Wednesday, 8 July 2020

What is the climate change impact on ocean currents? How changes in the Spring Pack Ice and Icebergs of East Coast of Newfoundland are evidence for Climate change.

My selected topic for my National Geographic Climate Change course is: What is the climate change impact on ocean currents? How changes in the Spring Pack Ice and Icebergs of East Coast of Newfoundland are evidence for Climate change.

I’m old enough to notice that the high tide level has risen in the Nova Scotian estuary I haunted in my youth. Fifty years. What changes will we see in the next fifty years? Presently, I live in the eastern portion of the province of Newfoundland and Labrador (NL), where pack ice and icebergs visit our shores; cooling our spring, delaying our summer. The ice is however, less of a factor than even thirty years ago (CBC – Feb. 4/2020). Why is the less ice a concern? Indigenous knowledge of the ice is comprehensive, more than the nuance understanding that is my trivial fifty four years. Sheila (Siila) Watt-Cloutier (2015) states:

The whole planet benefits from a frozen Arctic and Inuit still have much to teach the world about the vital importance of Arctic ice, not only to our culture, but to the health of the rest of the planet.

Research and most of humanity has been slow to respond to indigenous reports of climate change emergencies. Our support may be too late - there is a consensus that the Arctic will be ice free this century (CBC – Nov. 25/2019), a significant problem for all living things. There are, however, specific planetary concerns that I share with ocean lovers– we may see changes in ocean currents and more oxygen dead zones on the bottom of the ocean.

I first learned about the phenomenon of dead zones found in the Chesapeake Bay at NMEA 2017. The hypoxia in the Chesapeake is caused by eutrophication and the resulting over consumption of oxygen by algae blooms. I fear the northern dead zones may be much larger and impact delicate deep ocean ecosystems.

While the human inhabitants of NL would love warmer springs, this does not bode well for ocean bottom dwellers. It is vital that cold, dense water surface water falls to the bottom of the ocean (see the image below as a demonstration).

As this water falls it contributes to currents, like the Labrador Current, sweeping nutrients like oxygen to the bottom, enriching benthic habitats and supporting a host of species adapted to live in this deep, cold, dark place. Another seldom considered factor related to ice and our warming planet is albedo. An ocean that is less reflective will gain more heat – this must factor into any model of climate change.
A warmer ocean surface may send less nutrient rich water to the bottom of the ocean. This may impact the delicate balance of the ecosystems such as the deep sea corals and sponges found off our coast. These considerations and others are found in the model lesson found on this NG website: I have taught several lessons using this resource; found in my introduction to the ecology unit and addressed the difference between climate and weather. Weather is modeled for the students with local forecasting models (similar to the NOAA weather service model). We model the ocean currents using the above ice-image as the basis of understanding the fluid dynamics model of the atmosphere and map ocean currents (my NG capstone video).

The Concord Consortium Model is an online resource that models gases, heat, and rays vs human emissions while graphing the air temperature and greenhouse gas concentration. This also includes a model of ice cover and glaciers on land. Note how the ice disappears from years 2020 to 2035 (model images below).

When the sea ice is gone, icebergs melt faster, add this to the increasing loss of water from the ice sheet from Greenland, and we not only have an ocean current problem, we have a rising sea level issue (NOAA sea level rise viewer)!

I have a lot of reviewing to do! I must examine documented seasonal ice patterns from the east coast of NL to get an animation on the level that NASA has for Arctic Sea Ice (Link!). I find the patterns and models from satellite and aerial reconnaissance match up with local experiences from indigenous peoples (CBC, Dec. 5. 2019). This knowledge can help explain patterns – settlers have hundreds of years of experience documenting and modeling, indigenous elders have several millennia! This combined knowledge and drive gives me hope for the future, however, the window of opportunity is shrinking.

Thursday, 18 June 2020

Learning ocean currents and weather from ice cubes?

