Lessons from IslandWood

Lessons from IslandWood

These students are checking out Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island, WA with sight, touch, hearing, and smell. Photo credit: Glassy, 2018

Adventure Hike to a Harbor:

Creating a space for all to engage with marine science

By Julia Glassy

I am currently a graduate student of University of Washington over on Bainbridge Island, WA at IslandWood, a non-profit outdoor education center. I am passionate about adventuring outdoors and marine science education. Interacting with the marine ecosystem allows people of all ages to explore a new ecosystem and grow an appreciation for all that ecosystem provides to the plants and animals who live there and for us, as humans.

What exactly is an adventure hike?

To some it may be walking somewhere with style or awe inspiring activities on the way to a location. While for others it may be getting in a car and driving to a location to check it out and explore. Lastly, an adventure hike could be riding a bus to go out and explore an outdoor space. To me, it is all of the above!

What might one do on adventure hike?

This all depends on the mode of transportation to a waterfront or shoreline and the age of the members going. Games you can play include wind storm (everyone needs to find a tree to hold onto or someone else if they are connected to a tree). Also flash flood (where everyone has to be on higher ground then the caller of the flood). Another game is “I-Spy” where you say “I spy with my little eye something that is blank” and you can fill in the blank. Talking as a group work too!

If in a car, then look out the window and take in the nature outside. Play a couple rounds of “I Spy” with all members in the car.

If on a bus, do what Ms. Frizzle does and make the adventure unique and exciting. Ms. Frizzle is a fictional charismatic 4th grade science teacher who takes her students on unique out-of-this-world field trips via her magic school bus.

Public transportation is an eco-friendly option to get to places that are a little farther away where walking is not an option. Also buses bring people together from all backgrounds, ages, cultures, and economic statuses. Taking a bus might not always be the most direct option, but it sure is the most fun as seen by Ms. Frizzle. It is okay to let the inner child out during these adventure hikes and explore in a new way. Aim for getting to the point of being comfortable with saying “We are on another one of Ms. Frizzle’s crazy class trips!” (Cole, 1995, p. 18). Take ownership over the adventure and be like Ms. Frizzle or like her students.

If visiting a shoreline is not feasible

Visiting your local aquarium:

They will have marine organisms that you can check out up close or hands-on. This hands-on experience is important for children of all ages in order to learn and understand similarities and differences among a variety of ecosystems.

Even if you do not have access locally to a marine or fresh water ecosystem that is okay! Books and films are good resources for learning more about an unfamiliar ecosystem. Reference books and documentaries can be purchased online or in store, but many of them can be checked out at your local library.

Getting more out of a visit to the shoreline

Get familiar with shore and ocean creatures and be a part of an investigation with children or adults you take to the harbor as an adventure hike or school field trip. Investigations do not follow the strict procedure of experiments, but instead are informal ways of wondering and discovering something. An investigation can be done in multiple ways, by taking in observations through sight, hearing, touch, or smell, and making guesses, and asking questions. Taking in observations through the different senses allows someone to become familiar with and gain a sense of place. With this new information, you can gain an appreciation for the place or item that was investigated.

Some books to refer to while familiarizing oneself with shore or ocean habitat depending on age are:


On the Beach (Smith and Howell, 2003)

Young Readers and Explorers:

In One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails, and Salty Tails (Fredericks, 2002)
Magic School Bus On the Ocean Floor (Cole, 1995)
Ocean (MacQuitty, 2000)
Seashore (Parker, 2000)
Shoreline (Taylor, 1993)

All Ages-Reference:

Beachcombers Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest (Sept, 1999)

Activities to do at a Harbor, Shoreline, or Beach

Free Exploration:

Free explorations are where someone takes a few minutes or longer of unstructured time to wander or explore a new space or ecosystem. This unstructured time can reduce all aged students’ distraction level and setup for other activities by allowing students to self-direct their investigations and learning. This is important because it allows students, children, and adults to build confidence, independence, and a greater understanding about the world around them.

