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An Orca Debate- Should We Adopt an Orca?

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PBL Unit Plan Outline

Killer Whales in Danger

Suggested Age/Grade Level:  Grade 4

Length of time: Five Days

I’m just starting my masters for EC-4/ELL.  So I decided to pick something that will be flexible in any of these settings.  For that reason I picked a topic that uses a PBL model involving Language Arts and Technology.



This lesson is designed to introduce students to Orcas and to discover the dangers that may or may not lie in the Pacific Northwest.  The goal is for the students to learn about the Orca population and investigate whether or not we as a class should aid in the conservation of this species by adopting a Killer Whale.


Unit Objectives:

Students will have the opportunity to utilize the elements of transfer through the following:


  • Students will be given ample time to complete each task and reflect on each section in their Reflection Journals.
  • Students will participate in several activities, including class discussions, web based research, power point creation, Orca debate.
  • Students will be able to learn in depth about Orcas, they will learn about Luna, the orphaned whale and what they can do to be active in the preservation of this species.
  • Students will make an educated decision whether or not they want to take an active role in the preservation of a species.

By the end of the unit students will have learned problem solving and decision making skills based on relevant research.  They will have gained valuable reflective and self assessment skills from the daily use of their journals.  They will have used 5 different roles in a group setting.  They will have had active roles in class participation and discussion.  Students should be comfortable with utilizing library and web resources, accessing the local paper online, and know how to create their own Power Point slide.  Students will be able to articulate the knowledge they have learned in both written and oral form.



The Problem:


An Orca Debate- Would you adopt an Orca?


Researcher have been studying Orcas in their natural habitat since 1976.  Researchers believe that the whales of these pods may be in danger.  The students will research Killer Whales in depth.  They will learn about their habitat and feeding habits and investigate the problems facing Orcas.  Once they have researched this information in depth they will make a decision whether or not we as a class should adopt an Orca.

Unit Objectives:

  • Learn About Killer Whales and recognize and identify reasons why Killer Whales need protection, what students can do to aid in their conservation.
  • Conduct online research to learn about the threats facing killer whales.
  • Analyze research and put together a Power Point presentation demonstrating their research.
  • Defend their assigned position during Power Point presentation.
  • Compare their initial response to their educated response and turn in results.
  • Make an educated decision if we should adopt and Orca, vote on that decision.

Note: Evaluation and assessment is addressed in each lesson.

Link to Lesson One Outline

Day One:   Introduce the Problem/Learn about Orcas.


  • Take an initial survey about Orcas, ask if student would adopt an Orca.  Provide brief explanation.
  • Learn about Orcas through Power Point presentation.
  • Read about the Orca adoption Program form The Whale Museum.
  • Look up important Vocabulary for this Unit.
  • Discover what students know, need to know, etc.
  • Work in Designated Roles, write in Reflection Log

Lesson One- Learn About Orcas


Day Two:  Killer Whale Conservation


  • Read article about Killer Whale Conservation.
  • Add in journal more threats discovered from reading this article.
  • Conduct Research –Topics to be narrowed down by teacher based on students’ interests.
  • Read articles for and against orcas as endangered species. 
  • Continue list what do they know/what need to know.

Lesson Two Outline-Killer Whale Conservation


Luna the Orphan


  • Read Article about Luna, the orphaned Orca from the Whale Museum.
  • Students will meet Luna L-98, and the efforts that were made to re-unite him to his pod.
  • Discuss the obstacles that stood in the way of Luna being reunited to his pod.
  • Read about Luna’s Death in Seattle Times Article.
  • Discuss strategies and efforts to help prevent accidents like these in the future

Lesson Three Outline-Luna the Orphan


Day Four:  Preparation for Orca debates


  • The students will be assigned one of several topics at the completion of Lesson three.
  • Students will complete their slide outline as homework and come to class prepared to start their slide.
  • Each group will work together to build a 5 page Power Point presentation.
  • Each student will be responsible for their own slide.
  • The group will work together to pick a title for their presentation.

Lesson Four Outline- Preparation for the Orca Debates


Day Five:  Orca Debates.

  • Each group will present their topic on the Power Point presentation.
  • Students will reflect what they learned by listening to other groups' presentations. 
  • Students will compare their before and after results from the Orca Survey and their decision on the question raised in the Unit plan.
  • They will be asked to explain several things they have learned about Orcas.
  • Students will reflect on the effectiveness of the Unit Plan.
  • Students will vote whether or not we should adopt an Orca.

