SEAS Outreach at Jane Addams Middle School

Teaching students about oysters and ocean acidification

In September, Robin McLachlan from Oceanography sent a request to the Program on Climate Change listserv asking for a group of graduate students to take over a project she’d worked on for a few years: developing a week-long science curriculum for Jane Addams Middle School MESA students. I thought this would be a perfect project for SEAS, so I volunteered! Over the academic year, I worked on a curriculum about oysters and ocean acidification in Puget Sound curriculum with other SAFS graduate students. The week we prepared for finally arrived! Since I was the only curriculum developer who was familiar with oysters and oocean acidification, I worked on the curriculum and supervised others. I also mentored an undergraduate capstone student!

The curriculum

We decided to structure the curriculum as follows:

  • Day 1: Introduction to oysters and ocean acidification
  • Day 2: Larval oyster activity
  • Day 3: Exploring real data with Shiny
  • Day 4 and 5: Developing presentations and presenting findings

On the first day, we’d introduce students to climate change and ocean acidification. We didn’t want to lecture continuously, so we included a bromothymol blue demonstration in the beginning to introduce students to the concept of carbon from air changing ocean chemistry. We also placed a small abalone shell in a jar of vinegar to visualize how acidic environments can corrode shells, and included a jigsaw activity so students could teach eachother about the ecological, economic, and social value of oysters. At the end of the day, students developed a hypothesis about ocean acidification and oysters they would test throughout the week.

I used information from Emma’s larval oyster experiment to create a larval oyster activity. Emma exposed larval Pacific oysters to different pCO2 treatments. For each treatment, she took photos of larvae. I got larval images from different treatments, then printed and laminated them. Our group created an activity in which students measured hinge length and shell depth of larvae in images, then graphed them on the whiteboard. This allowed us to introduce how ocean aciidfication affects a specific life stage, but we wanted to associate shell measurements with broader ecological implications.

For that, we made a Shiny app. This was definitely the most intense part of the curriculum. We wanted to introduce basic mathematical concepts, how different shellfish farming locations could be affected by changing pH conditions, the relationship between different shell measurements, and other factors that affect shellfish. We used shell measurements from Emma’s experiment to introduce students to histograms. Students had the opportunity to change bin sizes and see how that affected data presentation, and parse out different treatments within the distribution. Working with NANOOS, we created a map with summer and winter pH data for shellfish farming regions. The other two goals were relegated to back-up tabs for students.

We gave ourselves a break with the last part of the curriculum by having students create posters in groups and present their findings to eachother. We had them gather “evidence” from throughout the week that would support the hypothesis they developed at the beginning of the week.


Things went well but were EXHAUSTING! The most difficult part was trying to teach sixth graders, seventh graders, eighth graders, and advanced eighth graders with the same curriculum. I think our curriculum was perfectly targetted towards the sixth graders, but did a disservice to the eighth graders. Students were really receptive to the demonstrations and the idea of presenting information to eachother. Oh, they loved the Shiny app #success.

Mentoring an undergraduate capstone student

While creating this curriculum, I also mentored a senior undergraduate student in the Program on the Environment. For the curriculum, I had her develop a worksheet packet for students to follow along with lectures and activities. We also had her lead some activities to get teaching experience! She had a faculty mentor who helped with her final paper, but I helped her with her poster presentation and shape her thesis question. She was interested in environmental education, so we used the curriculum to see if a one-time enviornmental education intervention has any effect on student learning. It was a good experience for me learning how to teach someone to develop a research mindset and clearly articulate their findings.

I don’t think I’ll participate in developing a curriculum for the school again, but it was definitely a great experience this year!

Written on May 8, 2019