Students at IslandWood’s School Overnight Program searching for crabs at Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island WA. Photo credit: Glassy, 2018


Crab-itats are a fun, hands-on way to explore and learn the important components that crabs need to survive and thrive. One way to make a crab-itat is to use natural materials from the beach you are on to make a habitat for the crabs found there (IslandWood Education Wiki, 2018). The logistics of this project are up to the person making the habitat, and the habitat could take many forms, and be made with several different natural items. Young students and adults can try to add abiotic (non-living) and biotic (living) items to their habitat and then think and describe their reasoning behind the items they chose.

This process of thinking and then explaining the habitat they created allows for the connection to the survival needs of crabs. You can then relate this learning to any animal or plant in other ecosystems. Another important take away from this activity is for someone to gain a sense of place and appreciation for the beach environment. With this new appreciation the person will feel more inclined to take small steps or community action to help take care of the ecosystem so others can enjoy it too!



Step 1: Pick three different locations on the shoreline (ex: sand, rocks, and water’s edge).

Step 2: Make a table similar to this one:




# of crabs found
Trial 1 Trail 2 Trial 3 Average
Water’s Edge

(Cunningham, 2017)

Step 3: Count the number of crabs at each location. The number of trials is up to you.

Step 4: Calculate average of each location, if you have more than one trial. The average will give an area that crabs are more likely to be, providing evidence for a potential claim. Through this investigation, you can gain knowledge of the preferred habitat of the crabs in your area, make observations, form claims with evidence, and be like a scientist. Investigations are important because you can make them relatable or personal to you and then gain skills that you can use at school, work, or other aspects of your life. You can also look for and investigate sea stars, sea anemones, or snails depending on your personal interests and the beach location near you.

Finding something new to learn more about:

This is similar to free exploration, but instead each person or pair can find something they are interested in and use different tools to explore and learn about it. This includes using a Lummi Loupe (a domed magnifier), small containers, magnifying glasses, and/or reference books. For example, a group of fifth graders I was teaching were excited to go to Blakely Harbor on Bainbridge Island so I brought some small clear containers and some Lummi Loupes to the harbor. Some students were excited about barnacles so we picked up a rock with living, but closed up barnacles on it and put it in one of the containers with saltwater. While still at the beach we observed the barnacles in the container. Also the students used the Lummi Loupes to look at the barnacles up close. We then returned the rock to where we found it and put the saltwater back in Puget Sound. Using the different tools to learn something about the organisms through the use of the four senses (sight, smell, hear, and touch) and then referring to a guide to find out the name of the plant or animal allows for more comprehensive learning and understanding.

Common Animals and Plants Found At the Shoreline

Crabs: Shield-Backed Kelp Crab, Purple Shore Crab, many types of Hermit Crabs (Sept, 1999)
Sea Star: Leather Star, Pacific Blood Star, Purple Star, and many others (Sept, 1999)
Sea Anemones: Giant Green Anemone, Plumose Sea Anemone (Sept, 1999)
Barnacles: Thatched Barnacle, Acorn Barnacle, Goose Barnacle (Sept 1999)
Limpets: Rough Keyhole Limpet, Ribbed Limpet, and more (Sept, 1999)
Chitons: Gumboot Chiton, Woody Chiton, Cooper’s Chiton, and more (Sept, 1999)
Plants On or Near the Shore: Common Sea Lettuce, Bull Kelp, Iridescent Seaweed (Sept, 1999), and Pickleweed

Guidelines for Exploring At the Beach

  • Gently roll a rock over to see what is underneath and then return to original state. The rock should be no bigger than the size of your head.
  • Be cautious of picking up animals higher than your knee (that is a long way to fall)
  • Have a blast exploring the beach and enjoy discovering and learning about something new


Julia Glassy is a current graduate student of University of Washington over on Bainbridge Island, WA at IslandWood. In addition to taking classes, she teaches 3rd through 6th graders who come over to IslandWood from their schools in the greater Seattle and Bainbridge Island area for four days as a part of the School Overnight Program.