How do you take a small scale activity and connect it with global processes? As part of my National Geographic Educator certification, I developed a lesson to teach students about ocean currents by examining glacial ice from Conception Bay, NL. Fortunately, you do not need an iceberg for this lesson - ice cubes serve this purpose!

The ingredients for this lesson are easy to locate in most kitchens: ice cubes, food colouring, and a mason jar.

The process is simple, put some cold tap water in a jar, let it settle for a minute, then carefully place the coloured ice cube in the water – observe! Once again, allowing students to make predictions is important. I like to prompt students with, “What happens to the ice cubes with dye in a jar full of water?” “What will happen to the dye?” “What role will density play in the movement of water?” The science is fundamental fluid dynamics - cold water is more dense than warm water and sinks. This sets up a downward flow of cold water that is the basis for oceanic water movement from the poles (see below). 


The key to the lesson is connecting students’ new understanding of water flow to planetary scale events – this is where maps are useful. Maps and many other educational resources are found on the National Geographic Classroom Resources website ( Draw the currents on the map, ask, “Why does the Labrador Current flow in this direction?” Answer: Cold water from the North Pole flows downward and the rotation of the Earth compresses this current along the coast of Newfoundland and Labrador. Fluid dynamics is the key to ocean currents and weather – as air also behaves like a fluid (and the ocean is a major driving force in our planet’s weather).

For more details on this lesson, I suggest you watch this YouTube video:


Finally, observation is a skill we develop that is crucial for learning. We observe using our senses and we all have different sensory abilities. The human sensory spectrum means our sense of smell, hearing, taste, touch, and vision vary significantly. Our combined abilities can be improved by observing and I want to promote sensory learning in science – to help students hone their senses while learning. So, try these activities! Give your students a chance to notice changes, to see phenomenon, and improve their ability to observe. This skill will serve students for a lifetime – as will learning to ask questions and make predictions. If you have any questions about this and other activities, please email me – I would love to help! 

Cheers, Pat


Friday, 7 December 2018

Mini Earth (Closed Ecosystem Study)

Mini-Earth Closed Ecosystem Inquiry Activity (Grades 7-12)


For molecules, the Earth is a closed system save the small things we launch away from the planet; and the meteors and space junk that crash to the planet's surface. The means that the nutrients used by the biotic components of biosphere cycle must cycle. Some students find it difficult learn the cycles based on pictures and definitions in a book. The water cycle is easy to appreciate - we have all experienced the sensation of getting wet in the rain. Other important nutrients are not tangible (esoteric) and have complicated biochemical processes -
 making is difficult for students find the deep connection needed to high quality memory formation. Nitrogen and Oxygen are not visible and while carbon is in smoke, I am not a fan of lighting fires in my lab; but I do suggest building a Mini-Earth. 

Video link:

Small scale closed ecosystems, like the ones we will need for a trip to Mars, will establish the same cycles as are found in the ecosystems of the planet. If your students know the basics of photosynthesis and respiration you can make some quick connections using a small scale ecosystem (plus they get to grow things). Students generally take pride in something they build and tend to care for things that are living - making a small scale ecosystem takes advantage of this human trait. By observing the changes over time students learn about growing plants. If you add animals to your ecosystem then they will see interactions between carnivores, herbivores, and producers. So, how do you build a mini Earth?

Materials Required: 
1-2L Clear plastic bottle, packing tape, scissors, utility knife or scalpel, soil sample, and some kind of invertebrate (snail, slug or small insect). For instructions for the Mini Earth are here:

Steps of the lesson (suggested - open for many modifications!). It is suggested you construct this when discussing ecosystems so it is well established for lessons on the cycles. 

1. Make groups of students (2-5) and supply them with the materials required to construct the Mini Earth. Make sure that there is a cut started in each bottle - so the students do not have to perform the dangerous cut with a scalpel.

