Our Lessons

If you are a teacher currently enrolled with Garden of the Salish Sea Curriculum, find your school under the Our Schools menu to find your custom tailored curriculum.

If you are NOT currently enrolled, stay on this page. Lessons are for teachers, home-schoolers and community educators.  Use our 4 week plan, or pick and choose from the list of activities.

Go to supplementary videos for prefacing activities, laboratories and field inquiry. 

week 2

          Ocean Acidification


Week 1 



Week 4


Week 1: Introduction

One of GSSC's environmental educators will present a PowerPoint lecture to the students. We will introduce key concepts, and the timeline for the program. The Students will then rotate through several lab stations, filling out information in their Week 1 Lab Notebook.  Stations may include:

  • Shellfish in Time and Place
  • Oyster Dissection
  • Oyster Observation and Life Cycle
  • Food Web Foundations
  • Watershed Model
  • Coast Salish Cultural Uses of Shellfish
  • Water Quality Parameters
  • Art

Students will be given a Salish Sea Challenge sheet to take home. The Salish Sea Challenge fosters the importance of being a steward to the land, sea, and community. The Salish Sea Challenge is designed to encourage families to adopt sustainable habits.


Week 2: Ocean Acidification Lab Stations

In this lesson, students will begin to understand the causes of ocean acidification and how the Salish Sea is affected. Use the presentation on OA chemistry and the hands-on lab series in the Week 2 section of the lab notebook.

Students will learn what pH is, how carbon dioxide from their own breath can change the pH of water, the effects of acid on calcified shells, and how ocean acidification can send a ripple effect throughout the Salish Sea ecosystem. Labs include:

  •  Human Smokestack
  •  pH of Household Solutions
  •  A Tale of Two Cities
  •  Dissolving Shells


Week 3: Field Trip

Students will get in-the-field-experience with what they have already learned. Field trip location depends on location of the school. Some classes go to oyster farms in Drayton Harbor; others will get to do a scavenger hunt on the beach; others participate in a clam survey in partnership with the Whatcom Marine Resource Committee. We design field trips in compliance with your school district’s risk management plan..

Review the notebook section below, designed for Blaine Elementary 5th Graders who take a tour of Drayton Harbor Oyster Farm.


Week 4: Post-Trip/Salish Sea Pledge

The post-trip visit will review what the students have been learning for the past month. Student will reflect on and share how they used the Salish Sea Challenge. 

Within these 4 weeks the teachers can choose from several lesson options. The hope and purpose of the program is to instill habits in the classroom and the community. We expect teachers t to help instill the practices and concepts of this curriculum.


Summary of Lessons by Grade Level

Garden of the Salish Sea provides curriculum for a variety of grade levels. Below are some of the worksheets that this curriculum has to offer for specific grade levels; however, this curriculum is specially tailored to meet the needs of the schools GSSC serves.

5th Grade

For an example of GSSC in a 5th grade classroom, please refer to the Blaine Elementary page under Teacher Materials. Below are some of the materials and activities developed specifically for 5th graders. Refer to the Lesson Activities Menu for a full list of available GSSC lessons.

3rd Grade

For an example of GSSC in a 3rd grade classroom, please refer to the Wade King Elementary page under Teacher Materials. Below are some of the materials and activities developed specifically for 3rd graders. Refer to the Lesson Activities Menu for a full list of available GSSC lessons.

Primary Grades


Garden of the Salish Sea Challenge

Brief description: Students will be introduced to the Salish Sea Steward's Challenge and learn about things we can all do to help protect the waters and life in the Salish Sea and by extension, waters everywhere. Their Salish Sea Challenge sheet should be introduced at the beginning of the curriculum and be an ongoing discussion about progress throughout the three to four weeks of the curriculum.

Lesson Materials:

Lesson Vocabulary:

  • Steward – to take care of something
  • Watershed - an area of land where all the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place

Lesson Activity:

Students will participate in the Salish Sea Challenge where they are encouraged to be stewards of the Salish Sea by keeping it healthy and pollutant-free. This lesson is introduced the first day of the curriculum and students are encouraged to engage their families to achieve the stewardship practices listed on the challenge. At the end of the curriculum unit, students become Salish Sea Stewards having learned how to care for the Salish Sea, understanding why being a steward is important, and how to practice healthy habits to protect the Salish Sea.

By working with their families, we hope to include families and communities within this curriculum. The challenge should be emphasized as a habit-forming lesson rather than a how-many-boxes-you-can-quickly-check-off competition. The ultimate goal of this lesson and curriculum is to change lifestyles of students, families, and communities that foster overall health of the Salish Sea and ourselves.