Cole, J. (1995). The Magic School Bus On the Ocean Floor. Littleton, MA: Sundance.
Cunningham, Jenny. (Ed.). (2017). IslandWood Field Journal. Bainbridge Island, WA: IslandWood.
Ecosystem in a Box. (n.d.). Retrieved December 6, 2018, from https://wiki.islandwood.org/index.php?title=Ecosytem_in_a_Box
Glassy, Julia. (Photograph). (2018). Blakely Harbor, Bainbridge Island. Bainbridge Island, WA: IslandWood.
Fredericks, A. D. (2002). In One Tidepool: Crabs, Snails, and Salty Tails. Nevada City, CA: Dawn Publications.
MacQuitty, M., Dr. (2000). Ocean. New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Parker, S. (2000). Seashore. New York: Dorling Kindersley.
Sept, J. D. (1999). The Beachcombers Guide to Seashore Life in the Pacific Northwest. Madeira Park, BC: Harbour Pub.
Smith, A., & Howell, L. (2003). On the Beach. Tulsa, OK: EDC Publishing.
Taylor, B. (1993). Shoreline. London: Dorling Kindersley.


Art and the Environment

Art and the Environment

Getting to the HeART of Teaching Marine Conservation

by Kerry Hynes

I don’t understand.  This is too hard. Why are we learning this?”  These are just a few of the phrases that I hear in my classroom that force me to stop, take a deep breath, and remind myself that, yes, I am going to get through this lesson.  As a teacher in 2018, I know that I’m not alone in feeling this way.

Every single day, educators take on the task of fostering students’ learning and increasing achievement in a variety of venues.  And guaranteed, as a teacher, every single day you will come across challenges that make that task even more difficult than it already is.  Limited resources, varied abilities, language barriers, and disinterest are a few elements that can deter every effort that you have to teach a strong lesson.  It can be tiresome, frustrating, and downright exasperating when it seems as if there is no success in sight.

Engagement and Conservation

When I was assigned to teach a conservation and sustainability themed course this year to elementary school students, I was plagued with the thought of how I would be able to make the content accessible for all of my students, especially when they had never been exposed in depth to these topics.  From experience, I have noted that many students associate negative attitudes with science, which makes sense due to the abstract nature and complex content of the subject [i]. Effective learners also need projects that advance their feelings of aptitude, permits them to form connections with others, gives them a sense of self-sufficiency, and advances prospects for creativity and self-expression [ii]. In turn, this can allow for greater engagement, thus creating a student who will display enthusiasm, effort, commitment to the task, and concentration. It is vital to guarantee lesson resources that relate to students’ lives and emphasize ways education can be practical.

Specifically, with regards to science, conservation-based programs have shown that participating adolescents are able to develop more moralistic attitudes toward the environment and increase positive lifestyle changes [iii]. I had the virtuous voice inside my head reminding me just how meaningful this sort of course could be in helping my students develop those environmentally sensitive attitudes, a growth that could be beneficial in leading them to understand their important role as stakeholders in conservation efforts. So not only did the content need to be accessible, but students had to become engaged with what they were learning in order for it to be applicable and produce tangible benefits to society.  No pressure.

Now the question arose. How was I supposed to take this increasingly important material and transfer it to not only the minds, but hearts, of kids, many of whom were English language learners and students with disabilities? They have as much of a right and obligation to become global and environmental citizens.  But how do you do that despite these challenges?


The Case for Art and Science

For me, success came with the incorporation of art.  I developed lessons that In order to further develop a sense of success and allow students opportunities to work in ways in which they find their strengths, nontraditional forms of teaching have begun to emerge in the classroom as ways to engage. Multi-modal studies, which include art, allow students to engage with the curriculum in a different way so that they can examine and make meaning through all types of mediums, including graffiti, pictures, music, and gestures [iv]. Art can be a supplementary tool to teaching conservation, in that it allows individuals to become engaged with visual representations that are not as overwhelming in the sense of requiring an extensive amount of background knowledge.

