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Project title or topic of activity

Shark Encounter

Author(s): Janisse Lim, Nicci Tucker, Ryan Parks

Date: Spring 2000


Summary of Activity
50-100 words

The goal of this project is to increase knowledge and awareness about sharks and their conservation. This will be accomplished through teaching the students to take an active role in their learning about shark conservation, anatomy, and history. It will teach them about sharks to help give them a better understanding of these creatures. *Key Words: conservation, life history and information, dissection, games


Grade levels

third through sixth grades -Optimal class size: 20-30 students

General description or introduction
The scientific principles that the activity is founded on.

This project is to educate students about sharks. More specifically, to give the students hands on activities where they can learn through personal experience. The incorporation of three activities allows students to learn: a)Shark anatomy and life history b)Shark conservation and facts about conservation c)The concequences of overfishing and a long gestation period for most sharks The activities are designed to encourage the students to think and ask questions in order to take an active role in learning new things. There are three different areas in this station. There is the shark background and dissection (optional), the shark conservation, and an outdoor game that demonstrates the depletion of sharks in the wild. Scientific principles include: biology, anatomy, ecology, and conservation.

Background information

GENERAL SHARK INFORMATION: Sharks belong to the class Chondrichthyes. Chondrichthyes are fishes that have a cartilage skeleton. There are more than 350 different species of sharks that vary in size, behavior, and the way they reproduce. Sharks are believed to have evolved from "primitive heavily armored, sluggish fish called placoderms",(Grolier, 1999), about 450 million years ago (mya). They are remarkably successful creatures with few parasites or diseases, and no natural enemies. The evolution of a cartilaginous skeleton reduced weight and assisted in buoyancy control. Evolution has also allowed sharks to occupy every ocean in the world but the Antarctic. A few major features separate Chondrichthyes from other living fishes. Well developed jaws, paired nostrils, pelvic and pectoral fins, and an enlarged liver for bouyancy. Chondrichthyes differ from Osteichthyes by having dermal denticles, cartilage skeleton, and teeth that are replaced throughout their life. (ENCYCLOPEDIA OF FISHES; 2nd edition, Charles R. Crumly PhD., Senior editor 1998) "For centuries, people around the world have caught sharks and taken their teeth and skin to make a wide variety of objects.... Early people who caught sharks had great respect for these magnificent predators. Fishing for sharks with primitive tools was difficult and dangerous, and stories and legends about sharks were common among seafaring and island people. Sharks were even regarded as gods and were worshipped on some islands in the Pacific. In comparison, early Europeans have few myths about sharks, but sharks do appear in their early natural history books.

SHARK CONSERVATION: Sharks mature slowly and produce a small amount of eggs, thus creating a slowly growing shark populations. One example of slow reproduction we will use in our activity is the spiny dogfish, that has the longest know gestation period of any vertebrate, 20-24 months. This puts a large strain on sharks when there is a high demand for shark products. Shark fin soup is a popular delicacy in Asia and one bowl of shark fin soup can cost as much as $100 in US currency. Because of this demand, "finning" is widely practiced. Finning is when fishermen cut the dorsal, pectoral, and caudal fins off of the shark and throw the rest of the shark back into the water, where the shark drowns. This is a highly wasteful and cruel method of fishing. Although this method is common, the United States Congress has produced a bill that will ban shark finning in US waters. Sharks are also victims of fishing nets making them bycatch. They become entangled in nearly invisible fishing nets. Pollution is a threat all marine creatures face, trash dumped into the oceans, oil spills, toxic waste being dumped into the ocean or into rivers that carry the harmful chemicals out to sea are all threats that endanger the sharks.

Credit for the activity

ORIGINAL IDEA *there may be a similar childhood game called foxes and rabbits, inventor unknown

Estimated time to do the activity

This activity can be a three day activity, lasting about one hour each day, or if there is adequate help, the plan can be broken into three stations and taught for about 30 minutes per station for a total of 1.5 hours.

Goals of Activity:

Goal A
have knowledge about general shark background, gestation period, anatomy, evolution

Goal B
have an understanding of different shark conservation issues and how to take an active part in shark conservation

Goal C
realize the effects fishing is having on shark populations

Goal D
{Goal D}


National Science Education Standards. (NSES)

Two content standards that this lesson plan covers:

Standard 1
Since our project focuses on children in third through sixth grade there are two levels addressed. For students in third and fourth grade this project will help them enhance their skills in science. This project encourages the students to test out scientific questions. They are also encouraged to brainstorm and come up with reasonable explanations as to the results of their experiment. “In the early years of school, students can investigate earth materials, organisms, and properties of common objects. Although children develop concepts and vocabulary from such experiences, they should develop the ability to ask scientific questions, investigate aspects of the world around them, and use their observations to construct reasonable explanations for the questions posed…. Students should also learn through the inquiry process how to communicate about their own and their peers’ investigations and explanations,” (NSES Content Standards for grades K-4, pg. 121).

