This is a guest post written by STEM education consultant Chris Anderson. Chris writes the science education blog Science Over Everything.
70% of the Earth’s surface is covered by ocean. The oceans contain 97% of the Earth’s water and are home to 50% of the Earth’s species. And while 40% of Americans live in an oceanside county, very little marine science is taught in our schools. As a nation, we have simply not made ocean science a priority in our science curriculum.
Why have we ignored such an enormous and significant portion of our planet? While it’s true that many Americans live too far from the coast for easy access, most of the reasons why we do not teach marine sciences have little to do with logistics and more to do with the state of education in American.
To start with, funding for field trips and outside projects in schools has dropped precipitously in the last 20 years. With less financial resources made readily available, teachers are then asked to go and find money on their own. This means spending time searching for and writing grants, a big challenge for educators who are already swamped. Many teachers And while opportunities for studies are important for students, they can look extravagant to the public, a problem if a school district has to ask the community to support a levy.
Field trips are becoming few and far between. (Photo Credit: National Park Service)
However, the biggest reason why kids don’t learn about our oceans in schools is that of how we assess students. With the rise of statewide exams, there has been an emphasis on multiple choice testing. These rote, low-level responses are cheap and easy to create for a standardized assessment but don’t let students show their true knowledge and scientific skills. Additionally, teachers face a lot of pressure to get their students to perform on these tests. New state evaluation methods have began to put an emphasis on student scores, making the time to teach actual science skills scarce.
Which brings us to the crux of the problem: marine science isn’t learned through a PowerPoint lecture or a cookbook lab. You have to get out of the classroom and go learn for yourself. It’s about getting your hands (and often, every other part of your body) dirty, collecting data and discovering things for yourself. The skills that our students lack are the same that marine scientists use every day in their research: critical thinking, data analysis, and problem-solving.
Students need field experiences to build skills and to inspire them (Photo Credit: PIXNIO)
The great irony is while teachers may fret that their students would miss content during the field experiences, oceans provide an excellent setting for a rich array of science concepts. Ocean currents can teach kids about energy flow and weather patterns. Coral reefs are a great environment to learn about ecosystems, food webs, and abiotic factors. Ocean chemistry is a great way to learn about solutions. And let us not forget the impact of human activity on the environment. So many of the Next Generation Science Standards, the national standards by which most states set their curriculum, could be applied to marine science, while at the same time developing the essential scientific skills students need.
So how do we address this issue? Schools are in dire need of scientists to not just advocate for marine science education, but to take an active part in teaching students. Participate in programs that bring students into the field and get them involved in research, even at a young age. Work with local schools and do outreach. Talk to a class about what you are discovering. Show why your work is important, but also show what it is really like to be a scientist!
We cannot live without our oceans; they provide a way to move around the earth and are a fundamental food source for us all. Learning about them gives us an appreciation for an important ecosystem and its significance to the survival of all species on Earth, including humans. But most importantly, oceans inspire us to explore and to learn what has yet to be discovered. Remember the first time you saw the beauty of a coral reef or the sunrise on your first trip out on the water. It’s what moved you to become a scientist, to learn about and to protect our oceans. And it’s what the next generation of students need.
There are few things kids find cooler than sharks and dolphins (Photo Credit: Wikipedia)