Since emotions also play an integral role in our actions and everyday deeds, the arts present a way for people to form an emotional attachment and help reach new audiences and  can play a positive role in changing behaviors that affect the environment [v]. Mediums such as the visual arts, poetry and music offer a vehicle to address the public not only on important issues, but in a way in which it can connect to emotions, beliefs, and attitudes [vi]. Presenting facts alone is less likely to produce a long term outcome that changes behaviors and outlook on issues [vii], whereas the incorporation of arts can lead to the long-term retention of retaining of the content long-term as well as a method to motivate innovation [viii].  Especially with students who don’t speak English as their first language, or need alternative pathways to comprehend information, visuals communicate in a way that words cannot.


Teaching Marine Conservation

When it came to teaching a unit on the threats surrounding marine life, I decided to try to use art as one of the main mediums for conveying information.  Despite living in an urban setting, there are many marine species that live or migrate through the our waters surrounding the city. Threats such as beach litter, loose fishing constraints, oil leaks, and improper disposal have been cited as some of the main causes of marine pollution and litter [ix]. With marine pollution being increasingly associated with decreasing aquatic populations, it is imperative that action and knowledge is increased to save these species.

Being that my school is in an urban setting, many students didn’t realize the variety of animals that were directly being impacted by marine litter and pollution only a few miles away.  However,since many visit local beaches during the summer, as many are visitors at local beaches, I wanted them to understand the connection that they each have to the issues of marine litter and pollution.  Many tend to bring many items with them such as coolers, food and beverage, and blankets, which are disposed or left at the end of their visit on the sand away from trash receptacles. Any amount of garbage and litter that is left on the public beaches is detrimental to the wildlife when left to be blown away or very, very slowly break down.  There are many negative effects of this apathy for the natural world, some of which include disease, suffocation, infection, and ingestion of plastics and other types of litter, as well as entanglement in various packaging and disposed netting [x].

In order to teach about this topic, I formed educational centers that students were able to rotate to throughout the lesson, each with a different set of resources that focused on various subcategories of marine conservation.  These centers used various art forms as the main methods of communication. For example, political and nonpolitical cartoons were displayed to illuminate the effects of oil leaks on habitat and seabirds. Paintings depicting the ocean with tons of man made debris floating around taught about the physical litter that winds up in the water, as well as the threats of entanglement, and ingestion.  Songs and performance art pieces were also shown to educate my students about the dangers to biodiversity and vast effects that our actions can have on the environment.

After students learned about threats to marine life, their task was to create a work of art that would educate the public on the issues of marine pollution  or explain ways in which they could assist in conservation efforts. Since many of my students are able to access information more readily (both in terms of engagement and understanding) through artwork, I decided to have them communicate the knowledge that they acquired to others through some of the same mediums.  Their task was to create a work of art that would educate the public on the issues of marine pollution and litter or explain ways in which they could assist in conservation efforts.   Since that technique was effective in engaging students, I figured that others who weren’t inclined to go out on their own to research marine conservation could learn through similar, appealing methods.  And you know what? It worked.

It seems as though art can bring out the heart in science.

Kerry Hynes is a STEAM educator in an elementary school and assists in running a Makers Lab which focuses on sustainability and conservation. She is a graduate of Manhattan College and is receiving a Masters degree in biology from Miami University in conjunction with Project Dragonfly and the Wildlife Conservation Society.





[i.] Osborne, J., Simon, S., & Collins, S. (2003). Attitudes towards science: A review of the literature and its implications, International Journal of Science Education, 25:9, 1049-1079, DOI: 10.1080/0950069032000032199

[ii]  Kostons, D., Van Gog, T., & Paas, F. (2010). Self-assessment and task selection in learner-controlled instruction: differences between effective and ineffective learners. Computers & Education, 54, 932e940. doi:10.1016/ j.compedu.2009.09.025.

