New York's Great Lakes: Ecosystem Education Exchange
Great Lakes Curriculum

Sections on this page: Curriculum and Resources | Greatest of the Great Lakes

Curriculum and Resources back to top

From New York Sea Grant

Plastic Pollution and You
NYSG's "Plastic Pollution and You" is a 126-page, 15-lesson curriculum focused on a man-made threat to the quality of New York’s marine and freshwater aquatic ecosystems.

Enviro-Time Storytime: Recommended Environmental Reading Lists for Children Pre-K to 12, 2nd Edition
NYSG's "Enviro-Time Storytime Recommended Reading Lists" include over 40 books that will connect young people in the Great Lakes, and beyond, to their local communities and ecosystems in new and unique ways.

Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes and Science Literacy Activities
This free curriculum, a Great Lakes Sea Grant effort, acknowledges the enslaved Africans who had to rely on environmental science principles in their quest for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness

Lake Sturgeon
Intermediate Curriculum is among a handful of deliverables generated from this NYSG project, which supports lake sturgeon recovery efforts in New York. Sea Grant has led outreach and education programs to inspire appreciation for this prehistoric freshwater fish and state Threatened Species.

From Other Sources: 

Cornell Institute for Climate Smart Solutions
Provides resources and supports youth climate change education through the 4-H youth development program, including youth curriculum and activities, citizen science projects, climate change guidebooks, and materials for youth climate summits.  This is a growing collection of resources that will be continually updated.

New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards 
The Board of Regents adopted the next generation of the New York State P-12 Science Learning Standards Adobe PDF in December 2016. Initial transition to the new State science learning standards will begin with the 2017-18 school year. 

NYS Learning Standards 
The Part 100 Regulations of the Commissioner of Education require that every public school student in New York State be provided an opportunity to receive instruction in order to achieve the New York State Learning Standards.

Center for Great Lakes Literacy
The Center for Great Lakes Literacy (CGLL) is a collaborative effort led by Sea Grant educators throughout the Great Lakes watershed. The Center fosters informed and responsible decisions that advance basin-wide stewardship by providing hands-on experiences, educational resources and networking opportunities that promote Great Lakes literacy among an engaged community of educators, scientists and citizens.

Drinking Water Activities for Kids and Teachers
The US Environmental Protection Agency resources provide a basic understanding of drinking water terms and where water comes from. Activates range for grades K-12. 

EngageNY is developed and maintained by the New York State Education Department (NYSED) to support the implementation of key aspects of the New York State Board of Regents Reform Agenda. This is the official web site for current materials and resources related to the Regents Reform Agenda. The agenda includes the implementation of the New York State P-12 Common Core Learning Standards, Teacher and Leader Effectiveness, and Data-Driven Instruction. provides educators across New York State with real-time, professional learning tools and resources to support educators in reaching the State’s vision for a college and career ready education for all students. This site can be used to connect Great Lakes literacy concepts with the NYS regents.

Freedom Seekers: The Underground Railroad, Great Lakes, and Science Literacy Activities
Lessons introduce an innovative way students can engage in place-based learning, by discovering their local history with the Underground Railroad and its connection to the Great Lakes.

Great Lakes Literacy Principles
This guide presents a vision of a Great Lakes literate society. Providing a framework of knowledge necessary to be considered Great Lakes literate, guides coordination, consistency and coherence for Great Lakes sciences education. It is a practical resource that educators and policy makers can use to influence teaching and learning about the Great Lakes throughout schools, museums, aquaria, science centers, parks, and other informal Essential Principles and Fundamental learning environments. The Essential Principles and Fundamental Concepts for Great Lakes Learning aid in teaching concepts in the concepts for Great Lakes Learning. Next Generation Science Standards.

Great Lakes in My World  
Teach students about the incredible lakes in their own backyard. Our educational resources for elementary through high school teach core science concepts, improve science skills and connect students to their community and their environment. The Great Lakes in My World curriculum provides indoor and outdoor activities you can integrate into your curriculum.

Project FLOW 
Fisheries Learning on the Web or FLOW, is a collection of lessons and activities about the Great Lakes ecosystem, fisheries and stewardship and was developed by Michigan Sea Grant. It is part of Michigan Sea Grant’s ongoing effort to provide K-12 teachers and informal educators with high-quality curriculum materials with hands-on, “plug-n-play” educational activities. 

Magnificent Ground Water Connection 
The Magnificent Ground Water Connection was developed in cooperation with EPA by the New England Interstate Water Pollution Control Commission. It is a compilation of some of the best ground water-related activities from previously existing curricula, seasoned with a collection of original materials and geared specifically to New England.

TeachEngineering is a searchable, web-based digital library collection populated with standards-based engineering curricula for use by K-12 teachers and engineering faculty to make applied science and math come alive through engineering design in K-12 settings.  The TeachEngineering collection provides educators with *free* access to a growing curricular resource of activities, lessons, units and living labs.


Greatest of the Great Lakes back to top


Greatest of the Great Lakes—A Medley of Model Lessons Introduction

Navigating Greatest of the Great Lakes
This collection of 41 activities covers a broad range of grade levels (4-10) and instructional modes. Activities are grouped to help you find appropriate activities for any situation at a glance.