Lesson Five Outline- Orca Debates





Contact Christine

This project uses Problem Based Learning, the points used of PBL include:


  • Messy problem to solve
  • Teacher as a coach
  • Students as the 'drivers'
  • Learning for understanding, not memorizing.

Click on the link below for more information on PBL:

Why Problem Based Learning?


This project meets the following TEKS standards for fourth grade:


TEKS Grade 4-110.6-English Language Arts and Reading  b-Knowledge and skills

1-A- Determine the purposes for listening such as to gain information, solve problems et al.

1-C- Understand the major ideas and supporting evidence in spoken messages.

6-C-Locate the meanings, pronunciations and derications of unfamiliar words using dictionaries, glossaries, and other sources.

10-H Draw inferences such as conclusions or generalizations and support them with text evidence and experience.

11-A- Offer observations, make connections, react, speculate, interpret, and raise questions in response to text.

13-All- Reading/inquiry/research.  The student inquires and conducts research using a variety of sources.  Etc.


TEKS Grade 4- 126.3-Technology Application b-Knowledge and skills

8-All-Solving problems.  The student uses research skills and electronic communication, with appropriate supervision, to create new knowledge.

10-All-Communication.  The student formats digital information for appropriate and effective communication. and effective communication.


For a complete list of TEKS standards please click on the link below:


Reflection on the other elements of learning


Community Centered:  This unit uses a real world problem that is of local interest.  Luna was a very popular whale and got lots of local media attention until his death.  This occurrence sparked lots of media attention and I'm positive it will make the students want to get involved and participate in the whales survival in our community.


Learner Centered:  A problem that interests the learner makes them want to learn.  I think that once the students see the need for the conservation of Orcas they will want to learn more about Orcas, their habitat and what they can do to help.


Knowledge Centered:  This problem will have students research and seek content specific knowledge to solve their problem.  The students will research ways to help Orcas and the dangers they face.  They will give evidence to support the preservation of this species.


Assessment Centered:  This problem will have students evaluate what they are learning and thinking.  Students will reflect what they've learned in a daily Response Journal.  In additional to role specific activities the students will assess their own participation and performance on the activities they complete. 


They will be evaluated on the following:


Class participation- 10%    

Role specific activities-16%  

Role assessment-4%    

Lesson specific activities-20%     

Guided Journal Entries-15% 

Self Assessments-10% 

Final Project-25% 




The total points possible for this unit is 500 points and will be broken down as follows:


Class participation-  Total points-50 (Maximum of 10 points each day)

Role specific activities-  Total points- 80 (Maximum of 20 points each day for completing role specific activity.  Day five there will be no role assigned)

Role assessment-  Total points- 20 (Maximum of 5 points each day for self evaluation of role activity.)

Lesson specific activities-  Total points 100 (Each Activity will be assigned a point value.)

Guided Journal Entries-  Total points 75  (Maximum of 15 points each day)

Self Assessments- Total points 50 (Maximum of 10 points each day)

Final Project-  Total points 150  (Points will be given for quality of final project, participation in presentation, content knowledge evident in final presentation and reflection journal)



Technology:  The students will use several technology based elements including web based research and a power point presentation.  Each student will be responsible for his/her own power point presentation supporting the argument they are assigned.

Transfer:  This unit uses the following elements of transfer:


This unit allows students to learn with understanding rather than merely memorize sets of facts or follow a fixed set of procedures, they will conduct their own research in the areas where they see they need information in order to become an expert on the danger facing Orcas.

In the process of becoming an expert, the students will gain the ability to retain information and apply it to a new concept, true “learning” can never be achieved beyond simply memorization.

Since meta-cognitive approaches to instruction have been shown to increase the degree to which students will transfer their knowledge to new situations, the students will complete two different assessment rubrics in each lesson.

Transfer between school and everyday life will be at work in this unit as well.  Because this unit is community centered, students will know how to use what they’ve learned in this unit and apply it to other issues they discover in their community.  They will be able to research the topic, become an expert in that area and make a well informed decision on what they can do to help.


Resources:  The student will need a computer, MS Power Point, access to the Internet, various student worksheets (supplied in the activities), a notebook to be used as a journal, supplies for daily drawing and a writing utensil. Technology for this project will be represented by the use of the Internet, access to the local paper and a PowerPoint presentation.

Thank you for participating in the Orca debates!!!
You've done a great job getting involved in your community and having a voice for the Killer Whales in your area.
It has been my pleasure to construct this Unit, please contact me with any questions, comments or suggestions regarding this Unit Plan.
-Christine Marchi

All content added and maintained by Christine Marchi