Science Serving Maryland's Coasts

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 critique arguments that are based on faulty, misleading data or on the incomplete use of numbers.


The student will explain factors that produce biased data (incomplete data, using data inappropriately, conflicts of interest, etc.).


The student will pose meaningful, answerable scientific questions. (NTB)


The student will explain scientific concepts and processes through drawing, writing, and/or oral communication.


The student will communicate conclusions derived through a synthesis of ideas.


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.


Interpret the findings to draw conclusions and make recommendations to help resolve the issue.