Australia Unit: Week 3

The majority of this week will be spent learning about the ocean surrounding Australia! It would be a great time to plan a trip to your local aquarium or a natural history museum with an ocean exhibit. Students will learn about the multiple layers of the ocean as well as the animals that live in those layers. Let’s dive in! Start by printing your weekly tracker here.

What you need:

Books (find at your local library or order below on Amazon):

Optional additional book:

Supplies (use what you have, but here are links to shop if you need anything):

Note: We break down our supply list so you can choose what you need based on which lessons you plan to do with your child.

Coral reef sketch page:

Edible coral reef:

Clay coral reef model:

Ocean layer project:

Shark buoyancy experiment:

Lanternfish craft:

(+) Fish dissection:

Volume of cube math:

Australian meat pie:

Beef cut puzzle:

What to do:

We recommend doing the below lessons in this order to build on each skill your child will develop, but don’t feel that you *need* to do them in this order. Do what works for you and your child. If they love an activity, feel free to repeat! Not a winner? Skip and try the next thing. Have fun!

Lesson 1:

There is an abundance of ocean life surrounding Australia! In fact, one of the world’s most famous ocean biomes can be found in the Great Barrier Reef. Let’s learn more about it with today’s activities. 

Activity 1: Discover the Great Barrier Reef. The Great Barrier Reef is not a single reef. The whole coral reef system is made up of 2,900 individual reefs and 900 islands. Coral reefs fall into four types: fringing reefs, barrier reefs, patch reefs, and atoll reefs. Only some of the Great Barrier Reef is actually barrier reefs; the rest are a combination of fringing, platform, and atoll reefs. (source + click here for 10 facts about the Great Barrier Reef, as well as a lot of other information.)

The best way we know to learn about this environment is with video footage. Begin by watching this video about the Great Barrier Reef or (-) this video for younger students. For extra reading, enjoy a short chapter book this week entitled Where is the Great Barrier Reef?

Let’s learn more about the four types of coral reef by reading this webpage and then doing an art activity. One of the best ways to learn about some things is to draw it—even if you don’t consider yourself an artist. By sketching out the different types of coral reefs, you are more likely to see their differences.

Start by using either own sketchbook or this printable. You will also need colored pencils.

Let’s start with the fringe reef. See pictures of it and read about it here. Next, sketch a fringe reef. Begin by drawing a little island just as you see in the picture. Using colored pencils, shade the water to show the reef. Label your drawing.

Do the same for barrier reefs, atolls, and patch reefs.

Activity 2: Discover coral. Read the book One Night in the Coral Sea. This picture book is very detailed and will likely teach you many new things about life in a coral reef. It will focus not only on the sea life that lives around the coral, but on the life of the coral itself, including its life cycle and its health. Next, watch this video. 

Use this printable to review the coral life cycle. It can be used to learn about each stage of fertilization. Alternatively, draw your own poster of a coral life cycle with drawing paper and colored pencils. 

Activity 3: Create an edible coral reef. Begin by following a rice crispy treat recipe to make your base material. Mold your rice treat mound with wet fingers to create a coral reef, modeling it after the different corals you have learned in your book. For example, try to shape staghorn coral, frogspawn coral, pineapple coral, or scroll coral!

Once you have your basic structure made, use different colored frostings or decorating gel to create patterns and color into your coral reef. Next, add gummy fish candy at the end of toothpicks to your reef. You can also add seashells and mint for more texture and color. If you have a child working in Level 2+ as well, add their edible coral to your design. What a masterpiece!

Activity 4: Using the book One Night in the Coral Sea as your guide, create this awesome display of an ocean floor with this clay coral reef.

Lesson 2:

For today’s activities, get ready to peel back the layers of the ocean! Lessons 2, 3, and 4 this week will all build into one bigger assignment. Students will learn about the ocean layers and the animals that call them home with the goal of making their own video presentation that names and describes each ocean zone, as well as the animals that inhabit that zone. (Here’s a sample video made by a student explaining the layers of the ocean. You don’t have to put your video on YouTube, but if you do, please share it with us because we would love to see it!) 

