The Current Logo


Written by Linda Biondi
August 16, 2010

Come SCUBA with us in WhyReef—a virtual coral reef—and discover the splendors of coral reefs and the creatures that make reefs their homes! Observe amazing reef species from the Harlequin Shrimp and the Giant Triton Snail to the White-Tip Reef Shark, count and identify species to monitor reef populations just like scientists do, or play the Food Web Game to figure out how these creatures depend on one another.

Imagine being able to virtually explore the undersea world, make informed decisions about the ecological future of the world, and communicate with a marine biologist (AskMark)!

Imagine having access to database filled with all the Earth’s living organisms!

 Imagine being able to freely access an online reference and database of all 1.9 million species currently known to science!

The WhyReef project made possible by funding from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, in conjunction with The Field Museum of Chicago, makes scientific research accessible to  youth through gaming.  It uses virtual world simulation technology to engage students in activities ranging from coral reef biodiversity to how to make effective changes in an unhealthy reef environment. While engaging in WhyReef’s activities, students learn about the diversity and interconnectedness of life on reefs, engage in collaborative counting of reef species, and learn how to mobilize to “fix” the reef if/when something goes wrong.

Founded in 1999, Whyville is a free educational virtual world for children ages 8 to 16. In WhyReef, a free online encyclopedia, Encyclopedia of Life (EOL) is used as a primary source for information about reef species. Exploring the undersea world through digital platforms is an excellent way to make student cognizant about real world biodiversity around them and empower them to make changes.  

Implications for Teaching:

WhyReef is a wonderful way to introduce students to their role in our planet’s ecosystem and how to affect change. Most students love the beach and marine animals in general. What a marvelous way to engage them in the complex issues that are important in protecting our ecosystem.

The game actively engages students from ages 8-16 and mimics a real coral reef.  Registering as a teacher in Whyville allows you to bring your students on as a class and manage their accounts. A teacher guide accompanies WhyReef, with introductory and post activities, and an extensive repertoire of lessons plans.  For example, students can use the scientific method to run experiments in the Reef simulator, graph their results, and check their hypothesis.

Through collaboration, students work together to research solutions for their “Event”, explaining what caused the event, how the event impacts key species in a coral reef, and how people can prevent or restore the reef after the event.

WhyReef is closely aligned with the following National Science Education Standards:

  • Science as Inquiry: Abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry, understanding about scientific inquiry
  • Life Science: Populations and ecosystems, diversity and adaptations of organisms; interdependence of organisms; matter, energy and organization in living systems
  • Physical Science: Transfer of energy

Lesson and activities are adaptable for different age levels such as:

  • Uploading pictures of their area floral fauna and upload images and video to the EOL Flickr Photo Pool.
  • Entering contests such as the Living on the Ocean Planet Video Contest sponsored by the US-based National Ocean Sciences Bowl. EOL content and images can be used for these and other class projects and winning videos will be posted on EOL.
  • Using  NameLink to convert scientific names to common names.
  • Finding out about classification and taxonomy by exploring species’ “family trees” using the classification browser located in the upper right hand side of every EOL species page..
  • Watching video clips of real reef species using their adaptations to survive.
  • Talking to Mark, WhyReef’s resident reef biologist.
  • Identifying and monitoring reef activities like real ecologists.
  • Exploring journal pages about the species you identify and add your own comments.
  • Applying information and data you have used to complete 15 mini food chains and visualize a marine web for 50 species.

Referenced from the WhyReef Educator’s Guide(

Your students can create their own WhyReef blog and write about their adventures, adding video clips and photos from the Internet to make an interactive digital blog or journal. Perhaps they might want to write a  “Discovery” radio or television script and video tape it. Or perhaps they might enjoy making a digital comic book.  Allow them to take the initiative to express themselves…digitally.


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