Critical thinking questions for students:

  • What are things you already are a steward of?
  • What watershed do you live in?
  • How are you a steward of your local watershed?
  •  Does one person’s actions make a difference in a watershed?

Ocean Acidification

Brief description: Excess carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere from natural processes and human activity is absorbed by the world's oceans causing a shift in ocean acidity. Ocean acidification literacy has been identified as an education priority by Washington State's Blue Ribbon Panel on Ocean Acidification. Simple laboratory investigations help students gain better understandings of this process.

Our ocean acidification lesson has several mini lessons on the theme ocean acidification. This allows students to understand what is happing with the pH of the world’s oceans, why the oceans are becoming more acidic, and the affects of more acidic oceans on calcified animals such as oysters and the food web as a whole. The mini lessons are: The Human Smokestack where students learn that the CO2 within their breath has the ability to make water more acidic, Testing the pH of Household Solutions where students can understand that the pH of solutions they are familiar with are acidic, basic, or neutral; Dissolving Shells where students compare oyster shells that have been soaked in either water or vinegar and they can visibly see the affects of an acid on a calcified shell, and A Tale of Two Cities where students compare and contrast two felt boards that are depictions of a city and the affects of carbon dioxide emitted by burning of fossil fuels has on the creatures within the oceans. 

The Human Smoke Stack:

Human Smoke Stack Materials:

  • 2 cups per person
  • 2 lids per person
  • 1 straw per person (not re-usable)
  • Purple cabbage pH indicator
  • Written equation: H2O + CO2 = H2CO3 (water + carbon dioxide = carbonic acid)
  • Litmus paper and pH scale according to litmus paper

Human Smoke Stack Vocabulary:

  • Ocean Acidification – ocean water decreasing in pH due to excess CO2 entering the water and forming carbonic acid
  •  Human caused Carbon Dioxide – excess carbon dioxide entering the atmosphere due to humans burning fossil fuels for transportation and energy.

Human Smoke Stack Activity:
Students will follow the procedures listed below to do an official science experiment, students will see if their breath, which contains carbon dioxide, makes their variable cup more acidic or more basic in comparison to the control cup.

Human Smoke Stack Procedures:

  1. Each student receives 2 cups filled with ½ cup distilled water plus 5-8 mL of purple cabbage pH indicator depending on the strength, cups should be labeled 1 and 2, and 1 straw.
  2. Students will make a hypothesis on whether their breath makes the solution more acidic or more basic
  3.  Students will place their straws in cup 1 (the variable) and blow into the cup until they see a change in color.
  4. Students will compare the colors of the solutions within their two cups to a purple cabbage pH indicator scale to see if their breath made their variable solution more acidic or more basic.
  5. Once a visual change is noticed, students will receive a piece of litmus paper to test the pH of their variable cup.

Once the students have completed their experiment they can answer the questions within their workbook or lab sheet to finish this lesson.

Human Smoke Stack Critical Thinking Questions:

  •  What changes did you see in the variable cup?
  •  Why did the color of the solution change? What did the color change indicate?
  • Carbon dioxide from your breath is the same molecule as what is emitted when we burn fossil fuels such as coal or gas, what do you think that carbon dioxide is doing to the water around the world?

Testing the pH of Household Solutions:

Testing pH Materials:

  • Laminated Household Solutions sheet with instructions
  • pH indicator strip
  • Laminated pH scale
  • 6 plastic cups labeled with the names of the solution
  •  Vinegar
  • Lemon Juice
  • Club Soda
  •  Distilled water
  • Baking soda
  • Tums - antacids

Testing pH Vocabulary:

  • pH scale – a way of measuring the amount of hydrogen ions in a solution to determine if a solution is acidic, basic, or neutral. Scale runs from 0-14 with 7 being in the middle. The further you get towards the ends of the scale the more caustic the solution is and cannot sustain life.
  • acid – between 0 and 6.9 on the pH scale
  • base – between 7.1 and 14 on the pH scale
  • neutral – 7 on the pH scale, pure water is neutral

Testing pH Activity:
Students will first take a moment to look at the pH scale and see that the range is from 0-14 with 7 being neutral. 0-6.9 means a solution is acidic and 7.1-14 means a solution is basic. Students will then make predictions on the 6 solutions to be measured in this lab of their measurement on the pH scale. Once students make a prediction, they will complete as a small group 3 trials for each household solution, recording the pH each time. After the groups have completed the 3 trials for each solution they will find the average pH. Students will begin to understand the scientific method and using trials to take more accurate measurements. Students will be able to compare their predictions to their results.