Your video can include a sketch or printable that we will be making in our lesson today. (Alternatively, your child might want to create a diorama instead.) As you learn about each layer, you can either sketch or cut and paste what you create into the printable. Once your picture is complete, record your voice explaining each layer. Take artistic license, be creative, and make it your own! 

Activity 1: First, let’s learn about the ocean layers and their names. Watch this video to begin. Next, use this website to learn the names of the layers and the measurements of their depth. Use the linked printable on that page called “Layers of the Ocean” to create your own sketch of the zones. Include the scientific name of each layer as well as the layman’s term. For example, the bathypelagic zone is also called the midnight zone or the dark zone. (There are also worksheets for each zone if you have a child who enjoys that kind of work.) As we learn about the animals in each zone, we will add to your sketch.

We will be using the book Earth’s Incredible Oceans by Jess French to learn about the animals that live in each layer. (If you have Down, Down, Down: A Journey to the Bottom of the Sea by Steven Jenkins from our Level 2: Oceans Unit, this would also be a great book to use for these lessons. You can also read it here on OpenLibrary.)

Activity 2: The epipelagic zone. 

“The epipelagic zone (or upper open ocean) is the part of the ocean where there is enough sunlight for algae to utilize photosynthesis (the process by which organisms use sunlight to convert carbon dioxide into food). Generally speaking, this zone reaches from the sea surface down to approximately 200 m (650 feet). The epipelagic is home to all sorts of iconic animals, like whales and dolphins, billfishes, tunas, jellyfishes, sharks, and many other groups. Algae that live in the epipelagic zone are responsible for much of the original food production for the entire ocean and create at least 50% of the oxygen in the atmosphere (both through photosynthesis). Organisms that live in the epipelagic zone may come into contact with the sea surface.” (source)

Start by looking on page 12 and 13 of Earth’s Incredible Oceans. What animals do you see living in the epipelagic (sunlight) zone? Add the pictures of these animals to your sketch, or find pictures on the internet, print them and glue them to your printable. 

Worldwide, there are about 400 species of sharks. Of these, around 180 species live in Australian waters. Click here to learn about the species of sharks that call Australian waters home. Click here to learn about some of the species that are endangered or vulnerable. Next, look at page 27 of Earth’s Incredible Oceans to learn the parts of a shark’s body as well as some additional details of their reproduction. Then watch this video to see more! 

Sharks can weigh as much as 2,000 lbs! How do they not just sink to the bottom of the ocean? Do this STEM experiment and read this article to learn why. 

Movie night suggestion: For some really great baby shark footage off the coast of Australia, watch the Disney+ documentary Baby Sharks

Activity 3: The mesopelagic zone.

“The mesopelagic zone (or middle open ocean) stretches from the bottom of the epipelagic down to the point where sunlight cannot reach. Generally speaking, the deep end of the mesopelagic zone is approximately 1,000 m (3,300 feet) deep. The mesopelagic zone is much larger than the epipelagic, and the most numerous vertebrates on Earth (small bristlemouth fishes) live in this zone. Many of the species of fishes and invertebrates that live here migrate up into shallower, epipelagic depths to feed, but only under the cover of night.” (source)

There are many animals that live in this zone of the ocean. Read about them in Earth’s Incredible Oceans.

Let’s learn about one of the fish that live in this zone off the Australian coast. Meet the lanternfishes! They use phosphorus cells to produce their own light. Read all about them here. Next, make your own glow in the dark fish with this craft

(+) Read page 28 of Earth’s Incredible Oceans. Next, print (and laminate or put in plastic protector sheets) these very detailed diagrams of a fish’s anatomy and do a fish dissection using this video for assistance.

Activity 4: The bathypelagic zone.

