Learn About the Ocean – Anytime, Anywhere

Today, on World Ocean Day, National Geographic has updated its map policy to recognize the Earth’s fifth ocean—the Southern Ocean. The Southern Ocean forms a distinct ecological region filled with vibrant ecosystems that are home to species like whales & penguins. Our team conducted a scientific expedition to the Southern Ocean in 2019, with the goal of filling scientific gaps and exploring the connectivity of Antarctic marine flora and fauna throughout the region.

Less than eight percent of the ocean is protected, and yet the ocean covers 70 percent of the planet. The ocean sustains life for all of us who live here, including more than half of the air we humans breathe. We gain food, jobs, travel, recreation, knowledge, growth, and innumerable opportunities from the ocean, and yet we do not give back all that we take. With 42% of the world’s population under the age of 25, we believe that young people and – you – the educators who reach them are key to addressing our planet’s most pressing problems and sustaining a thriving planet. But our greatest stewards of the ocean are learning in classrooms right this minute, and whether they are learning along coastlines or far from the ocean itself inland, and here’s some inspiration for how you can do this for our ocean from fellow educators.

And that work always begins with educators.

The following educators – like so many of you – have taken initiative to lead the work of ocean education and conservation in their classrooms. We hope you find inspiration from the ideas and resources they share to expand your own journey toward leading the future of ocean education.

Carissa Cabrera, National Geographic Education Covid Fund Grant Recipient

The ocean is the foundation of a healthy planet, it supplies us with 70% of the oxygen we breathe, it regulates our climate, and it connects all of us no matter our age, background, or location. If students can understand the importance of these characteristics, they will spark curiosity within them about this incredible region of our planet. It may inspire them to study it, to explore it, or to protect it. We believe that you can’t teach students about Earth without teaching them about the ocean – it covers 70% of the surface area. Alex (my collaborator) and I are hoping to create educated and inspired climate changers. Our message is that everyone can be an ocean steward. You can be a creative, a scientist, a politician, or a business leader. It doesn’t matter. If we send the message that only certain people can protect the ocean, it alienates so many others who might lead the way in other disciplines. We know many people from many fields of study who are taking strides to protect our planet. Right now, we need all of us. Further, our interests are not “one track.” By teaching students that their variable passions can intersect, it opens up doors of possibilities of what they can achieve in their lives. 

There are so many critical lessons about the ocean that come to mind – overfishing, the impacts of plastic on marine animals, the importance of sharks, and the migrations of humpback whales. But, my favorite lesson to teach is coral bleaching. Coral bleaching can be simplified very easily to young students by describing it as “stressed,” but also can be expanded upon for older students to understand the specific stressors. I can emphasize the interconnectedness of the ecosystem while teaching students how critical coral reefs are to a healthy ocean. This is a term we use throughout our lessons because we emphasize that everyone has the potential to make a positive difference for our planet and ocean. The topics we cover, like plastic pollution, the sources and impacts of fossil fuels, and mass extinction, are concepts we didn’t learn about until college. Simplifying and teaching students how to understand, and the tools to take action for the better, is how we will cultivate and implement solutions. They will be the ones bearing the burden of the climate emergency, so we feel it is our duty to give them tools to solve it. 

Carissa near the ocean.

Carissa is a National Geographic COVID Emergency Fund for Educators Grant Recipient, a marine conservationist, educator, creative, and writer. She leads the Conservationist Collective with her collaborator, Alex Filardo. Explore their Oceans Connections curriculum and other education resources for teaching and learning about ocean conservation.

Macie Ramirez, Fourth Grade English Language Arts (ELA) Educator

I integrate ELA and Science standards in teaching about the effects of oil spills in the waters surrounding Florida. As a whole group we read a series of articles about the 2010 Gulf of Mexico Oil Spill on the Deepwater Horizon and discuss the lasting effects. The next day, my students engage in a project-based activity where they need to work together to determine the best object to extract oil from their Gulf of Mexico water model. Finally, the students connect their findings to create the best solution for cleaning up oil from the ocean.

This year, I was able to take my lesson one step closer by inviting my PADI Certified SCUBA Instructor to speak to my students virtually about Shark and Ocean Conservation. I teach this lesson because it just skims the surface (no pun intended) on the various issues Florida beaches are experiencing. As a true Floridian, I take pride in advocating for the conservation of our oceans. The best place for me to start is in the classroom!

My students are so engaged with this lesson. Not only are they able to make real world connections, but some are even keen to further their research on marine life topics. I think it opens their minds to a whole new world that impacts the daily lives of humans on land. I believe it is important to expose young minds to appropriate things that will intrigue them. Children learn about geography and the solar system, so it is only right to teach them about the ocean. 

Macie’s students learning about oil spills.

Want to embrace ocean education like Macie has? A great place to start is the National Geographic Resource Library’s Ocean Collection!

Kristen Conklin, National Geographic Certified Educator

I grew up on a small barrier island and have lived next to the ocean for my entire life. Where I come from, we watch the waves to celebrate and mourn. In my community, the ocean is the heart of our world. Water covers more than two-thirds of the Earth’s surface and provides us with oxygen, climate regulation, food, transportation, and so much more. I work to bring nature and the importance of water into my classroom everyday.  

One of my favorite topics to teach is how human impact can affect us on both a local and global scale. To reacquaint students with the natural world, I provide them opportunities to go out into the community and implement apps to better understand communities of organisms near water sources. I start with interactive maps via Map Maker. Mapping our local water sources can create curiosity and foster responsibility for the continued push to protect natural resources. 

I embrace a holistic real-world phenomena approach. Using real world current events empowers learners to take the initiative on being part of a solution. While running classes digitally, it is especially important to further my own creative thinking on designing curriculum using our oceans via the Ocean Literacy Toolkit

Kristen’s students analyzing data.

One lesson that I truly enjoy is the National Geographic Water Quality Degradation in the Ocean assignment. This assignment provides students the opportunity to investigate water quality and analyze the relationship between harmful algae blooms, toxic algae, and dead zones. Students are encouraged to explore “success stories” which help them grow mindful of their own potential human impact. This activity reinforces motivation to take action in favor of improving water quality. I support student involvement in Citizen Science Projects that help bring awareness to local issues through the collection of data on a global scale. 

To celebrate World Oceans Day on 6/8, I am very excited to engage students and other passionate educators in the #DebrisTrackerChallenge carried out in our respective communities that “connect our coastlines”. We will be tracking various types of trash using the Marine Debris Tracker app. Then, we will debate solutions through engineering best practices to bring it full circle and remind one another we can all make a difference here and now.

Kristen with her students at the beach.

Kristen is a certified Biology and Special Education Educator with the New York City Department of Education, as well as a Curriculum Developer & Author with the National Science Teaching Association.

Want to learn more about how National Geographic Explorers, Young Explorers, and Educators are conserving and educating others about the ocean? Check out “The Ocean is Ours” storymap where you can also contribute your own ocean lesson ideas for a chance to be featured on National Geographic Education’s community channels!

Feature photo by Enric Sala.

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