Testing pH Critical Thinking Questions:

  • What does neutral pH mean?

Dissolving Shells:

Dissolving Shell Materials:

  • Shells soaked in vinegar
  • Shells soaked in distilled water
  • Laminated Dissolving Shells sheet with instructions

Dissolving Shell Activity:
Students will be able to observe the two sets of shells, one set of oyster shells have been soaked in vinegar for weeks and the other in distilled water. The shells soaked in vinegar have dissolved in the acidic solution until the calcium was broken down creating a byproduct of CO2 and neutralizing the vinegar solution. Students are asked to draw and describe the two sets of shells and to think about what might happen if the oceans become acidic.

Lesson extension: each student or group of students put shells in vinegar and observe what happens throughout the day.

Dissolving Shell Critical Thinking Questions:

  • What is happening to the shells soaked in the vinegar solution?
  • Why are acidic solutions not good for calcifying animals?

A Tale of Two Cities (Adapted from Suquamish Tribe, Sea Grant, and NOAA)

Tale of Two Cities Materials:

  • Carbon Heavy City Felt Board
  • Eco-Friendly City Felt Board
  •  Felt cutouts to populate the city and the ocean
  •  Laminated A Tale of Two Cities sheet with instructions/questions 

Tale of Two Cities Tie-In to Education Standards:
K-ESS3-3: Communicate solutions that will reduce the impact of humans on the land, water, air, and/or other living things in the local environment. [Clarification Statement: Examples of human impact on the land could include cutting trees to produce paper and using resources to produce bottles. Examples of solutions could include reusing paper and recycling cans and bottles.]

Tale of Two Cities Activity:
Set felt boards up with the Carbon Heavy City populated with factories that emit CO2 and cars that emit CO2. The CO2 then gets into the air, which diffuses into the oceans. The oceans are more acidic meaning less shellfish, which will throw off the natural food web meaning less biodiversity. In the Carbon Heavy world, there are also more aquatic plants because these plants have more CO2 in the water to help with photosynthesis. In the Eco-Friendly City there are more efficient factories, alternative energies, and eco-friendly transportation such as using a bicycle. Because this city is burning less fossil fuel, there is less CO2 in the atmosphere and less diffusion of CO2 into the ocean. Shellfish thrive in this basic environment keeping the water clean and providing a food source for other animals; biodiversity is high.

Students will have time to look at the two cities and then will be prompted to compare and contrast the two. Using their worksheets or workbooks they will be asked to find three similarities and three differences. Students will have the opportunity to visually see the affects of CO2 in our atmosphere and how the oceans are predicted to change.

An extension to this lesson for older students would be to allow them to populate the city they think they live in starting with how much industry there is in there town, if there are alternative energy sources such as dams, windmills, or solar farms; and what their main mode of transportation is. They can then add the CO2 into the atmosphere based on how much is emitted from their city then add the CO2 into the oceans based on how much is in the atmosphere. Students can then add shellfish and other aquatic plants and animals as they believe would be in an ocean based on the CO2 levels.

Tale of Two Cities Critical Thinking Questions:

  •  Which city looks like the city the student lives in and why?

I’m Melting: Shell Investigation

I'm Melting Brief Description:
Students will explore ocean acidification through the scientific process. First students will be given a background on ocean acidification and then will measure first hand how an acidic solution can cause a chemical reaction with the calcium of calcified shells. By measuring the mass of shells before and after they have been sitting in vinegar, students can compare the mass loss to a control.

I'm Melting Materials:

  • 2 oyster shells per student
  • 2 jars with lids per student
  • Distilled water
  • Vinegar
  • Scales (measures to 1 gram minimum)
  • Tweezers or tongs
  • Litmus Paper
  • Permanent Marker

 I'm Melting Vocabulary:

  • Carbonic Acid
  • Calcium Carbonate
  • Mantle
  • Calcifier 

I'm Melting Activity:
Students will follow the procedures on their I’m Melting: Shellfish Investigation lab sheet:

  1. Label one jar DH2O and the other vinegar. (Also label the jars with your name and date.)
  2. Fill each jar to an inch from the top with the liquid indicated on the label. 
  3. Measure the pH of the solution in each jar and record.
  4. Label one shells #1, and the other #2. Be sure to label them well and go over it twice.
  5. Weigh each shell using the triple balance beam or another scale. Be sure to zero the scale before weighing. Record the weight of the shells in grams.
  6. Place #1 in the jar labeled DH2O, this is your control vessel.
  7.  Place #2 in the jar labeled vinegar, this is your treatment or experimental vessel.
  8.  Draw a picture of each jar and its contents.
  9.  In a week, observe and compare the contents of each jar. Draw a picture of each jar and its contents. 
  10. In two weeks, weigh the shells again. Be sure to pat each shell dry with a paper towel gently before weighing. Calculate and record the difference in weights from day 1.
  11. As a class, pool your data with your group for repetitions and calculate average weight difference in shells from the beginning to the end of the time period.
  12. Write your conclusions describing the reasons for your results.