2. Put the materials inside the bottle (soil sample with a plant if possible), close it and seal in as seen in the video (make sure the Mini Earth stays upright from that point onwards). Students should create a data table for observations - I suggestion a Google Doc that is a diary. They should decide what should be observed - they will make mistakes and learn!. Require the students to date their observations and encourage them to paste images of the Mini Earth in their diary (Google docs work well for this).

3. Over the next few weeks, or even months, students can use 10 to 15 minutes of class time to make observations of their Mini Earth (this activity works well at home too!) The students should document changes, encourage measurements wherever possible. Look for signs of fungus, grazing by slugs, and other typical ecosystem happenings - again, make sure the students never flip to the Mini Earth over.

4. When you finish completing the unit or decide it is tome to complete the activity, the student could write their formal report or describe to the class the "what and why" of what happened inside the Mini Earth (this allows them to make inferences base on evidence!). I suggest reflective questions - related to cycles, ecological processes (respiration, decomposition, and photosynthesis). Students could also report their data to the class or by displaying their Mini Earth. 

5. Ending with sustainable practices - return the soil and plants back to their original location. Wash the bottle so it can be reused next year. Properly dispose of any waste.  

Extensions - Try placing the bottles of dark locations, or use plastic bottles of different colours. Varying heat is difficult but creates conversations! 

If you use this activity please let me know - especially if you made cool modifications! 

I leave you with this - a YouTube video from "The Martian." 

Remember, science the ___ out of everything you do! 

Wednesday, 19 April 2017

Ocean Acidification Inquiry Activity (Grades 7-12)

Ocean Acidification Inquiry Activity (Grades 7-12)

An iceberg covered with gulls in Conception Bay, NL, Canada.


The first lesson I would like to post on my blog is an Ocean Acidification Activity. Ocean Acidification is a serious matter. Each year human combustion activities pump 50 million metric tonnes of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (Schnoor, 2013). Carbon dioxide in the air dissolves freely into the oceans (Byrne, 2014, p. 5352) and this is creating problems with ocean chemistry (Schnoor, 2013). For the oceans, "the massive amount of CO2 absorbed, about 1 million tonnes per hour, generates large-scale changes in seawater chemistry that are collectively referred to as anthropogenic ocean acidification" (Gattuso, Mach, &  Morgan, 2013, p. 726). The acidification result from processes that convert carbon dioxide into carbonic acid (Byrne, 2014) and results in pH changes in the ocean (Schnoor, 2014; Schnoor, 2013).

Watch the video! 

Not many students are aware of the ocean facts related to this phenomenon:

1. If it were not for the sea's ability to absorb carbon dioxide the planet would likely be much warmer - thank you ocean! 
2. Carbon dioxide dissolves into the ocean and forms carbonic acid. 
3. The pH of the ocean is currently above pH 8. It was 8.2 but has decreased to 8.1, not acidic but becoming more acidic. Many studies suggest the pH of the ocean is decreasing (by 25% in the past 200 years).
4. The current level of pH of the ocean allows organisms to make shells using calcium carbonate (due to the low solubility of CaCO3 above pH 8). A decrease in pH diminishes some species ability to make their shells. Many of these organisms are the bottom of the food chains or base of ecosystem energy pyramids. 
5. If the pH of the ocean decreases many organisms will be impacted, and it may change the balance of the ecosystems in the oceans.
6. We are the cause of the problem. However, we are also the solution to this issue (keep it positive, we need students to help our oceans!).

The goal of the lesson is to help students make connections between the physical change in ocean water and the over production of carbon dioxide by burning fossil fuels. The trick to making the lesson "turn the tide" of realization of the human impacts on our planet. I suggest you start with a simple task – examining basic the pH of an ocean water sample and seashells. This will require two sessions, one to conduct activities and a second for evaluation and discussion. It is possible to piece together the events in another order: this is your choice, and I would be interested to hear how it goes (I love changing things up).  

