#BackToSchool and Into Your Sanctuaries

By Rachel Plunkett and Justin Packs

August 2021

With the new school year around the corner amidst the continuous unexpected impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries is here to offer education and outreach resources to help teachers and students prepare for the new school year.

Immersive Virtual Reality Adventures and Lessons

Green sea turtles with a sanctuaries 360 logo in the top right corner.
Reef fish clean algae and other organisms off turtles at Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Nick Zachar/NOAA

Explore your national marine sanctuaries from your classroom or home! Virtual reality technology allows us to bring America’s underwater parks to you and your students, no matter where you’re located.

Looking for lessons that will keep students engaged while introducing Next Generation Science Standards and Ocean Literacy and Great Lakes Principles? Our Sanctuaries 360 Virtual Reality Lesson Plans have what you’re looking for. Through this educational series, students learn how national marine sanctuary sites are designated and why they are important for protecting and preserving the ocean and Great Lakes. Learn about coral restoration and design a coral nursery in Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary; explore the ecology, cultural significance, and conservation of different species in Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary, and so much more!

If you are looking for amazing 360-degree imagery to complement a lesson, take a look at the virtual dive gallery, which takes you beneath the surface of the National Marine Sanctuary System. To add another interactive element, students can explore the natural live-bottom reef ecosystem of Gray’s Reef National Marine Sanctuary in this virtual dive activity sheet featuring VR 360 resources.

Professional Development

A vibrant coral reef with sun shining through the surface
Coral reefs across the ocean are in danger of coral bleaching due to climate change. Photo: Greg McFall/NOAA

The National Marine Sanctuaries Webinar Series provides education professionals with expertise, resources, and training to support ocean and climate literacy in the classroom. We have expanded the webinar programming during the pandemic to offer a virtual educational outlet for students, educators, families, and other interested members of the public!

Don’t see an upcoming topic that piques your interest? Then check out the webinar archives to explore a variety of webinars hosted in the past on topics such as Native Hawaiian culture, salmon and orcas, whale sharks, Hawaiian monk seals, and climate change. Many archives also include a list of related educational resources for you to choose from.

Upon completion of a webinar, teachers receive a certificate of attendance valid for one contact hour of professional development. You may also download the Park Passport App to receive a virtual badge for visiting sanctuaries virtually through the webinar series and our curricular resources.

Funding for Environmental Education

Ocean Guardian students on the beach cleaning up marine debris
Ocean Guardian students engage in hands-on educational opportunities to develop a personal sense of connection to the ocean and watersheds they live in. Photo: Claire Fackler/NOAA

Have a great idea to engage your students in meaningful watershed education experiences, but don’t have the resources? NOAA Bay Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) is an environmental education grant program that promotes these outdoor, hands-on experiences for K-12 students. B-WET currently serves seven areas of the country: California, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Hawai‘i, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. Or, consider becoming an Ocean Guardian School. Schools in select regions can apply to make a change in their community. Start planning for your Ocean Guardian School project for up to $4,000 for the 2021-2022 school year. Applications open in the spring for the 2022-2023 school year.

Inspire Your Students with Sanctuaries Multimedia

Start off each class with a splash into sanctuaries. We have hundreds of videos on our YouTube channel for you to explore. Use the search tool to find content about a certain type of animal, such as videos about sea lions, or search for content about a specific marine sanctuary, such as videos from Olympic Coast National Marine Sanctuary. There are also more exciting photos and videos in our Earth is Blue gallery and Flickr account.

Volunteers are the backbone of efforts to protect and promote the natural and cultural resources in your national marine sanctuaries. Anyone can volunteer with sanctuaries to support the ocean that connects us all. Inspire your students to get into the spirit of stewardship through this steward spotlight on Jaxine Wolfe or find other inspiring profiles of people who positively impact the ocean with our Stories from the Blue series.

SanctSound and Ocean Noise

humpback whale and calf below the surface.
Human-caused noise pollution has adverse effects on whales, who rely on sound to communicate. Photo: J. Moore/NOAA under NOAA permit # 15240

NOAA and the U.S. Navy are engaged in a four-year project, known as SanctSound, to better understand underwater sound within the National Marine Sanctuary System. National marine sanctuaries are intensely monitored coastal and marine environments, allowing them to serve as sentinel sites. Ocean noise is considered a sentinel issue that affects many national marine sanctuaries, such as Channel Islands and Stellwagen Bank. For an interactive look at the SanctSound project, be sure to check out this great story map!

As researchers continue to study the impacts of anthropogenic and natural sound in the ocean, you can engage students in this relevant issue through a variety of educational resources. This web story about humpback whales is one of many informative SanctSound web stories that you can find in the box at the bottom of the article. Similarly, our archived webinar and Earth is Blue video collections contain ocean noise-related videos for your classroom, such as this recent webinar about passive acoustic monitoring of sperm whales in Hawaiian waters, and this video about studying sanctuary soundscapes. For specific class curriculum, students can learn how increased ocean noise affects whales and their ability to communicate with each other. Students can also dive into the Sanctuary Splash: Acoustics of Cetaceans lesson to listen to whale vocalizations and discover how sounds are measured and recorded when studied in a marine environment.

Maritime Heritage

A diver explores the Lucinda Van Valkenburg shipwreck
A diver explores the Lucinda Van Valkenburg shipwreck in Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: David Ruck/NOAA

With the recent designation of Wisconsin Shipwreck Coast National Marine Sanctuary, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries continues to prove its dedication to protecting the Great Lakes and its many historically and culturally significant shipwrecks.

Monitor National Marine Sanctuary’s shipwreck-themed activities are great for many age levels and cover subjects such as social studies, science, technology, engineering, art, and math. Middle school students can explore the wreck of D.M. Wilson and the historical, ecological, and economic importance of Thunder Bay National Marine Sanctuary in this VR Shipwreck Alley lesson. Engage high school students in maritime archaeology and STEM through the Mock Shipwreck: Mapping the Past curriculum.

Want more? Be sure to check out the recent maritime heritage-related webinars, including Conservation of USS Monitor. Past, Present, and Future, The Submarine Blitzkrieg against North America and the U.S. Response - December 1941 to August 1942, and Oases for Marine Life - Shipwrecks in 3D. There is also a vast collection of educational shipwreck videos on our YouTube channel, including videos about shipwrecks in the Great Lakes Region.

Games and Activities

Looking for some short and sweet activities to complement your existing lesson plans? The Ocean Guardian Activity Book has puzzles, coloring pages, and drawing exercises to choose from for younger students, and students can take the Ocean Guardian Pledge when they're finished! You may also want to take a look at our collection of games and activities.

As mentioned earlier, the virtual dive activity sheets are a great resource to add to a lesson. Covering several sanctuary sites, these activities feature captivating articles, videos, and 360° images and videos for students to learn more about the National Marine Sanctuary System. Explore the diversity within sanctuaries, from swimming with California sea lions and honu (sea turtles) to diving through reefs and historic shipwrecks.

NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries aims to provide teachers with resources and training to support ocean and climate literacy in America's classrooms. You will find additional curricula, lesson plans, and activities that will excite your students about science and technology in our For Teachers section. Also check out many other resources from around NOAA in the resource collection pages.

We hope you and your students have a happy and healthy return to the school year.

Rachel Plunkett is the writer/editor for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.
Justin Packs is an education and outreach intern at NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and a student at Tufts University.