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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

Drops in the ocean

Today, we switched the focus of the elective class to the sciences and, in my opinion, our far too understated links with all three. This is a potentially rich vein of engagement that I think we as geographers frequently miss out on. Our subject lends itself so well to many of the practical elements of the sciences and students frequently tell me that they enjoy science "because of the experiments". We have built this learning through experiment and experience into part of the elective and focused on oceans today, using climate change as the context to discuss ocean acidification. There are already some fantastic resources available through the Catlin Arctic Survey and Digital Explorer which we used for the basis for today's activities. We also employed the S3 experiment write up structure that is used in Biology after discussion with my colleague, Mrs Morrison. 
I was confident in teaching part of this theme but wanted to make sure I wasn't teaching bad science, so I invited a colleague, Mr McDermott, to see if we could co-op on this. It's fair to say that we were both delighted with the outcomes. The students conducted experiments comparing carbonated water to still water, using 'sea' water and fresh water which they then carbonated themselves through straws, comparing PH change rate over time and prepared for next week, where we will look at being ocean detectives, followed by a look at ocean currents and how meltwater might influence energy distribution. The student engagement was first class, the learning was pretty much all through enquiry, the context (something that Mr McDermott stressed the importance of in our later conversation) was real and the results were not uniform. This led to anomalies and the realisation that unexpected results are not always wrong results, as long as they can be explained or improved. The concept of oceans as a carbon store was explored, but the real eye opener for me came after the lesson.
When we discussed the lesson from each others subject background, Mr McDermott and I actually learned quite a lot from each. For example, I now know that temperature increase diminishes the ability to absorb CO2 and can therefore link this to skewed results but, most importantly, the increasing acidification of oceans in polar regions. This also led us to discuss methane locked in the seabed and how increasing temperatures are likely to release it which, again, links back to climate change and greenhouse gases. This was hopefully a lesson which students enjoyed and has given me another angle to teach it from when we build on the prior learning next week. I was also sent a link by Jamie Buchanan Dunlop on twitter to this (
http://www.guardian.co.uk/environment/2013/may/07/arctic-threat-ocean-acidification) which brings a marine biology element to the climate change and when we discuss oceanic circulation as part of the theme, there are ties with physics.  This is a small step towards proper interdisciplinary learning, a drop in the ocean to use an obvious pun, but the possibilities for its expansion seem very real if this is an accurate snapshot of the outcomes.