Taxonomy, Zonation, Protists, Plankton, & Plants

Recommended Ages: 10-17 (Class is offered in two levels)
Start Date: January 9. Class runs for 4 weeks. Students have 2 weeks after the last class is posted to complete all work. No live classes- do the lesson plans on YOUR schedule. This class is the prerequiste for our full year Marine Zoology course, and will be immediately followed up in February with Marine Zoology: Invertebrates Part 1, followed by Marine Zoology: Invertebrates Part 2. In September, the full year of Marine Zoology continues with Marine Zoology: Vertebrates.
Instructor: Mary Middlebrook

This class is what I call Marine Biology 101. It is the prerequisite, required class for all Marine Zoology classes, including the Marine Zoology: Invertebrates class that begins in February and the Marine Zoology: Vertebrates class that begins in September. The information learned in this class is the foundation for everything else we learn, and no student is allowed to take additional marine zoology sessions without having successfully completed this course.

If you have a student aged 10-17 that has an interest in marine biology, this is the class you want! My degree is in Marine Biology (from Texas A&M University at Galveston), and marine biology was the very first homeschool class I ever taught. I have since branched out into many other sciences, but always love it when I can teach my passion- ocean life! This will not be a “fluff” class, or an “overview”- it is an intensive, science heavy class where students will learn marine biology from many different aspects- taxonomy, evolutionary relationships, anatomy, function, habitat, etc… There will be no surface skimming in this class! We’re going to go deep!

In this session, students will be learning four of the foundation topics of marine biology:
1. Taxonomy: Students will learn how taxonomy works, how to read cladograms and see evolutionary relationships, how to read dichotomous keys, and how to create them. This course is heavy in taxonomy and key work- students will be learning the major taxonomic divisions of the animals we study. So a strong foundation in taxonomy is necessary!
2. Zonation: The ocean is VAST! And just like on the land, there are many different habitats that dictate evolutionary adaptations and the species that can survive there. We will learn all of the ocean life zones- both horizontal and vertical. These zones will be referred to in future courses, so it is important that students understand the terms and habitat conditions that are associated with them.
3. Protists: Did you know that kelp isn’t a plant? It’s a protist! As are many of the creatures- both plant like and animal like- that make up the plankton that is the basis of the food chain. Students need to understand what separates these organisms from true plants and animals.
4. Plankton: You can’t have the largest animal on earth (the blue whale) without the tiniest ones- plankton! We’ll learn about phytoplankton and zooplankton, focusing on individual species and their importance in the marine food chain. We will talk about plankton in some capacity in every other marine biology lesson plan, so this is a biggie!
5. Plants: There are actually a few true plants that are considered to be marine (most of what you think of as plants are actually protists!). Although not a major foundation for the rest of the course, this is the best place to talk about plants! We’ll learn about what separates a plant from a protist, and some of the unique habitats and ecosystems this plants are the “root” of! 🙂
I have created educational videos to accompany the course- many of these will be on site at various areas around southern California, both at the ocean and in some of our local aquariums. Each week, there will be a choice of hands on projects for students to complete to reinforce their knowledge of the material.


This is a 4 week class that begins on January 9 and ends on January 30. Students have 2 weeks after that date to complete all work.
I will post all lesson plans and homework assignments on Tuesdays. Discussion occurs throughout the week, as students interact with me and other students via our online message board. There is no “live” component to this class, which allows students to work at their own pace. This is a great option for busy students who need to work on their own schedule, and students who live all over the world and can’t easily coordinate time zones.


Cost for Marine Biology 101 Only: $80

Lesson plans are a combination of power point, graphics, video, and audio. Each slide is fully narrated for students who prefer to hear material read to them. There is no textbook for this course. Material is the same for both levels, it’s the depth of the assignments that are the main difference. Younger students 10-13 should usually be placed in Level 1. Students ages 14 and up, or younger students who are academically gifted, should be placed in Level 2. Level 2 students will have more rigorous coursework. In general, expect 1-1.5 hours to work through the lesson plan each week, and an additional 2-5 hours working on assignments (it really depends what assignment your child chooses to do and how they manage their time).


When you enroll, you have the option of having your student graded or not. Graded students will be required to take a weekly quiz. ALL students will receive feedback on the work they submit. But if you choose the “grades” option, your student will also have a private, online gradebook where I will record number grades for each assignment. Here you can see what assignments are missing, what grades are for the received assignments, feedback for each assignment, and the final course grade.



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