Standard 2
The second standard is met for the grades fifth through sixth. These students are, “provided with opportunities to engage in full and in partial inquiries,” (NSES Content Standards for grades 5-8, 143). The Shark/Fisherman Game allows the students to participate in a fun activity that requires them to participate in a visual and interactive activity. This game shows what happens when sharks are over-fished due to the high demand for shark fins and other shark products. They are then asked to analyze what occured after the game and use that to draw up an over all conclusion.


Materials Needed

SHARK/FISHERMAN GAME -students and teacher -orange cones -a whistle -plastic balls (baseballs or soccerballs will work) -paper sailors hats or shark fin hats (can be made in class out of grey or blue construction paper and tape or staples) -a watch -(optional) piece of paper to record year (represented by each cycle), #sharks, and #fishermen after each cycle and how many cycles it takes until extinction and fishermen and women are out of jobs.

IN THE CLASSROOM -students can plot data from game on a graph drawn on the chalkboard.

SHARK ANATOMY SECTION -reference picture showing anatomy of shark for the teacher -one real, preserved shark for dissection, with a dissection tray, or photocopied pictures of the external and internal anatomy of a shark that can be labeled and colored on -for picture version, students need crayons and pencils for labeling and coloring parts of shark

1. Some form of card to write the questions/clues and the scavenger hunt clues on. Make sure they are thick enough so that the pen or marker ink does not bleed through. Different colored note cards are suggested. Colored markers to write out the clues and stickers for decoration might be a nice touch. 2. A couple bags of assorted candy (depending on class size) if it is the teacher's desire to reward all of the students. This is not a necessity if there is a limited budget. 3. Some form of a prize for the team that wins the scavenger hunt


Engage: The engagement activity for this station/lesson plan would depend on prior knowledge of shark background. Shark Hunt is an activity in which the students work in groups of 3 or 4. They are given clues about various shark species or about sharks in general and the students have to determine the correct answer. When the student gets the correct answer they will receive a card with another clue that will help lead them to a part in the room where a prize is located. This will help reaffirm the information taught to them and it will encourage them to think about what they learned and apply it to an interactive activity.

Preparation: For the dissection, the teacher can either obtain a preserved shark, or use photocopied pictures of the anatomy of sharks that would allow students to label and color parts of the shark. The anatomy of the shark will be detailed in the reference provided, so a brief familiarization is efficient. The shark/fisherman game requires the use of P.E. equipment which can easily be obtained from any athletic department or pe instructor. For this game teachers should review and make sure students know about the "Spiny Dogfish" and specific aspects such as the very long gestational period (20-24months), what type of food they eat, and where they live, which is all provided in the background information of this project. Conservation and overfishing should also have been adressed previous to completing this game, although talking about it after the game would also help to bring up questions and solidify what should be learned from the game~ (overfishing, low recovery rate, limited food, endangerment, and extinction). More preparation for this game includes the making of "fin hats" and or sailor hats. The shark hats should be made out of grey or blue construction paper, and the teacher is free to use his/her imagination of how to make a hat.

I. Teacher preparation before the activity takes place
1. After researching for information about sharks and shark conservation, create a series of questions appropriate for the grade and the class.
a. These can be in the form of actual questions or they can be set up as clues that the students must use to determine the right answer. For example: Clue, “ This shark is named after a tool…” and the answer would be, “The hammer head shark.”

2. Next determine a prize for the winning group (up to the teacher’s discretion)
a. Also, if it is possible, purchase a bag or two of candy to give to every group that answers, even if they are incorrect. This will help prevent them from becoming discouraged and it might make them feel some sort of accomplishment.

3. Choose a place in the classroom that will completely conceal the prize.
a. Try to choose a place that will be easy to come up with clues for, but not too easy for the students to find.

4. Once the hiding place for the prize is determined, make as many 3x5 note cards as needed, containing clues about the location of the prize.
a. These clues are highly suggested to be in the form of a riddle, like a scavenger hunt. But this can be a decision made by the teacher.

Step-by-Step Procedure for the Activity

SHARK/FISHERMAN GAME: This game is to be conducted outside or in a gym to allow for running space.

