Education Around Earth – Ocean Literacy for a Blue Planet

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instructor with children observing a sea critter by the beach.“How inappropriate to call this planet Earth when it is quite clearly Ocean.”

Arthur C. Clarke

All life is dependent on the ocean. It covers more than 70 percent of the Earth’s surface, is the source of most life on Earth, regulates our weather and climate, provides most of our oxygen, and feeds much of the human population. In spite of its importance, ocean and aquatic sciences remain among the most underrepresented disciplines in K‰ÛÒ12 educational curricula. Rarely taught at any level, concepts about the ocean, the coasts or the Great Lakes infrequently appear in K‰ÛÒ12 curriculum materials, textbooks, assessments or standards. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is working to help educators bring ocean sciences into the classroom.

Image of children touching seaweed by a tank.Ocean literacy and science education are important to NOAA not only because the agency needs experienced and talented scientists to fulfill its mission, but because every individual across the nation, whether living in a coastal or inland state, affects and is affected by, the oceans and atmosphere — everyday. NOAA’s mission is to serve the nation’s need for oceanic and atmospheric information, but doing so also means helping to ensure that the general public understands how ocean, coastal and climate science impacts their daily lives and future prosperity.

Society needs citizens who know how to apply science knowledge in their careers and in their engagement as active members of their communities. Future changes will bring economic and environmental challenges as well as opportunities, and citizens who are ocean and climate literate will be better prepared to respond. To protect fragile ecosystems and to build sustainable communities that are resilient to climate change—including extreme weather and climate events—a science literate citizenry is essential.

Image of a sea anemoneChildren in particular need to be engaged in ocean, coastal and climate science and NOAA has produced a wide array of resources and programs for students and professional development training for educators. The online resources and field experiences described below are just a few of the opportunities offered by NOAA’s education programs.

Online resources for Ocean and Coastal Literacy

The Estuaries 101 curriculum is a series of modules in earth, life and physical science for high school.

Lesson plans, tutorials, and case studies provide information about GPS, corals, charting, navigation, pollution, tides, currents, weather, climate and invasive species.

Image of a little girl holding a sea urchin.The Office of National Marine Sanctuaries provides a wealth of multimedia, lesson plans and curriculum materials online along with the popular ‰ÛÏEncyclopedia of the Sanctuaries,” an online “field guide” loaded with hundreds of photos and videos covering critters from the vampire squid to the gigantic blue whale.

Remote Sensing and Coral Reefs is a curriculum for 4th-6th grade students and provides a series of activities to investigate coral biology and the relationships between ocean temperature and coral reefs through satellite technology.

Learning Ocean Science through Ocean Exploration provides lessons for grades six to 12 and invites them to experience real expeditions of ocean discovery.

Tsunami Education Resource Kit for use in K-12 classrooms includes a tsunameter to help elementary students visualize the difference between tsunami and tidal waves. is the new one-stop place for information about climate science, data collections, multimedia, stories, and education resources.

Cover shot of Teacher at Sea brochureMERITO (Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans) is a marine conservation outreach effort comprising approximately twenty-five regional groups that participate in ocean and watershed education programs that serve students, teachers, adults and families living near the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary (MBNMS). The program focuses on providing Spanish-language learners with the tools to improve their academic skills and confidence, in the areas of science and conservation. MERITO works with a cadre of partners to provide classroom support, field trips, training and resources, college internships, event support and a forum for expanding bilingual outreach programs within Sanctuaries.

NOAA Teacher at Sea program allows teachers (K-12 and college professors) to participate in hands-on research and experience life aboard NOAA hydrographic survey, oceanographic and fisheries research vessels. The NOAA Teacher in the Air program expands on the shipboard experience by offering former Teachers at Sea the opportunity to experience science activities conducted on NOAA aircraft.

Image of children observing a glowing globe of the Earth.NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) is an environmental education program that promotes locally relevant, experiential learning in the K-12 environment. The primary delivery of B-WET is through competitive funding that promotes meaningful watershed experiences for students, teachers and local communities to build knowledge of the environmental conditions and issues of the local watershed and improve stewardship. B-WET is administered regionally in California, Hawaii, Gulf of Mexico, Chesapeake, New England and the Pacific Northwest.

Students and teachers can extend their learning environment through hands-on experiences, exhibits and programming at their local aquaria, science centers and museums. Science On a Sphereå¨ is a room sized global display system that uses computers and video projectors to display planetary data onto a six foot diameter sphere, analogous to a giant animated globe. Images of atmospheric storms, climate change, and ocean temperature can be shown on the sphere to explain environmental processes that are sometimes complex.