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In this activity, learners observe hard parts of sea creatures (shells, molts, etc.) to better understand marine environments. A series of questions is provided to help guide learners through observations, and there are suggestions for adapting the questions to fit older and younger audiences. Background information is provided about gastropods (e.g. whelks), mollusks (e.g. clams, mussels, oysters), echinoderms (e.g. sea stars, sand dollars), and crustaceans (e.g. crabs). The activity is written for use in a science museum or aquarium, but could also be used anywhere you can set out the examples and have learners interact with them. You could even adapt the activity for exploring outdoors at a tide pool or similar place.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$10 - $20 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 4 - adult

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • Shells, Molts, Tests, skeletons (choose mostly sturdy specimens so they can be handled by visitors)
  • Pictures of the organisms shown in their habitat
  • Books about shells (e.g. Eyewitness book by Alex Arthur)
  • Large habitat picture to place behind you-space permitting (if there is no related display close-by)
  • Paper and pencils for visitors to make a written or drawn record of questions/ideas that they have
  • Hand lenses for investigating objects


  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
      • Biodiversity
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Asking Questions
      • Formulating Explanations

Informal Categories

  • Animals


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • hear
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center, 2009

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation, NSF OCE-0731338