Impact of ocean acidification on shelled organisms: supporting integration of chemistry and biology knowledge through multidisciplinary activities

Students often experience difficulty in connecting knowledge from different college courses to solve complex problems such as ocean acidification, a pressing concern within the ongoing climate crisis. Here, we introduce a multidisciplinary activity in which students use their chemistry knowledge of change and stability in chemical systems through Le Chatelier’s principle and equilibrium of coupled reactions to explain the biological phenomenon of how changes in CO2 concentrations can impact shelled organisms and ecosystems more broadly in the ocean. In this activity, we build on prior literature and emphasize Three-Dimensional Learning (3DL) to support students in developing a deeper understanding of this complex problem. This Ocean Acidification activity asks students to explain (1) the relationship between CO2 concentration and ocean pH and (2) how and why changes in ocean pH could weaken shelled organisms. Among 136 students in a second-semester general chemistry course at a large institution, 93% were able to correctly predict the relationship between CO2 and pH (chemistry-biology connection). Additionally, 43% of the students were able to then further apply this knowledge correctly to explain an unfamiliar situation in which the decreased pH could lead to less available carbonate ion for the shells (biological phenomenon). This result highlights that while some students were able to correctly explain the biological phenomenon and make meaningful connections, others would require additional in-class scaffolding and student-instructor interaction to be able to integrate their knowledge to explain this unfamiliar complex biological phenomenon. Implications for teaching and future implementations are also discussed.

Allred Z. R., Shrode A. D., Gonzalez J., Rose A., Green A. I., Swamy U., Matz R. L. & Underwood S. M., 2022. Impact of ocean acidification on shelled organisms: supporting integration of chemistry and biology knowledge through multidisciplinary activities. Journal of Chemical Education 99(5): 2182–2189 Article (subscription required).

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