#BackToSchool and Into Your Sanctuaries

By Chloe McKenna

September 2022

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System, we have some great educational material for teachers and students to incorporate ocean science, conservation, and stewardship throughout the upcoming school year. Engage your audience to help us #SaveSpectacular. With the start of the new school year, we invite you to dive into these resources and activities below!

New Educational Materials

a colorful coral reef with the words discover spectacular educational materials national marine sanctuaries celebrating 50 years

The Discover Spectacular Educational Materials bring the ocean and Great Lakes into your classroom, home, facility, or wherever you learn best.

Looking for resources on a specific topic? Look no further than our topic-based collections consisting of NOAA videos, lesson plans, webinars, web stories, virtual reality, printed materials, and much more. We encourage formal and informal educators and other interested people to take advantage of the robust background information and educational materials available in each topically-based collection.

Currently, the resource collections feature a variety of topics, from kelp forest and coral reef ecosystems to birds and whales with plenty more on the way. You may find these collections helpful for students interested in a specific topic, for research projects, or when crafting lesson plans and educational materials on one topic since the collections make it easy to access NOAA materials from a wide range of offices in one spot.

Themed Elementary Collections with the National Park Trust

In celebration of the 50th anniversary of the National Marine Sanctuary System, the best of the best educational materials for an elementary school audience have been compiled in collaboration with the National Park Trust. These education and outreach digital materials focused on 10 topics, from marine debris to ocean acidification and sharks, allowing students to dive into new and exciting lesson plans to become strong stewards of the marine environment.

Virtual Reality

a child wearing a vr headset and the words national marine sanctuaries explore the blue 360

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. Viewable on a computer, tablet, screen, or VR headset.

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 through a virtual reality journey paired with a comprehensive lesson plan.

Our newest virtual reality videos about the Mallows Ghost Fleet and the Lake Ontario Schooner St. Peter allows you to dive into two sanctuaries, Mallows Bay-Potomac River National Marine Sanctuary and the proposed Lake Ontario National Marine Sanctuary, to view shipwreck remnants above and below the surface. The newest virtual reality video from the Mallows Bay-Potomac River sanctuary showcases 100 World War I-era wooden steamships, also known as the “Ghost Fleet,” without ever getting your feet wet! Take students through this unique experience by utilizing our corresponding lesson plan for this new video resource, where students will make inferences about how human actions affect the environment. Find these two new lessons and all the virtual reality lesson plans in our Sanctuaries 360 Lesson Plan gallery. All of the VR lesson plans in our collection are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards, and Ocean and Climate Literacy principles.

2022 Summer Reading Program: Oceans of Possibilities

This summer, various sanctuary sites participated in the Oceans of Possibilities Summer Reading Program with the Collaborative Summer Library Program. Students, families, and staff were introduced to marine life found in their closest national marine sanctuary and learned about their importance. Sites were able to develop deeper partnerships and grow relationships with their local public libraries through this program. New activity resources, including a Humpback Whale Maze, Dolphin Coloring, Sea Turtle Coloring, and Humpback Whale Connect the Dots, were also created for this summer program and can be used year round.

Other Ways to Engage

Webinar Series

The National Marine Sanctuaries Webinar Series continues to provide educators, students, and the interested public with educational and scientific expertise, resources and training to support ocean and climate literacy. If you are interested in attending a webinar or want to watch previously recorded webinars, visit our website to learn more.

Park Passport App

You can now explore our nation’s underwater parks from your own smartphone. The ParkPassport mobile app now includes NOAA’s national marine sanctuaries and marine national monuments. In collaboration with the National Park Trust, Blue Star Families, and the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation, NOAA is providing an easier way to explore the ocean and Great Lakes no matter where you are.

To take part in visiting America’s ocean parks, download the ParkPassport App from the Apple App Store or Google Play, create a free account, and get out and explore and earn badges along the way!

Create an account, find local, regional, state and national parks, earn badges for parks visited (virtually and/or in-person) and activities completed, and connect with other outdoor enthusiasts and families across the country. Photo: National Park Trust, 2020

In-Person Visitor Centers

It’s been a long time since you may have visited one of our national marine sanctuary visitor centers due to the COVID-19 pandemic. These educational centers are open and have new exhibits for sanctuary visitors and for school and student groups to participate in hands-on learning opportunities.

a person standing behind a table with educational materials and artwork on it
There are so many educational activities to do in your national marine sanctuaries, such as stopping by a sanctuary visitor center or partner musueum or aquarium. Photo: Justin Umholtz

Funding for Environmental Education

The Bay Watershed Education and Training or B-WET Program has been working around the country for 20 years as a powerful catalyst for environmental literacy. Learn more about our funding opportunities and school programs that enhance environmental and climate literacy in schools in our #BackToSchool story from last year.

Sanctuary Site Education Materials

Interested in finding educational materials for one specific sanctuary? Make sure to check out the Education at Your Sanctuary link at the bottom of our sanctuary education page to find things such as the new Coral Check Up Lesson that Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument’s educators created or other great resources focused on each sanctuary.

Thank you for continuing to support NOAA’s Office of National Marine Sanctuaries through engaging with our education and outreach programs! We hope you and your students have a happy and healthy return to the school year.

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.

Chloe McKenna is a student at Eckerd College and a consultant for the National Marine Sanctuary Foundation in support of NOAA's Office of National Marine Sanctuaries.