The Great Oyster Debate



The bountiful Chesapeake Bay that John Smith explored disappeared long ago. In just the past 50 years, the oyster population has utterly collapsed with barely 1 percent remaining. The result is a severe decrease in economic activity, water quality, and biodiversity. Would the situation improve if the Asian Oyster were introduced into the Bay? In "The Great Oyster Debate," students have the opportunity to consolidate their learning, examine other perspectives, and demonstrate their mastery of ecological principles. They realize there are conflicting interests, but that science can be helpful in navigating the complexity of biological and sociological interactions. [Lesson Time: 30 to 90 minutes].


1. To integrate learning and demonstrate understanding of current ecological issues.
2. To argue an issue based on scientific principles and not belief.
3. To apply scientific knowledge to social and economic issues.

Lesson Materials

Student Handout
"Role Labels"
Background Resources for Debate
Oyster Restoration Facts Sheet (USFWS)
Teacher Notes and Key


  1. Set up a class-wide debate over the proposed introduction of the Asian oyster into the Chesapeake Bay.
  2. Divide students into four distinct "social perspectives" -- Restaurant Owner, Waterman, Environmentalist, and Scientist. The amount of preparation time will vary greatly (between 30 and 90 minutes) depending upon how the teacher structures this activity. Preparation should include group discussion and use of background resources—particularly the Base Articles (download in Background Resources under Lesson Materials.) You could expand the preparation phase into a Web Quest or independent report.
  3. During the debate, encourage groups to respond directly to the arguments of other groups, not just state their own viewpoints. The Teacher’s Key outlines the basic positions of each perspective.
  4. See Teacher Notes for more detailed information about forming groups, debate roles, alternative formats, and debate preparation.


See "Background Resources" under Lesson Materials for citations and website links.

Maryland State Standards

The student will recognize that real problems have more than one solution and decisions to accept one solution over another are made on the basis of many issues.  
The student will modify or affirm scientific ideas according to accumulated evidence.
The student will explain factors that produce biased data (incomplete data, using data inappropriately, conflicts of interest, etc.).
The student will identify meaningful, answerable scientific questions.
The student will pose meaningful, answerable scientific questions. (NTB)
The student will formulate a working hypothesis.
The student will identify appropriate methods for conducting an investigation (independent and dependent variables, proper controls, repeat trials, appropriate sample size, etc.).
The student will use relationships discovered in the lab to explain phenomena observed outside the laboratory.
The student will learn the use of new instruments and equipment by following instructions in a manual or from oral direction. (NTB)
The student will organize data appropriately using techniques such as tables, graphs, and webs (for graphs: axes labeled with appropriate quantities, appropriate units on axes, axes labeled with appropriate intervals, independent and dependent variables on correct axes, appropriate title).
The student will analyze data to make predictions or decisions or to draw conclusions.
The student will determine the relationships between quantities and develop the mathematical model that describes these relationships.
The student will describe trends revealed by data.
The student will determine the sources of error that limit the accuracy or precision of experimental results.
The student will demonstrate the ability to summarize data (measurements/observations).
The student will explain scientific concepts and processes through drawing, writing, and/or oral communication.
The student will create and/or interpret graphics (scale drawings, photographs, digital images, field of view, etc.).
The student will use, explain, and/or construct various classification systems.
The student will communicate conclusions derived through a synthesis of ideas.
The student will recognize mathematics as an integral part of the scientific process. (NTB)
The student will explain processes and the function of related structures found in unicellular and multicellular organisms.
The student will analyze the interrelationships and interdependencies among different organisms and explain how these relationships contribute to the stability of the ecosystem.
The student will investigate how natural and man-made changes in environmental conditions will affect individual organisms and the dynamics of populations.
Identify an environmental issue and formulate related research questions. Methods of gathering information may include writing letters, performing a literature search using the Internet, and interviewing experts.
Interpret the findings to draw conclusions and make recommendations to help resolve the issue.

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