Materials Required: 
1L of seawater or artificial seawater (see recipe*), 100 or 200 ml beakers, clean drinking straws, safety goggles, seashells (not snail shells and they must be free of allergens), Vinegar, Bleach, LabQuest2 with pH and CO2 probes, or Litmus paper (red and blue) or bromothymol blue solution (there are three different strategies to collect data for pH change). 

*If you have no access to seawater you can make a sample with tap water and table salt. A tested recipe is 1 teaspoon NaCl per 200 ml of tap water (this makes a sample of about 30-35 ppt). If you have some limewater you could add 30-40ml to the 200 ml of salt solution. The pH will not be 8 but the water should be alkaline (you may also raise the pH by adding drops of bleach until you get the pH you desire). Once you have your sample prepared and tested, set it aside until required.

Steps of the lesson (steps 1 and 2 may be switched):
  1. Break into lab groups and answer an information question related to the carbon cycle. The intention is to start a discussion about the problems of excess carbon dioxide.
  2. Introduce a discrepant event and use POE (follow this link for an explanation of POE -
  3. Use the discrepant event to make a connection to the ocean and have student lab groups conduct investigations that relate to the carbon problem.
  4. Students report their data to the class. Discuss how they results relate to the problem of CO2 levels and ecological changes on Earth. Class analysis and recommendations.
  5. Conduct an extension activity (another POE) and ask students to make recommendations based upon the results of the experiments. 

1. Group questions and examining the problem (10 minutes)
Start the class by breaking into lab groups and ask students to think about the carbon cycle. Pass out some seashells (make sure they are clean and dry, if not, students with shellfish allergies may react). My students will have investigated the cycles using the “mini-earth” (that is a later blog) so I remind them of the principles of cycling demonstrated by our previous investigations. Ask the student groups or lab groups one of these questions: 

What forms of carbon exist on the planet? 
What processes add carbon to the atmosphere? 
What processes remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere? 
What is the Greenhouse Effect?
How are humans connected to the carbon cycle?
What is carbon storage? Name some examples (the seashell is one!)
These questions require 4-5 minutes to answer and have students post written answers on a wall for review by the whole class. This warm up is a good baseline level of discussion. Add the following to the discussion: “What do scientists believe is the cause of the Greenhouse Effect?” or  “What forms of evidence offered by scientists to support their assertions?”

This line of inquiry by lab groups may not lead to the idea of ocean acidification. Students should know they produce carbon dioxide and that it is able to dissolve in water. Next, you need to use some pH indicator magic to hook the students.

2. Discrepant Event (POE) (10 minutes)
Put 100 ml of your seawater sample into a beaker. Add bromothymol blue indicator (it should remain blue if the pH is 8, make sure you test it!). Tell the students what you seawater and then ask the student lab groups "What will happen if I blow bubbles in this beaker of seawater?" Allow them to record answers and predict, then demonstrate the process. As you slowly bubble air through the water the solution, the students will observe it turn blue-green then yellow. Ask the students, what happened and why? Since the class is full of oxygen, could it be oxygen? What else could it be? Nitrogen? In groups, suggest what gas caused this change? You must ask them, what will happen if we leave this beaker overnight? (this solution will turn blue overnight as the CO2 dissolves out of solution - you can observe this the next day).

Students may make the connection to an acid being formed. If not you can tell them seawater changed because of the carbon dioxide. When you exhale CO2 into water it forms carbonic acid and this acid reduces the pH of the water, making it more acidic. You could explain pH, but I prefer to let them conduct one of two experiments and the need for knowing pH will arise from their investigations.

3. Experiments with Seawater (20-30 minutes)

Ask the lab groups to conduct an experiment and report their findings to the class. There are two experiments: 1. Measuring the pH of seawater as CO2 is bubbled through it; 2. Exposing seashells to tap water, an acid, and a base. The experiments are complementary and it is useful to have different lab groups collect observations then pass them on the other groups (using a grouping strategy that has students going to other groups to report their group's results or by posting the results in some manner, such as on the wall again). 

