Introducing Students to the Mariana Trench

Lori Roberts is a high school biology teacher in Muscle
Shoals, Alabama. Lori is a leader in ocean education and is a graduate
of National Geographic Education’s two-year professional development
program, the National Teacher Leadership Academy.

Rachel Carson said, “The more clearly we can focus our attention on the wonders and realities of the universe about us, the less taste we shall have for destruction of our race.”

I believe that what space exploration did for technology, ocean exploration will do for conservation. People need to have intrinsic motivation to care about the deep blue sea. One way to do this is by using the “race to the bottom of the sea.” Teach about the Mariana Trench and treat the topic with the same sort of excitement that was used to drive the space race.

I lead with a question such as, “Why do we know more about outer space than we do about the deep sea?” Many students do not know that we could map the moon before we were able to map the ocean floor. One of my students, Harris M., thinks that, “space travel sounds more glamorous to people.” He also told me that, “because the technology is already in place, space travel is easier.” After all, we have more processing power in our cell phones today than was on the Apollo 11 (according to Popular Science).

30261.jpgChallenger Deep is the deepest point in the ocean. Give this to your
students as a topic to research online. Have your students answer
questions like: How deep is Challenger Deep; how did it get its name;
and who were the first explorers to travel there? Explain the history
behind the original journey using the bathyscaphe Trieste sea vessel.
Show photos or figures of the Mariana Trench.

Give your students
a current-event article to read about the “race to the bottom of the
sea.” There are many articles available online, such as this one from
the BBC. Just make sure that you provide students with questions or a
graphic organizer to help them react to what they have read. This will
develop high interest, because several of the people involved are quite

Here are a few more good ideas to try:

•    Compare the Mariana Trench to Mt. Everest (depth vs. height, extreme conditions in each, etc.)–students will be amazed

 Discuss supergiant organisms in the deep, for example, a recent
discovery of a giant-sized amphipod in a trench off the coast of New


 Photo courtesy NOAA Ocean Explorer

•    Check out the terrific National Geographic Education lesson plan The Mariana Trench: Earth’s Deepest Place

What additional ideas do you have for teaching about the Mariana Trench? Let me know by using the comment feature below!

Critical Links
1. (Main National Geographic site for the expedition)
2. (National Geographic Education site for the expedition)
3. Expedition Journal (The official blog from the deck of Mermaid Sapphire,
James Cameron’s mother ship. Our Education bloggers are using this
blog, as well as the main website, to inform their
writing about the expedition)

Leave a Reply