National Science Standards

Earth Systems Understandings

National Ocean Literacy Standards

New York State Science Standards (pdf)


Activities by Grade Level

Activities by Instructional Mode Activities

Activities by “Big Idea”

Activities - Sections:

Great Lakes Overview
Life in the Water
Climate & Weather
Coastal Processes


Great Lakes Overview back to Activities

200 Years of Change
Students role-play different scenes that characterize the impact of European settlement on the Great Lakes in order to gain an understanding of some interactions that help to define Great Lakes history.

Great Lakes, Great Careers
Students review a selection of career profiles and play a lively classroom game to find out more about marine and aquatic science professionals.

How Big Is a Crowd?
When students have completed this activity, they will be able to compare the relative sizes of the five Great Lakes and their human populations, describe some of the problems that arise when many people depend on a limited resource.

How Well Do You Know the Great Lakes?
In this activity, you will develop a perception of the differences between the Great Lakes in water volumes, length of shoreline, human population distribution, and the amount of fish harvested from each lake.

Ojibway--Early Immigrants to the Great Lakes Region
This activity introduces students to one tribe of early Great Lakes settlers, the Ojibway (Chippewa), who began to migrate from what would later become New Brunswick and Maine in 900 A.D. 

Where Should I Relocate in the Great Lakes Region?
This activity will allow students to describe the Great Lakes region using a map and identify some of the resources the region has to offer. Also, by using maps and graphs students can demonstrate how they can provide information for decision making. Students will describe a decision making process by which people can evaluate a geographic area as a possible home site.

Life in the Water back to Activities

Don’t Stop for Hitchhikers!
Students role-play the part of lake inhabitants and the aquatic exotics who displace the native species. Props are used to help demonstrate how aquatic exotic species enter a lake or river system, the negative effect they have on the native species, and things people can do to stop the spread of exotic species.

What Are the Characteristics of Some Great Lakes Fish?

Upon completion of this activity, you should be able to describe some ways fish differ from each other in appearance, use similar characteristics of fish to group them into categories for classification, comment on the diversity of fish in the Great Lakes.

Who Can Harvest a Walleye?
When you have completed this investigation you should be able to apply the meaning of the following terms as they relate to a biomass pyramid: producer, herbivore, first-order carnivore, second-order carnivore, calculate the relative number of kilograms at each level of the biomass pyramid in a given environment, analyze how different conditions in the environment affect the pyramid.

Habitats back to Activities

Estuary Values & Changes: How Does the Estuary Serve as a Nursery?
When you have completed this activity, you should be able to demonstrate the methods used by ecologists to sample populations of plant and animal life in the water, classify the types of organisms that are found as plankton in an estuary, predict the effects of some human and environmental forces on conditions in an estuary.

Estuary Values & Changes: What Is the Ecological Role of an Estuary?
When you have completed this investigation, you will be able to describe the methods used by ecologists to sample populations of plant and animal life in aquatic ecosystems, give a general description of the living communities that are found in different depths of water in an estuary, give examples of how plant communities are important to animal life in an estuary.
Hydropoly: A Decision-Making Game
Students play a board game to hone their decision-making skills. Through the various choices posed in the game, they are asked to consider both economic and environmental well-being in making decisions.

Seeing Purple: A Population Explosion
Through a simulation, sampling, and estimation activity, students learn about the impact of purple loosestrife on a wetland due to its exponential growth. They learn about purple loosestrife’s life cycle and appreciate how scientists determine population size in an ecosystem.

Wetland in a Pan
Students review a selection of career profiles and play a lively classroom game to find out more about marine and aquatic science professionals.

Climate & Weather  back to Activities

Great Lakes Triangle: What Is the Great Lakes Triangle?
When you have completed this activity you will be able to demonstrate an ability to perceive patterns in a set of data and explain how scientific habits of mind should include the seeking of logical explanations for "mysterious" happenings.

Great Lakes Triangle: How Can Disappearances Within the Triangle Be Explained?
Science is a process for finding answers to questions and solving mysteries. This investigation includes three activities leading to a consideration of fact and speculation about the disappearances of planes and ships in the Great Lakes Area. The activities are an example of how scientists work, and they can serve as a practical application of your Earth systems knowledge and skills as well.

Great Lakes Triangle: What Happened Aboard the Edmund Fitzgerald?
In completing this activity, you should be able to give examples of the amount of information that can be conveyed in memorable form in a song, describe how music can convey emotions, use the ideas from a song in your personal writing.

How Do the Great Lakes Modify the Growing Season?
Using agricultural product and frost maps and an infrared satellite image, students develop a hypothesis about the effect of the lakes on growing seasons. They create a model to test it.

Snowmaking--Great Lakes Style
Students living near the Great Lakes often feel the chill of lake-effect snowstorms. Students who have been introduced to weather basics can become familiar with the lakes’ effect on winter storms through this mapping exercise. This activity compliments a weather and climate unit.

