, where you can use the contributor section to narrow to "Phenomena Design Teams".

Here are direct links for:

Elementary "Dolphins have needs"

Middle School "You can recognize species by the sounds that they make"

High School "Ocean Noise Pollution Impacts Marine Mammals"

What it looks like:

The following vignette describes a one-week unit that we developed for high school biology students, which explores how sound travels under water, how sound is used by predators in the ocean, and how the movement of prey influences the behavior of predators:  

Students are engaged with a short video showing the phenomena of how dolphins “see with sound” (echolocate) to find fish to eat. The teacher asks them to write down three observations of what they observe and one question that comes to mind.


Then students individually explore the concept of echolocation with diagrams showing similar systems of echolocation used by bats, submarines and scientists to sense objects in the environment. One of the diagrams is an echogram, which is a scientific figure to show the position of fish in the water over time. The teacher explains how to recognize the fish movement, and the class discusses how dolphins may respond to the movement of their prey.


The teacher leads the class as they explore how and why dolphins use various types of sounds in their daily lives. Example sounds of dolphin echolocation clicks and whistles are analyzed with spectrograms (visual representations of the sounds) as not all signals contain energy within the human hearing range.


The students then broke into small groups to explore acoustic data for themselves. Using freely available sound analysis software, students work in small groups to scan acoustic recordings collected offshore of Southern California. They detect and record the presence or absence of echolocation clicks and whistles in hourly time bins, which are indicative of foraging and socializing behavior, respectively.


Collectively, the students plot the presence of these sounds in hourly bins. The students aggregated the results from all lab groups into bar graphs and were asked to explain the trends they observed. Using observations from the entire class, students look for patterns in dolphin behavior and make conclusions about the time of day that dolphins predominantly forage and socialize. They are asked to use various sources of evidence, including the original video, the echogram showing movements of prey, data analysis and the collective observations of their classmates to support a scientific claim to explain the patterns in dolphin behavior.


This exercise very closely mimics how professional scientists might analyze dolphin behavior. As an optional addition, students could be presented with a scientific journal article based on a larger dataset, which demonstrated a similar analysis. They could compare their results to the results of the larger study, and discuss similarities and differences between their observations and those of the scientists.  

You can learn a lot by listening...