Acid Alert! The Effects of Climate Change on Ocean Ecology

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Students will be able to utilize data from an online lab simulation to describe the basic climate change chemical reactions that impact ocean ecology.

Big Idea

How does climate change affect ocean ecology? Get your students thinking about the wide ranging effects of climate change through this online lab simulation.

Notes for the Teacher

In my experience, students are always interested in marine science and ocean life.  They've taken vacations to the beach, watched nature shows and movies, gone to Sea World, or maybe even lived by the water.  Linking climate change to marine science is quite impactful for students because they feel personally connected and the relevance to their day-to-day life is obvious to them. 

The Stanford University Virtual Urchin website connects marine lab science, basic chemistry, and climate change and we had a great experience working with their resources for the first time last Fall.

I also really like that this lab lets us experience marine science lab techniques even though we aren't close to a beach!  This lab activity gives students the opportunity to explore the techniques scientists use, the data they collect, and how that data relates to the topic of climate change.  I am looking forward to hearing the responses and experiences of your students as you work with this engaging topic and tool! :)

The Classroom Flow: Online Lab Simulation

40 minutes

1.  Pull up the The National Geographic website which has a great article about the effects of climate change on ocean ecology. It includes a photo gallery of before and after pictures of marine life in relation to acidification. Show students some of the before and after photos and use a popcorn protocol to gather answers to generative prompts like:

What do you think is happening here?
What is going on in these photos?  

  • Note: The goal here is to generate responses you can use to transition to our topic for today, the impact of climate change on the ocean. Students will be curious how what happens in the atmosphere causes so many  problems in our marine ecosystem.  


2.  Tell students that today they will be investigating this dilemma. Share that they will be working in lab pairs using the Virtual Ocean website maintained by Stanford University's Hopkin's Marine Station located next to the Monterey Bay Aquarium.  

  • Note: I like to share the origin of our resource because students can connect them to recognizable experiences and conversations they are having at home. Because both Stanford and Monterey Bay Aquarium are relatively local references, students feel especially connected and proud to know that they are working with institutions of learning that have a long history of excellence and expertise.  


3. Bring up the webpage on the computer and project it onto the classroom screen to take students to the lab simulation portal. Directions for using the website:  On the main page, students access the resource by going to the "acidifying ocean" icon and clicking on it.  

4.  The resource link starts with an interactive powerpoint presentation that students complete prior to starting the lab.

  • Note: This short slide presentation is a great summary of climate change basics and I have found that students go back to it on their own and/or ask me to replay it during our climate change unit review.  


5.  The virtual lab simulation illustrates the impact of acidification on ocean organisms. As student pairs move through the lab experiment, they use an activity guide to assist them in collecting, tracking and analyzing their data. See student work samples to see how students were able to collect and analyze their data from the virtual lab as well as their concluding analysis statements.  I found that students are able to navigate this virtual lab experience to deepen their understanding of ocean acidification and communicate their learning in writing.  My students and I often joked that they probably knew more about climate change at this point than any adult in their lives!

Students sometimes need help troubleshooting the logistics of the lab.  Two hints that will solve almost all of their dilemmas:

a.  When students have successfully completed a procedure step, they will be able to move to the next step.  It they come to you saying the website won't let them move on, that means they haven't completed that step correctly yet.

b. If students struggle to figure out how to complete the step correctly, hints are displayed in a box on the bottom of the screen to assist them.  When they have made the necessary adjustments, the next step of the procedure will be highlighted and they will be able to complete the next task in the sequence. 

The Classroom Flow: Wrap Up

15 minutes

1.  Come back together a class and give each lab group 5 minutes to compare data and conclusions.  

2. Each lab group chooses their spokesperson to share out their team's reflections on climate change and its impact on ocean ecology.

  • Note:  In this wrap up discussion, I'm looking for students to be able to use the data they collected to assist them in explaining the impact of climate change on marine organisms and connections to our basic chemistry work with acid reactions and the carbon cycle.  My role is listen to the discussion and use student comments as an entry point for deeper questioning about these topics and an opportunity to emphasize our vocabulary and overarching themes.