Temperature & Climate: What Happens to Heat Energy Reaching the Great Lakes?
Even as far back as the "log cabin days," people knew that water absorbs a great deal of heat energy and can in turn release this heat. Pioneers would prevent foods from freezing on cold nights by placing a large container of water in the room. Can you think of why this might work? In this investigation we will explore how bodies of water can affect the surrounding areas.

Temperature & Climate: How Do the Great Lakes Affect Temperature?
In the activity "What happens to heat energy reaching the Great Lakes?" you learned that the pan of water was a good heat sink while the lamp was on and a good heat source while the light was off. Soil also acts as a heat sink and source, but its capacity to hold energy is much lower than that of water. Therefore, soil will become a heat source soon after the light is turned on and will quit acting as a heat source not long after the light is turned off.

Temperature & Climate: How Does the Temperature of the Great Lakes Change Over Time?
Can you predict the changes in temperature of the surface water of the Great Lakes? This activity will have participants examine satellite images and collect data.

Hydrology back to Activities

How Does Stratification Affect Water Quality?
When you complete the activity you will be able to describe how stratification of lake waters influences water quality and explain how phosphorus affects oxygen levels in lakes.

Making Great (Lakes) Connections
Groups of learners work on a single Great Lake and connecting waterway and then come together as a class to construct a simple three-dimensional model of the Great Lakes. Individual groups also present their Great Lake and connecting waterway information.

More Than Just a Lake!

By creating a map of the rivers flowing into your Great Lake, learn how rivers form a watershed.

Water Quantity
Students remove measured amounts of water from a five-gallon bucket,
simulating the amount of fresh water available on earth.

Your Great Lake!
How much water does each Great Lake hold? Use this lesson as a demonstration or a classroom lesson to create visual representations of the Great Lakes, Lake Baikal, and the relationships between surface area, retention time and pollution effects.

Coastal Processes back to Activities

How Did Rocks and Rivers Shape the Great Lakes?
After completing this activity, each student will be able to relate the hardness of rocks to topography and lake depth, describe the topography of the Great Lakes area and relate the pre-glacial drainage system to the present size and position of the Great Lakes.

Indoor Dunes
Students study Creature Cards at sand dune ecosystem stations and determine what adaptations help the organisms to live in their environments.

Land & Water Interactions: How Fast Can a Shoreline Change?
When you have completed this investigation, you will be able to recognize some shoreline features on aerial photos, observe changes in a shoreline over time and observe the effects of shoreline devices on rates of erosion.

Land & Water Interactions: How Much Land Has Been Lost?
We might wonder exactly how much land is lost with erosion. It is easier to see surface changes than to perceive actual amounts in terms of volume. Analytical techniques allow us to calculate the amount of land lost through erosion.

What Evidence of Glaciation Exists in the Great Lakes Region?
When you have completed this activity you will be able to identify the evidence of ancient beach ridges and become aware of the uses of ancient beach ridges today.

Issues back to Activities

Beach Mysteries
Students learn about bacteria as an indicator of beach water quality for swimming. In groups they solve hypothetical problems associated with beaches. Then students write persuasive essays on the issue.

Exotic Puzzle--What Are the Characteristics of the Great Lakes Exotic Species?
Students will be able to match an exotic species with its characteristics, classification, origin, and introduction to the Great Lakes. Invader Species of the Great Lakes 

Invader Species of The Great Lakes
An exotic plant or animal is one that does not naturally occur in a specific location or ecosystem. Exotics arrive through intentional or accidental actions by humans. Exotics that survive always affect local ecosystems.

Is the Globe Warming? Is There Evidence in the Great Lakes Region?
After completing this activity, students will be able to critically interpret graphic data, evaluate and discuss the difficulties inherent in interpreting and forecasting long- and short-term trends, analyze data, draw conclusions about whether there is evidence of global warming, and defend their conclusions.

Rival for Survival
This game presents real-life choices involving exotic species found in the Great Lakes, such as zebra mussels and purple loosestrife. Students are to analyze a situation related to ecol¬ogy and make an environmentally sound decision. After playing the game, students organize what they learned into a concept map.

Toxic Chemicals in the Great Lakes: Where Do All the Toxins Go? (Internal View)
When students have completed this activity, they will be able to demonstrate how chemicals accumulate in fish fat, the biopathways of the toxins in the fish’s body, and ways to prepare fish to avoid consuming the toxins.

Toxic Chemicals in the Great Lakes: Where Do All the Toxins Go? (External View)

When you have completed this activity, you should be able to describe how bioaccumulation and biomagnification of toxins in the food chain cause health disorders in humans and animals.

Which Fish Can We Eat?

After completing this activity, you should understand some reasons why toxic concentrations vary in fish.

Whose Water?
Students research, discuss and debate views on Great Lakes water withdrawals and exportation by taking different roles in the issue.

Appendices back to Activities

Appendix A: Significant Others
Additional Recommended Great Lakes Activities in Brief

Appendix B: Sources for the Greatest of the Great Lakes Activities


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This website was developed with funding from the Environmental Protection Fund, in support of the Ocean and Great Lakes Ecosystem Conservation Act of 2006. 

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