[iii] Jacobson, S. K., Mcduff, M. D., & Monroe, M. C. (2007). Promoting Conservation through the Arts: Outreach for Hearts and Minds. Conservation Biology, 21(1), 7-10. doi:10.1111/j.1523-1739.2006.00596.x

[iv] Cable, T., and T. Ernst. (2003). Interpreting rightly in a left-brain world. Legacy 14:27–

[v] Brown, A. G. (2003). Visualization as a common design language: Connecting art and
science. Automation in Construction. 12(6), 703-713.

[vi] Jacobson, S. K. (2009). Communication skills for conservation professionals. Second edition. Island Press, Washington, D.C.,

[vii]  Inoa, R., Weltsek, G., Tabone, C. (2014). A study on the relationship between theater
arts and Student Literacy and Mathematics Achievement. Journal for Learning
Through the Arts. (1).

[viii] Gurnon, D., J. Voss-Andreae, and J. Stanley. (2013). Integrating art and science in undergraduate education. PLoS Biology 11(2).

[ix] Zettler, E.R., Mincer, T.J., Amaral-Zettler, L.A. (2013). Life in the “Plastisphere”: Microbial Communities on Plastic Marine Debris. Environmental Science and Technology, 47 (13): 7137-7146.

[x] Kraus, G., & Diekmann, R. (2017). Impact of Fishing Activities on Marine Life. Handbook on Marine Environment Protection, 79-96. doi:10.1007/978-3-319-60156-4_4

Marine/Aquatic Education: Nudibranch Population Dynamics

Marine/Aquatic Education: Nudibranch Population Dynamics

The search for sea slugs

Linking non-divers to the excitement of ocean discovery

by Elise Pletcher
Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator
The Marine Science and Technology Center
Highline College

The Dendronotus iris, a species of nudibranch recently found in one of the MaST Aquarium tanks.

he Nudibranch Team is a citizen science volunteer program at the Marine Science and Technology Center of Highline College. Volunteers work with Aquarium Staff to record populations of nudibranchs (colorful sea slugs). The MaST Center’s 3,000-gallon aquarium is operated on a “flow-through” model where 250 gallons of unfiltered Puget Sound water is pumped every minute through the tanks. This water brings with it several kinds of plankton, which are hard to identify and collect in the open waters of the Puget Sound, but within our tanks can be identified at the species level. Even once they are past their planktonic larval stage, many of the nudibranchs found in our aquarium are less than 1 cm in length!

This system offers the unique opportunity to record abundance of several nudibranch species throughout the year. Citizen scientists on our nudibranch team are trained to identify upwards of twenty nudibranch species, and use flashlights to track them down in our tanks. Why nudibranchs you may ask? They make an excellent species to study because each species is very distinct morphologically. Nudibranchs are the subject of a lot of macrophotography here in the Puget Sound; their bright colors and patterns make them a photogenic group of animals. Many of the animals in our aquarium are collected, but the nudibranchs come in naturally. When we see a nudibranch, it is exciting, because we get to discover them in the tanks! The thrill of not knowing what you are going to see is also a key part of what makes diving so exciting. The Nudibranch Team provides this thrill to non-divers.

The MaST’s Nudibranch Team hosts a diverse crowd with a wide range of abilities. Some are divers who already have a passion for filming nudibranchs, while others are just learning about these sea slugs for the first time. Our team is made up of mother-child duos, music teachers, retirees, and recent college graduates, all with one thing in common: their obsession with these peculiar sea slugs. You don’t need a SCUBA certification to get involved, just an interest in peering into a tank with a flashlight for an hour or two a week. Volunteers start with a 1.5 hour training in which they learn all about nudibranchs and how to identify them, including morphological traits. After the training, they’re given an identification guide, a data collection sheet, and set loose. Of all the MaST’s volunteer programs the Nudibranch Team demands the least amount of training time, it’s what helps make it so efficient.

