Document Type

Capstone Project

Degree Name

Bachelor of Science (B.S.)


Science & Environmental Policy


This curriculum study offers a model to reform environmental chemistry techniques and processes by teaching them concurrently with other sciences and the political, economic, ethical, and cultural components inherent to most environmental issues. The setting for qualitative and quantitative assessments of this model was the spring 1998 Introductory Environmental Chemistry Lab course at the Institute for Earth Systems Science and Policy, California State University Monterey Bay. This study tested two hypotheses. First, a case-based interdisciplinary laboratory curriculum will encourage a greater percentage of students to place importance on non-chemistry concepts in the environmental problem of methyl bromide when compared with students taught in a more traditional lab setting. And second, a case-based laboratory can significantly improve students' learning of fundamental chemistry concepts and skills. The lab subject was the local Central California agricultural use of the fumigant methyl bromide. Methyl bromide was chosen, because it has both a local and global environmental context. It is currently under debate as an environmental problem with respect to ozone depletion, migrant worker health, and consumer safety. Students would be able to work as chemists on an issue present in their own backyard thus exploring their role as scientists within a community environmental problem. The lab objective was to compare the permeability of four different plastic films similar to those which local California farmers can use to cover their fields after fumigation. Students built sealed soil chambers and compared the permeability of the plastic covers using gas chromatography. To place lab work into the broader context a field trip and seminar discussion of case materials provided an historical, political, cultural, economic, and social context. Four lab groups were studied with two receiving the case study version of the lab and two receiving the lab minus the additional case study contextual components. Post laboratory tests and questionnaires provided quantitative and qualitative data to compare the learning experiences for all groups with respect to the two hypotheses. Results of statistical analyses show that the case study curriculum did not create significant differences between the treatment and control classrooms. Regarding the first hypothesis, combined groups responded on the questionnaire that they place more than a slight importance on non-chemistry components in their lab experiences. This suggests a need to pursue additional inquiry into developing inter-disciplinary undergraduate curriculums such as case studies for earth systems and environmental science education.


Capstone Project (B.S.) Earth Systems Science & Policy Institute

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