17 VirtualUrchin

Marta Wolniewicz

About VirtualUrchin

The “VirtualUrchin” (University of Washington, 2020) and “Sea Urchins for educators”, two support sites with full sets of resources for in-class labs and activities, may be used in combination to explore concepts in biology, ecology, and issues in environmental science. Both sites include additional resources and links to support teaching and learning in STEM.

Why use VirtualUrchin?

  1. Virtual Urchin offers flexibility as it utilizes various modes of delivery that can be used in a range of courses to support different learning outcomes.  Thanks to a variety of freely available, online interactive tools, the educator may choose to use activities ranging from microscope basics, basic biology, development, embryology, ecology, and environment to facilitate learning.
  2. These virtual activities (both computer and mobile compatible) engage learners as they mimic “real-life lab experiences” that can act as an alternate to, or preparation for hands-on lab experiences. The virtual tools may also offer the first exposure of various lab equipment to students and thus provide an opportunity for learners to become familiar with valuable lab skills and procedures. For example, microscope interactive tutorials allow learners a low stakes approach to become confident users and handlers of a microscope, which is a vital lab tool.
  3. This website includes additional resources and links to support teaching and learning. For example, the teacher resources include descriptions of activities, lesson plans, and links to the most recent research on various topics of interest.
  4. These learning activities are structured to scaffold learning and may include background information to help learners familiarize themselves with a topic or an issue (i. e., “our acidifying ocean” module, described in the sample activity below), a virtual lab experiment (set up with clear objectives, procedures, and a glossary), data analysis with clear step-by step instructions, discussion of implications, and proposed solutions to environmental issues.
  5. Many activities also offer opportunities for extended learning ( i. e., visit sections labeled “dig deeper”, “hands-on activities”, “the great unknown”, and/or links to research publications) to increase the scope of understanding of the topic.


Our Acidifying Ocean


According to Ritchie and Rose (2020), in 2019 humans emitted 36 billion tons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere (emissions that were 3,600 times higher than the pre-industrial levels, cf. 1750). Human emissions of carbon dioxide, and other greenhouse gases, are a primary driver of climate change (IPCC, 2013).  However, carbon dioxide emissions are also responsible for another problem – change in ocean chemistry. As the ocean absorbs approximately 30% of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, a series of chemical reactions leads to ocean acidification (NOAA, 2020). These chemical changes in marine ecosystems have long-term implications on the organisms that live in the ocean particularly those that build their skeletons or shells from calcium carbonate (NOAA, 2020).


In this activity, you will examine how our actions lead to ocean acidification and analyze the impact these chemical changes have on living organisms. This will help you design a plan to reduce humanity’s impact on the ocean.

What to do:

Step 1: Ocean acidification and vulnerability of organisms.

1) what ocean acidification is;

2) how human activities contribute to changes in ocean chemistry;

3) examine the organisms that are vulnerable to those changes.

This activity will prepare you to complete a virtual experiment designed to determine the impact of ocean acidification on a marine organism susceptible to chemical changes.

Step 2: Run the experiment.

  • In the virtual experiment , you will test  the development of urchin larvae under normal and acidified conditions. To complete the experiment, follow the step-by-step procedure included in the lab. The experiment can be accessed via “Experiment” (Part 2) of the  Virtual Urchin – Our acidifying ocean  or by clicking “Enter Lab” on Page 4 of “How to”  in the last section of the “Learn” module.

Step 3: Analyze the data from the virtual experiment (Step 2) to determine the impact that ocean acidification has on larval development of sea urchins and its associated ecological implications.

  • Click on Part 3 “Analyze”, to:

1) measure the length of sea urchin larvae  for each treatment  (representing acidified and normal chemical conditions of the ocean);

2) calculate larval length averages for each condition;

3) compare the results.

Draw conclusions about how changes in ocean chemistry affect ocean organisms directly (i.e., the size, shape, and thus survival of sea urchin larvae) and indirectly (via changes in food webs, for organisms that depend on the urchin larvae for their survival).


In Steps 1 through 3 you have learned that human actions on land can alter ocean chemistry. In turn, these chemical changes carry a broader ecological burden by affecting the stability of marine food webs with cascading effects on larger ecosystem functions.

Discuss the need for action that ensures the stability of the ocean’s life-sustaining ecosystem.

Propose strategies to reduce the impact each of us has, as global citizens, on the marine environment.


NOAA (2020, April 1).  Ocean Acidification.  [NewTab] Retrieved from: https://www.noaa.gov/education/resource-collections/ocean-coasts/ocean-acidification.

IPCC. (2013). Climate Change 2013: The Physical Science Basis. Contribution of Working Group I to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change [Stocker, T.F., D. Qin, G.-K. Plattner, M. Tignor, S.K. Allen, J. Boschung, A. Nauels, Y. Xia, V. Bex and P.M. Midgley (eds.)]. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, United Kingdom and New York, NY, USA.

Ritchie, R., Roser, M. (2020). CO₂ and Greenhouse Gas Emissions. [NewTab] Published online at OurWorldInData.org. Retrieved from: https://ourworldindata.org/co2-and-other-greenhouse-gas-emissions.

University of Washington. (2020).  Virtual Urchin: Welcome to the new Virtual Urchin website!  [NewTab].Retrieved from: Welcome to Virtual Urchin (washington.edu).


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Engaging STEM: A Guide to Interactive Resources Copyright © 2021 by Marta Wolniewicz is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

Share This Book