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Activity: Beach Sand Survey
NGSS Science and Engineering Practices
NGSS Crosscutting Concepts
NGSS Disciplinary Core Ideas
Table of Contents


  • Will depend on methodology



Safety Note: Take safety precautions around the water; follow posted signs and lifeguard directions. Bring water, sunscreen, a hat, and other things that will keep you hydrated and safe. Be aware of the tide and if the water is rising or falling. Always have at least one person in your group watching the water and waves, especially when you are working close to the water’s edge.

  1. Choose an appropriate area to conduct a sand investigation. The goals of this study are to (1) apply what you know about sand shape, size, and source to characterize sand at your beach location and (2) plan and carry out an investigation to address a research question about the distribution of sand on the beach.
  2. Find out as much information as possible about the beach where you will be conducting your survey. Include information like the size of the beach, tidal range, average wave energy, offshore features, and substrate.
  3. Choose at least one question that your survey will answer. For example,
    1. Do areas with lower wave action have smaller sand particle size?
    2. Do areas with higher beach slope have more rounded sand particles?
    3. How does sand source vary as you move parallel to the coastline?
    4. Are there differences in a sand particle size and shape as you move from the intertidal zone to the terrestrial zone on the beach?
  4. Make predictions about the size, shape, and source of the sand at your study site and about the answer to your survey question.
  5. Develop a methodology to determine the size, shape, and possible source of the sand at your study site. Refer to the Observing Sand and Beach Profile Mapping activities for examples of methodology.
  6. Develop a sampling scheme to collect information that will answer your survey question. Consider the following:
    1. How large of an area will you examine in your survey?
    2. What data will you collect? Make sure to include information describing the overall setting, for example the wind conditions and weather.
    3. What will be the tidal height on the day you will be visiting the beach? How will this affect how you plan and conduct your study?
    4. How will you collect samples so that your data will be meaningful in interpreting chemical, physical, biological, and/or ecological processes?
    5. How will you be safe at the site? What procedures will you follow if there is an emergency?
    6. How many samples will you be able to process in the time allowed?
    7. Will you be able to collect samples and examine them later? How will you label your samples in a way that will allow you to identify each sample later on?
    8. How will you record your results?
    9. How will you report your results?
  7. Based on your sampling scheme, create a data table that will allow you to record the necessary data for each sampling site.
  8. Collect the necessary materials you will need to conduct your observations and answer your survey question. The materials you need will depend on your methodology. Some things you may consider bringing are listed below.
  • Sand sieves
  • Hand lenses
  • Probes, toothpicks, or tweezers
  • Small containers like Petri dishes
  • Sand grain size cards or rulers
  • Vinegar
  • Magnets
  • Clipboards and writing utensils
  • Transects
  • Quadrats
  • String or flags
  • Camera
  • GPS
  1. Conduct your survey. If you need to make any adjustments to your experimental design, record how you changed your plan and why. In addition to collecting data for your investigation, record other observations that may affect your study.
  2. Analyze your findings and present them to your class.


Activity Questions
  1. Explain the reasoning behind your prediction(s) about the sand size, shape, and source at your site. How did your predictions compare to your analysis of the sand particles on the beach?
  2. Describe the experimental design you used to answer your survey question. If you changed your experimental design plan when you arrived in the field, explain what changes you made and why.
  3. Were you able to answer your survey question based on your results.
  4. After completing your study, were there any additional questions that you would like to investigate? Explain.
  5. If you could repeat your study, how would you to revise your original design?
  6. Based on your results, describe the beach in your own words as if you were corresponding with
    1. a reporter for a newspaper, and
    2. a student in the first-grade.
Exploring Our Fluid Earth, a product of the Curriculum Research & Development Group (CRDG), College of Education. University of Hawaii, 2011. This document may be freely reproduced and distributed for non-profit educational purposes.