I'm Melting Critical Thinking Questions:

  • What can humans to do reduce the excess CO2 in the atmosphere?

    Shellfish Anatomy/Dissection

    Dissecting an oyster or a clam provides students hands-on opportunities to explore how these animals work. 

    Brief description: See how many parts students can find and label.  Students will learn how a mollusk filters water and catches its food, find what it has eaten or locate the organ responsible for forming the shell (mantle). Compare the anatomy of an oyster with a clam.  What part does a clam have that the oyster has lost while it developed into an adult?

    Shellfish Anatomy/Dissection Materials:

    • Oysters to dissect
    • Plates and paper towels 
    • Macroscopes or magnifying glasses
    • Forks
    • Toothpicks with anatomy labels
    • Shellfish anatomy cheat sheets (highlight the location of oyster organs and their functions)
    • Hand sanitizer 
    • Worksheet (example one here)

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    • Heart
    • Mouth
    • Gills
    • Mantle
    • Hinge
    • Labial palps
    • Shell
    •  Abductor muscle
    • Stomach
    • Tentacles 
    • Hinge
    • Digestive gland

    Lesson Activity: Students get a chance to explore the organs of a real oyster. A shucked oyster in a half shell is places on a plate. Students use forms or other utensils to examine the body parts, using a cheat sheet to help first identify the parts of the oyster and then to learn about the function of particular organs. Students draw what they see and label three organs and describe what each does.

    Critical thinking questions for students:

    • What function do these organs have? How do they help the oyster survive?

    Shellfish Life Cycles

    Shellfish life cycles show how these organisms reproduce and grow through swimming larval stages to reach their adult form.  Students draw life cycles to understand how organisms reproduce and how their environment can impact development. 

    Brief description:  Students draw a life cycle and a) explain how environmental conditions such as ocean acidification can interrupt shell formation and b) observe how clams and oyster differ as adults. Like tree rings, oysters and clams record age in their shells. Annual growth rings can be counted to estimate the age of a mollusc. Molluscs grow more slowly in winter than in summer forming alternating patterns.  The dark narrow winter bands on this Littleneck clam shell are called annuli. Students explore how old an oyster was by looking at its rings on its shell.

    Lesson Materials:

    • Life cycle diagram
    • Shellfish shell with a good example of growth rings 
    • Worksheet

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    • annuli
    • spat

    Lesson Activity: Students observe diagram of oyster life cycle and answer questions. Students also examine a shell to determine how old an oyster was by the rings on its shell.

    Critical thinking questions for students:

    • What stage in the oyster life cycle is most sensitive to ocean acidification?

    Watershed Model

    Students build a watershed and learn what happens to pollution during a rainstorm.  Great for primary grades and intermediate students, this activity is simple, fun and it makes the point!

    Brief description: Build a watershed using common household materials or make a more realistic paiper mache model as a group project.  Complete with pollution sources and rain, this model illustrates how contaminants  reach streams, rivers and ultimately estuaries where they pollute shellfish beds.  Use a white plastic garbage bag over boxes, large legos, or other objects to create hills & valleys.  Toy animals, cars, houses and boats represent pollution sources.  Food coloring and chocolate sprinkles are the pollution that runs to the bay when student rainmakers spray water from a spray bottle.  Pieces of sponge illustrate how vegetation can protect water quality from stormwater runnoff over an impervious surface.  This activity is simple, fun and it makes the point! Students can write an explanation of the pollution process or draw a picture comparing healthy watershed habits over scenarios that put water quality at risk.

    Lesson Materials:

    • Legos/building blocks/boxes
    • Plastic bags
    • Spray bottle
    • Toy houses, cars, and animals
    • Chocolate sprinkles
    • Food coloring
    • Sponges

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    • Impervious and pervious surfaces
    • Rain gardens
    • Watershed
    • Toxic runoff

    Lesson Activity: Create a watershed model. Explain to students what a watershed is. Have students talk about sources of nonpoint source pollution and add drops of food coloring and chocolate sprinkles to represent pollution. Have students spray watershed model with the spray bottle to represent a rain storm. Students should observe the "toxic" runoff run down the watershed and into the receiving waters. Next, place the sponges throughout the watershed so that they absorb the rainwater with the runoff. Ask students to evaluate the difference with the sponges and what might the sponges represent in real life. 