Experiment 1 – Bubble experiment: Each lab groups, now called the bubble groups, must obtain a straw, goggles, a beaker, and a pH-measuring device (litmus paper, calibrated pH meter (LabQuest 2 with pH probe) or bromothymol blue indicator). Ask the student to devise a protocol to examine the change in acidity. Let them struggle with the procedure and report the steps to you before they start. They must consider safety and their data must include a baseline reading, time of the bubbling, and have a “bubbling protocol” (good science controls variables to isolate the one of interest – CO2 impact on pH). For example, they should take a baseline pH reading then bubble for thirty seconds, then record pH again. They should record the pH every 30 seconds and bubble for about 2-3 minutes (exhaling normally - no need to pass out!). The pH should drop by a whole unit on the pH scale or be noticeable with the Litmus paper. This is a great opportunity for them to examine the pH scale of pH and is an opportunity to explain the logarithmic scale as you travel around visiting the lab groups. Have the groups graph the data, pH versus time (or colour versus time), and prepare to report their results for next day.

While the students conduct this experiment connect the pH probe to the LabQuest2. Run an experiment overnight to graph the pH over 24 hours - acidity will give way to a pH of over 8 once the CO2 gases off!  

Experiment 2 – Seashell experiment: This experiment will examine the effect of pH on seashells. For the shell experiment lab groups, now called the shell groups, will use three beakers, three similar sized seashells, seawater solution, vinegar, bleach (diluted to 25%) and a balance for mass determination. Ask the students to determine the protocol for exposing shells to three different liquids; safety is important as they are handling acids and bases. Procedures should involve determining the initial mass of seashells and recording the result (the mass should be ± 0.01g if possible). Have students note the features of the shells (visual and tactile inspection); pictures are advised. The shells should be dropped into the respective solutions and observations documented. Again, circulate around the groups - a gas may be evolved, the solution may get cloudy, reinforce that all these observations are important. Ask the students to consider allowing the experiment to continue overnight (the reaction is not vigorous with a weak acid). If they do, at the beginning of the next class the must rinse the shells off with water, make visual observations, dry then and obtain the mass of each shell. The group must add the data to the prepared table to report their findings to the other groups. The ‘bubble groups’ could watch the shell groups finish their data collection and this is a time to explain procedures used by the shell groups.

4. Reporting the Findings (Next day, 20 minutes)
The student scientists now need to report their data. It is exciting to start with the results, then open the floor for the students to question each other in terms of procedures, safety considerations and standardization of measuring practices. This activity can be conducted in a smaller, safer environment by matching a ‘shell group’ with a ‘bubble group’. They will describe their data to each other and then clarify if the data was collected in a sound manner with minimal sources of error. Both groups then combine to produce two recommendations to the class based upon their observations. These will be posted on the wall for the whole class to see (counting down time is useful to urge groups to be efficient).

5. Discrepant Event Number 2 (another POE, 20 minutes or more)
Once the two recommendations are posted, have the students gather around and predict what will happen if you drop a seashell in an acid solution (your solution will be a strong acid – all students should “goggle up” before they approach you). They will be expecting small bubbles. Instruct them to watch as you drop a seashell into a strong acid solution (200 ml beaker with 50 ml of 1M HCl works well). This reaction will be vigorous and produce a significant amount of gas (CO2 but do not tell them). Ask them: what gas is being produced? How can you prove that? Let them figure it out.


Since the shells are composed of CaCO3 this must be CO2. Have students suggest answers. Then demonstrate that the gas will extinguish a flame – proof that is CO2. Next, comes this big question: What is the connection between acidity, shells dissolving and global warming?

One the students have tried this redo this and connect the CO2 probe to the LabQuest2. The graph produced will be an exponential spike in CO2. If you allow this to run over night the CO2 levels return to normal!  

