The Great Plankton Race

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In this activity, learners are challenged to design a planktonic organism that will neither float like a cork nor sink like a stone. They are given pictures of planktonic organisms and simple materials. The best model of a planktonic organism will sink slowly or be neutrally buoyant. After designing with their teammates, learners test and race their plankton in a simulated ocean.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
10 to 30 minutes

Learning Time:
30 to 45 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
$5 - $10 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 8 - adult

Resource Types:
Activity, Lesson/Lesson Plan, Model


Materials List (per group of students)

  • aquarium or large tub
  • water to fill aquarium
  • two stopwatches
  • a knife for cutting corks
  • 1 sheet each of red, blue and white paper
  • 28 sheets yellow paper (or another color that is not red, blue or white)
  • pictures of plankton (optional)
  • video about plankton (optional)
  • one to several gallon jars or clear plastic shoeboxes (e.g. plastic mayonnaise)
  • water to fill the gallon jars or plastic shoeboxes
  • container or plastic bag filled with the following found materials: recycled Styrofoam packing "peanuts," corks (whole and half), toothpicks, paper clips, metal washers, colored yarn, split-shot fishing sinkers, 1" - 2" square pieces of sponge
  • 2 pairs of scissors
  • sponge to mop up drips


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
      • Oceans and Water
  • Life Sciences
    • Diversity of Life
      • Animals
      • Viruses and Bacteria
      • Protists and Fungi
      • Classification
    • Ecology
      • Ecosystems
    • Evolution
      • Mechanisms of Evolution
  • Physical Sciences
    • Motion and Forces
    • States of Matter
      • Solids
      • Liquids
    • Structure and Properties of Matter
      • Volume and Density
  • The Nature of Science
    • The Scientific Process
      • Conducting Investigations

Informal Categories

  • Animals
  • Model Building
  • Nature and Environment


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • see color
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


Includes alignment to state and/or national standards:

Includes assesments for student learning:

This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, Centers for Ocean Sciences Education Excellence,

Funding Source:

  • National Science Foundation