    Critical thinking questions for students:

    • What watershed do you live in?
    • What are some sources of pollution?
    • What difference do the sponges make? What do sponges represent?
    • What is the difference between pervious and impervious surfaces? What are some examples of each?
    • Why might pervious surfaces be beneficial for water quality? 
    • How can you reduce your impacts on the watershed?

    Beachfront Scavenger Hunt & Shell Identification

    Students learn to identify shellfish species that may be found on beaches or in the intertidal zone. A great beachwalk activity and prerequisite to a clam survey!

    Brief description: On a field trip to the beach, students are given a checklist of beach species to find. They can also draw pictures and make scientific observations of species found.

    Lesson Materials: 

    • beach species identification sheets and books
    • beachfront scavenger hunt worksheet
    • shell identification sheets

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    • bivalve
    • intertidal zone

    Lesson Activity: At the beach, students break into groups with a parent volunteer to find beach creatures, identify them, and make observations.

    Critical thinking questions for students: 

    • Why do some creatures live higher or lower in the intertidal zone? 
    • Why is it important to have not only common names, but scientific names for species?

    Clam survey

    Clam surveys are are great way for students to participate in data collection with trained community members.  This is a great activity in scientific inquiry with application to data graphing and math.

    Brief description: Students get a real citizen science experience by taking a field trip and inquiry to a local beach and assist the Marine Resources Committee (MRC) in collecting data on shellfish species and abundance for North Chuckanut Bay.

    Lesson Materials: Students will need to be dressed for the outdoors and ready to get muddy! The MRC and GSSC will provide the other materials needed, such as clip boards and data sheets, compasses, shovels, kneelers, sifters, clam ID sheets, and more.

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    Lesson Activity: Students prepare for this field inquiry beforehand in the classroom with a lesson on how to identify shellfish.

    Critical thinking questions for students:

    • Why is this data collected?
    • Are there trends over time and what do they imply?

    Shellfish & Coast Salish Culture

    Shellfish are an important part of Native-American culture. Coast Salish people have harvested shellfish historically for food, used shells as tools and in ceremony for thousands of years.  Shell middens are buried piles of shells that show where people lived and ate. (This section is being developed)

    Brief description: Students learn about the importance of shellfish in Coast Salish culture and answer a series of questions relating to what they learned. 

    Lesson Materials:

    • Workbook

    Lesson Vocabulary:

    • shell midden

    Lesson Activity: After an introductory power point lesson, students visit classroom stations. One of these stations is Shellfish & Coast Salish culture, usually paired next to Shellfish In Time and Place where students learn about how shellfish have been used all over the world for a long time. Here, students are asked questions about shell middens and other uses of shellfish in Coast Salish culture.

    Critical thinking questions for students:

    • How do we know Coast Salish people used shellfish?
    • What is a shellfish midden?

    Shellfish Worksheets & Quizzes

    Quizzes are provided as tools for review and reinforcement of content learned in classroom and field inquiry.  Teachers can use them to evaluate students' comprehension of curriculum content.


    Language Arts


    Essays exploring main concepts and relevant articles promote critical thinking and writing skills. 


    Composing poetry about shellfish and oceans can help students think creatively about the marine environment.

    Shellfish vocabulary/word puzzles and second language

    Vocabulary that describes marine plants, animals and biological processes can help students better understand the environment and serves as an introduction to scientific terminology.  Vocabulary in a second language reinforces concepts and language.

    Shellfish Artwork

    Shellfish are beautiful yet simple forms that inspire the imagination.  When students observe and interact with shells creatively,  an emotional bond is formed with these amazing creatures. 


    Coastal Communities International Blog

    We share the oceans and we can learn from one another no matter where we live on planet earth. This blog provides a forum for sharing among students, classes and community members.


    Students' Activity Bulletin Board

    This is a place where student work can be shared.  Artwork, writing and photographs of the ocean environment.  Students are empowered by "publishing" their work and sharing with others.


    Videos & Slide Shows

    Videos and slide shows supplement and enhance classroom presentations and field trips.  Materials intended to preface or follow classroom activities are highlighted with a comment in red.  Please use these resources to prompt classroom discussion, writing and research assignments.

    Links: Articles and Technology

    Marine ecosystems and ocean acidification are receiving much study and attention in the news.  Links to relevant to scientific websites and interesting articles are provided as prompts for inquiry, discussion and writing.