  1. Designate an area large enough for 30 students, or how ever many will be participationg, by marking corners with orange cones,this will represent your "ocean".
  2. Spread balls out randomly throughout the designated area.
  3. Designate 1 student to be the "fisherman" and the rest of the students will become spiny dogfish sharks, wearing their fin hats.
  4. The "sharks" will attempt to pick up the balls, which represents food, while avoiding the dreaded "fisherman"
  5. The "fisherman" will attempt to catch the "spiny dogfish" by taging them. ~students that are tagged will go out of the ocean and take the food they caught with them.
  6. To begin the round, the teacher will blow the whistle to begin, students will run around trying to complete their tasks ~each round will last 15-20 seconds ~once the round is over, those sharks that did not get caught remain in the ocean and for every two balls they obtained, one shark that was tagged out gets to re-enter the ocean ~data should be recorded at the beginning of the game, and at end of each round (#sharks, round# or "year", #fisherman) ~all students tagged out must stay out ~2 ways sharks get back into the "ocean": 1. another student that was not tagged out picks up two balls, 2. every two years spiny dogfish give birth, so every two rounds one student is allowed back into the "ocean" for every two sharks remaining in the ocean (parents) ~also, every two years (2 rounds) another fisherman is added to the "ocean", which can be chosen from those students tagged out and waiting on the side
  7. rounds should continue until there are no more sharks for the fisher men/women to catch
  8. data should be recorded for each round and saved for later use BACK TO THE CLASSROOM:
  9. The teacher can draw a plot of years on the x-axis, and #sharks and #fishermen on the y-axis (represented by different colored chalk) and record the data on the chalkboard
  10. Students can now be taught how to plot data on a graph showing how the #sharks is decreasing, and the #fishermen is increasing
  11. Data can then be discussed and the relevent facts and ideas of overfishing, extinction, and long reproductive cycles can be solidified and enterpreted through the results of this game.



  1. For the dissection of a real shark, the teacher should know how to dissect and follow an instruction guide for the dissection.
  2. Students can be encouraged to cut and ask questions about anything they see interesting in the shark
  3. The teacher should go over exterior anatomy first, and then interior anatomy
  4. If paper pictures are used, students should be directed through the external and internal anatomy by the teacher displaying an overhead.
  5. Students should be encouraged to color and label all the covered parts of the shark
  6. Students should be encouraged to ask questions about any part they may see

The Activity

  1. Have the students get into groups of 3 or 4 depending on class size. Teachers can assign the groups. a. Have the groups come up with a team name (a suggestion would be to name the teams with different shark species)
  2. Once the teacher has the attention of the class, begin by giving the instructions. The rules of the game, and the goal of the game.
    a. The Rules: After the clue/question has been read, the group is allowed to discuss the possible answer(s) for 20-30 seconds (time length is flexible and depends on the difficulty of the questions/clues). Next, the group that raises all of their hands first will be given the chance to answer and if they are right they get a clue card, but if they are wrong the next group gets to answer. This is when the teacher can hand out the candy.
    b. The Goal: To answer as many questions/clues correctly and to obtain as many scavenger hunt clues as possible. Finally, to find where the prize is located
  3. Begin the activity by asking the questions/clues and allow the appropriate amount of time for them to discuss with their teammates.
  4. Then call upon the group that was first to raise all of their hands. Once they answer, act accordingly. If they are correct, give them some candy and a scavenger hunt clue card. If they are incorrect, just give them some candy. Then call upon the next group.
  5. Repeat this until all the questions/clues are asked (should be no more then 25 questions/clues)
  6. When this is done, allow all of the groups to try to determine the location of the prize. (Note: The amount of clue cards that the groups have allow them to have a better chance at locating the prize, but it does not guarantee that they will be the group to find it. This allows all of the groups to have the chance to receive the prize.)
  7. Once a team finds the prize, have them sit back in their desks. Pass out more candy or whatever the teacher feels appropriate. It is important to reward all of the students because it gives them a sense of achievement and it helps stress that they all won something.
  8. Finally, initiate a classroom discussion that will summarize the day. Have the students discuss what they learned through the activities about sharks and shark conservation.

Images, work sheets, additional web pages


Items for discussion or conclusion

1st question

What did the shark/fisherman game demonstrate? Can you explain what you learned?

2nd question
Do you think sharks are having a hard time surviving in real life? Why?

3rd question
Do you think other fish may be becoming endangered from overfishing?

4th question
Do you think sharks might go extinct in the future? What could you do to help protect them?


One of the ways to asses if the students have achieved the goals you wanted to accomplish is to ask questions that require the students to think and answer with more then a few words. During the shark conservation aspect of the station/lesson plan you can begin a discussion about the issues covered. Encourage the students to take an active role in shark conservation by having them write letters to their local congressmen and other important figures in shark issues. Be sure to proof read the letters before sending them, and have students include as many facts as they can in the letters and then proofread them before sending them. Shark Hunt is another way the teacher can assess what the students learned because it asks the students various questions about sharks and it rewards the students when a correct answer is given. Students can be given a quiz over general shark anatomy and life history and discussion of the issues raised in the shark/fisherman would show if they understood the goal of the game.

Beyond the Activity
Further activities which relate to and extend the complexity of the experiment.

Students can be asked to research and report statistics and facts about sharks on their own. Real-world numbers of how many dogfish are estimated to be alive in the ocean, and how many are caught per year can be found on the internet. Students could then apply these numbers to the game and plot graphs and determine if the dogfish may be in danger.

Web Resources
A web address with information on the topic of the activity.

Web Address
Center for Marine Conservation -

Additional References

The Evolution Book, by Sara Stein 1986; Marine Biology, Third Edition. Peter Castro and Michael E. Huber, 2000