Use this question and all the student recommendations to develop a focus on the problem with ocean acidity. Many school labs do not permit stressful examination of organisms and these experiments take months. However, evidence suggests CO2 is the cause of global warming. Have groups must consider the following (thanks, Bill Nye): What if the pH of the ocean decreases and the CO2 storage ability of the ocean decreases? How will a warmer ocean store CO2? Now you can have a meaningful investigation and discussion – ask the lab groups to reform. The task of the lab groups to use the evidence collected to convince the government we have a significant problem. Write a letter to the Minister of the Environment and express your concerns and use your experimental evidence to support your claims. The letters can be reviewed by the class and if possible, emailed or posted to the Minister of the Environment (federal and provincial).

These experiments generate a lot of discussion and conflict with student conceptions about many things such as – the fragility of the powerful ocean, problems with rising temperatures, and direct connections to their behaviours and our planet’s geochemical cycles.

Teaching Resources 

Below are useful Sites to build your knowledge or for student investigations. There are some great videos and the content is grades 7-12 appropriate.

Digital Resources 

  • DFO - pdf which explains the problem in detail suitable for grades 7-12.
  • DFO -
  • NOAA Ocean Acidification Site -
  • Smithsonian -
  • Review of the Federal Ocean Acidification Research and Monitoring Plan (US).

Useful Scientific References (Canadian and US)

Curran, K. J. (2012). In Azetsu-Scott K., Canada. Department of Fisheries and Oceans and Bedford Institute of Oceanography (Eds.), Ocean acidification: State of the Scotian shelf report. Dartmouth, NS: Dartmouth, NS: Fisheries and Oceans Canada, Bedford Institute of Oceanography.
National Research Council (US) Committee on the Review of the National Ocean Acidification Research and, Monitoring Plan, National Research Council (US) Ocean, Studies Board, & National Research Council (US) Division on Earth and Life Studies, issuing body. (2013). Review of the federal ocean acidification research and monitoring plan. Washington, D.C.: National Academies Press.

Byrne, R. H. (2014). Measuring ocean acidification: new technology for a new era of ocean chemistry. Environ. Sci. Technol.48 (10), 5352–5360. DOI: 10.1021/es405819p
Gattuso, J. P., Mach, K. J., & Morgan, G. (2013). Ocean acidification and its impacts: an expert survey. Climatic Change117(4), 725-738.
Schnoor, J. L. (2013). Ocean acidificationEnviron. Sci. Technol. 47 (21), 11919–11919
DOI: 10.1021/es404263h
Schnoor, J. L. (2014). Ocean Acidification: The Other Problem with CO2. Environ. Sci. Technol. Vol.48(18), pp.10529-30

Wednesday, 8 February 2017

Welcome science teachers - you have a challenging job and I want to help!

My goal is simple: share learning success stories, one lesson at a time. 

I have been conducting student-centered learning whenever possible for over 25 years. Instruction for this type of learning is both challenging and rewarding. I invite you to read my stories which describe how to avoid the pitfalls associated with inquiry instruction, project-based learning, problem-based learning, and student inquiry. I currently use these lessons with my 189 students at Holy Spirit High School (HSHS) in Conception Bay South, Newfoundland - the home of the Falcons!

So.....what are we going to discuss? Currently, the students in my classes are using Glogster, Google Apps for Education (GAFE), and selected iPad Apps to support their learning. They are investigating ecology, local habitats, chemical reactions, motion, weather dynamics, human systems, genetics, and evolution. We have a lot going on in the lab, classroom and outdoors: it is my intention to document all our activities though this site. There will be pictures of apparatus (or me holding a shark), recipes for conducting an inquiry, and advice for maximizing time on task.

I am always trying to develop new lessons and find the students are an excellent source of inspiration. Follow the blog and comment if you wish: I have thick skin developed through 25 years of teaching secondary school science. Let the fun begin! All the best, Pat.

What is the climate change impact on ocean currents? How changes in the Spring Pack Ice and Icebergs of East Coast of Newfoundland are evidence for Climate change.

My selected topic for my National Geographic Climate Change course is: What is the climate change impact on ocean currents? How changes in ...