#BackToSchool and Into Your Sanctuaries

By Rachel Plunkett

September 2020

With the unexpected and unprecedented impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic, NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries quickly converted many of its important in-person outreach and education efforts into virtual events and live engagements.

Whether you’re teaching virtually, in person, or both this year, we have some great tips and resources to help!

Virtual Reality Adventures with Complementary Lessons

Explore your national marine sanctuaries without getting wet! New technologies, such as virtual reality, allow 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; complete an experiment to learn more about animal adaptations in Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary, and so much more!

sea lion swims near divers

If you’re 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. Students can also explore the colorful array of wildlife, such as strawberry anemones and orange sea cucumbers, that call Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary home in this virtual dive activity sheet!

Inspire Your Students with Stunning Photos and Videos

Start each class off with a splash. We have hundreds of videos on our YouTube channel - use the search tool to find content about a certain type of animal, such as videos about whales, or search for content about a specific marine sanctuary, such as videos from Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary. There are also more exciting photos and videos to pick from in our Earth is Blue gallery and Flickr account.

Inspire your students to get into the spirit of ocean exploration and learn about ocean careers by watching this Stories from the Blue video about Jill Heinerth, one of the world's premiere underwater cave explorers.

Sanctuaries Live

Starting September 2020, join NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries and Ocean Exploration Trust in exploring the marine ecosystems of the West Coast Region. Working aboard the Exploration Vessel (E/V) Nautilus, scientists will map and explore sanctuary sites along the Washington and California coasts. You can watch the livestream of this expedition in four of your west coast sanctuaries on select dates, or you can check out our past Sanctuaries Live expeditions.

View of the back deck of the E/V Nautilus.
View of the back deck of the E/V Nautilus. Photo: Claire Fackler.

These expeditions can serve as an educational framework for a wide range of grade levels. After following along on an expedition, use our standards-aligned curricula to tie it all together. For grades 7-8, try the exploring national marine sanctuaries curriculum to introduce students to habitats, resource issues, and threats in these special ocean areas. For grades 9-12, let students watch this video on deep-sea corals and then use the deep-sea curriculum where students learn to identify various invertebrates and fish found within these communities. Different options for student evaluation are provided in each lesson plan, and can be easily adapted for your unique teaching needs.

A colorful anemone on a rock.
A colorful anemone on a rock in Greater Farallones National Marine Sanctuary. Photo: Nick Zachar/NOAA.

Professional Development

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 some interesting topics on the calendar, including learning about giant seabass with a research ecologist from Channel Islands National Marine Sanctuary. Don’t see an upcoming topic that piques your interest? Then check out the archives to explore a variety of webinars hosted in the past on topics such as manta rays, whales and dolphins in Hawai`i, orcas, seabirds, and sharks. 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.

Shipwrecks and Maritime Heritage

In addition to protecting a vast array of natural resources, national marine sanctuaries also protect cultural and historic sites, such as 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. For middle school students, use this lesson plan to discover the USS Monitor, America’s most historic ironclad. High school students can explore maritime archaeology and World War II, Battle of the Atlantic curricula. Teachers who wish to gain some more background information before teaching these lessons can watch the Living Shipwrecks 3D webinar.

Afterward, travel over to Stellwagen Bank National Marine Sanctuary and visit the final resting place of the steamship Portland. In this ship-to-shore connection, hosted by Exploring by the Seat of Your Pants, a collaborative team of scientists and archaeologists from NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, and Marine Imaging Technologies use the remotely operated vehicles Pixel and Rover to learn about the history and biological diversity at this famous shipwreck site, which met its fate in 1898.

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, 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.

Funding for Environmental Education

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 in the K-12 environment. B-WET currently serves seven areas of the country: California, Chesapeake Bay, Gulf of Mexico, Hawai‘i, New England, and the Pacific Northwest. Or schools in select regions can apply to make a change in your community. Start planning your application for your Ocean Guardian School project for up to $4,000. Applications open in the spring for the 2021-2022 school year.


Rachel Plunkett is the writer/editor for NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.