“The next deepest zone is called the bathypelagic zone (or lower open ocean). This zone starts at the bottom of the mesopelagic and stretches down to 4,000 m (13,000 feet). The bathypelagic is much larger than the mesopelagic and 15 times the size of the epipelagic. It is the largest ecosystem on earth. The upper bound of this zone is defined by a complete lack of sunlight. Organisms in the bathypelagic live in complete darkness, 24 hours per day. The darkness can be interrupted, however, by some light caused by the organisms themselves. This so called bioluminescence can be used to attract prey or to find a mate. Some species have lost their ability to see anything at all.” (source)

Watch this video to learn more about bioluminescent animals. Next, read the three reasons why animals use bioluminescence in this article

One particular animal that lives in these deep waters and uses bioluminescence is the scaly dragonfish. Watch this video from 8:12 to 11:35 to learn about it. The coolest thing about this animal isn’t its bioluminescence, but its teeth! You will also learn about biomimicry in this video. 

Round out your knowledge of the animals living in the midnight zone by watching this video. You can also read about some of the animals that live in this zone on pages 22, 23 (jellyfish) 24, 25 (octopuses), 62, 63 (deep sea dwellers) of our book. Add your favorites to your ocean zone sketch.

Lesson 3:

Let’s continue learning about the ocean’s zones and the animals that live in the ocean.

Activity 1: The abyssopelagic zone. 

“Deeper still is the abyssopelagic zone, which stretches from the bottom of the bathypelagic to the seafloor. This zone is characterized by relatively few life forms. It truly is the abyss.” (source)

Some of the smallest creatures live in this zone! First, learn about the smallest ones: microscopic organisms, or tiny life forms often consisting of a single cell! They are the base of the marine food web and, directly or indirectly, are food for everything else in the open sea.

The four main types of microorganisms in the ocean are algae, protozoa, bacteria, and virus. (source) Read a little about them here or watch this video. These microscopic animals come in all shapes and sizes. You can take a look at them here. (Note: Not all the microbes illustrated in the photo are marine protozoa that live off the coast of Australia. Some of the microbes are from fresh water. This picture helps to show the variety in their structures.)

There are also much bigger creatures in the abyssopelagic zone, like the elegant bigfin squid! Read and watch a video about it here. (There’s an audio of the article that can be played if you scroll to the bottom of the page.) You can also see video footage of bigfin squid here and here. Sketch a picture of this incredible animal in your project.

Next, learn how this giant squid swims by doing this STEM activity.

Activity 2: The hadopelagic zone.

“A special zone that only exists in certain places around the world is called the hadopelagic zone. Where deep, wide trenches occur in the otherwise flat seafloor, the open water that fills them is the hadopelagic zone. By this definition, all of the deepest parts of the ocean conclude in the hadopelagic. The deepest known ocean depth is nearly 11,000 m (36,000 feet or almost 7 miles).” (source)

Click here to learn about the animals that live in this zone.

Next, go to page 21 of Earth’s Incredible Ocean to see the sea cucumber. It is part of the echinoderm subcategory of invertebrates. Learn more about them here

One of the coolest animals in this zone is the tube worm! They are about 8 feet long, and they live 300 years! This animal also has a symbiotic relationship with the bacteria living in these parts of the ocean. Read all about them here and here. Watch this video to learn about its discovery, anatomy, and how it lives symbiotically with bacteria.

(+)Next, let’s learn more about the difference between chemosynthesis and photosynthesis by clicking here.

Draw a sea cucumber and tube worms into your project.

Activity 3: How do scientists know so much about these deep sea animals? They explore with these deep diving submarines. Click around that website to learn the names of the different subs and the depths they are able to go.

Ready for a math extension? Scientists who study the ocean talk a lot about the depth of the water, but they also talk about the amount of water within a specific space. We can learn the basics of this math by learning how to find the volume of a cube. Watch this Khan Academy video lesson to learn about this and use the practice tabs to make sure your child understands the lesson. Your child can also experiment with this math using single unit math cubes.

Lesson 4:

Activity 1: There are many ways to classify animals—and scientists love to debate about the best way to do it. For example, we have mentioned about animals being divided into invertebrates (animals without a backbone, such as crabs and sea stars) and vertebrates (animals with a backbone, such as fish and dolphins). Next, these animals are divided again into subgroups by their key characteristics. For example, some share the observable features like birds having feathers and laying eggs and all mammals having fur and suckling their young. For this activity, let’s learn about a different way to classify ocean animals.

This classification method describes where the animal lives in the ocean zones. The three classifications are Zooplankton, Nekton, and Benthos. You will notice a mix of animals in each classification that includes reptiles, mammals, and fish. Sometimes one animal will be in two different classifications depending on its stage in life.

Zooplankton (or animal plankton): These include animals that cannot swim or cannot swim faster than the ocean current. They sort of get pulled along by the current. They include microscopic foraminifera, dinoflagellates, and jellyfish. This group also includes the larvae of some animals, such as crabs and sea stars. When they fully grow, these animals will move to a different classification. (source)

Nekton: These include animals that can swim freely and faster than the ocean current. That means they are large enough and strong enough to control where they swim. They include whales, fish, squid, and some sharks. (source)

Benthos: These are animals that spend their life on or in the ocean floor. This group includes lobsters, starfish, various worms, snails, oysters, sea snails, sea stars, and coral. They may be able to move about on the bottom, but their lifestyle is so bound with this ocean floor that they are unable to survive away from this environment. (source)

What about animals like octopus, stink rays, and leopard sharks? They live at the bottom of the ocean, but they are strong swimmers! They have a special category that combines two of these: Nektonbenthos. (source)

Look at the animals you have added to your sketch or printout and label the animals according to these classifications. Use Z for zooplankton, N for nekton, B for benthos, or NB for nektobenthos.

Activity 2: Time to pull it all together for your presentation! Now that you have finished your sketch about the zones, record your presentation in video format. Use an app like iMovie or one of these free apps to edit your video together!

Lesson 5:

We’ve spent a lot of time under the sea this week! Let’s return to land for our final day with some cooking and food history.

Activity 1: Australian meat pies are famous for being, well, Australian! They are perfect for every season and completely delicious. Learn about the history of this famous pastry here. Next, prepare this recipe.

Activity 2: Read and discover the Australian cattle. 

“Cattle were brought to Australia by the first English settlers in 1788. Herds grew slowly in the early years of settlement, but cattle raising expanded rapidly beginning in the early 1800s. Farmers took advantage of the continent’s vast open spaces, moving their herds to grazing areas farther inland. The gold rushes of the 1850s brought many new immigrants, increasing the demand for beef and encouraging further expansion of the industry.

For many years, the cattle in Australia were mostly British breeds, especially Shorthorns and Herefords. Many animals died because they were not used to the Australian climate. Cattle farmers began to experiment with crossbreeding to develop new types of cattle that could handle the tropical conditions of northern Australia. In 1933, British breeds were crossed with Brahman cattle to produce a breed of Australian cattle that was more resistant to heat and ticks. Since then, other tropical breeds have been developed through crossbreeding programs.” (source)

If your child is a chef in the making, then learning the different cuts of meat is an essential skill. Learn the parts of a cow and how that corresponds to the cuts described in a recipe using this cut chart. Next, see how a cow is butchered in this video. (Note: The video isn’t gory, but it does show a lot of raw meat. You may want to watch it first before showing it to your child to make sure they will be comfortable.)

Finally, let’s test their knowledge with this beef cut puzzle! Print the puzzle onto cardstock or other sturdy paper and cut apart the pieces. As you put it together, review the cut chart to see which types of steak each piece could be used to make.

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Published by The Learn + Live Letter

The Learn + Live Letter is a play- and project-based homeschool curriculum for children ages 3-12.