The program originally started in 2013 when former Education Coordinator Eugene Disney and Manager Rus Higley started noticing certain nudibranchs were in the tanks in greater numbers depending on the time of year. They decided to round up a couple of volunteers to help count nudibranchs. Fast forward five years, and we are starting to see some interesting trends in nudibranch abundance emerge. Certain species are peaking in abundance at certain times of the year.

Of our most common species, each has a distinguished peak in annual abundance. Some tend to have high abundance throughout the year, but dip in the summer. While others peak in the summer months. This is interesting because nudibranchs are indicators of ocean health. If we see a huge spike in populations, something in ecosystem is likely influencing this spike. Since they occur naturally in our aquarium, we can use their abundance as a proxy for nudibranch abundance in the water at Redondo Beach. With the MaST’s four complete years’ of nudibranch population data, we have a strong baseline for tracking population changes. Nudibranch population changes can provide insight into the population health of their food sources: hydroids, sponges, and bryozoans.

We have shared this unique citizen science program at the Western Society of Naturalists Conference in 2017, Salish Sea Ecosystem Conference 2018, and the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer! Are you attending the Northwest Aquatic and Marine Educators Conference this summer? Check out our poster Tracking Temporal and Seasonal Changes in Nudibranch Populations from a Small Aquarium presented by the wonderful Vanessa Hunt, an Associate Professor at Central Washington University.

In the next few months, we hope to design a better classification system based on volunteer experience and expertise. This includes updating our identification keys to address species color variation. The ultimate goal for this program is to publish the data, and make it available for public use by others who wish to study invertebrate population trends in the South Puget Sound.

While the MaST is excited to have some quantitative data behind our sea slug populations, the best part of the team is still sharing in the excitement of discovering a new nudibranch –just recently, we found a Dendronotus iris, a beautifully branched nudibranch, mostly white and flecked with orange and purplish-brown. Staff and volunteers flocked to the aquarium to get a closer look at this nudibranch. It has been over a year and a half since the last time this species was spotted in one of our tanks!

The Marine Science and Technology Center is the marine laboratory of Highline College. Committed to increasing ocean literacy through community interaction, personal relations and exploration; the MaST strives to accomplish this through volunteer programs, formal college classes, and k-12 school programs.


Author: Elise Pletcher is the Citizen Science and Volunteer Coordinator at the MaST Center in Des Moines WA, where she works alongside volunteers on the Jelly, Nudibranch, Marine Mammal, and Discovery Day volunteer teams.

Marine and Aquatic Education: Underwater Technology and ROVs

Marine and Aquatic Education: Underwater Technology and ROVs

This aquarium guest is filled with excitement to have the opportunity to navigate this underwater robot for the first time.

Engaging Students in Underwater Technology and ROVs

by Jessica Lotz
Education and Outreach Coordinator
The Marine Science and Technology Center
Highline College

ften times it’s hard for us air breathers to really appreciate the depth and immensity of our ocean when we are standing at its surface. The deepest canyons and trenches are so massive that they are able fit Mt. Everest inside, leaving miles of ocean above its peak to spare. What is even more shocking is that only about 5% of the ocean has been explored. With more miles of the surface of Mars mapped than in our own planet’s ocean, scientists are diving into new technology to help us better understand the deep. The boom in underwater technology has enabled us to understand more about the ocean than ever before by exploring the depths, collecting data, and accomplishing tasks that would limit a human in the past. The ocean connects every ecosystem on the planet; understanding and exploring it is more than a matter of curiosity, it is critical!

Ocean literacy is vital for maintaining healthy ecosystems, resources, and planning for our planet’s future. Teaching students and the community about these advances in underwater technology is crucial because it empowers them to discover, monitor, and preserve marine habitat. We hope to show other organizations how teaching an ocean exploration curriculum, which uses ROV (Remotely Operated Vehicle) technology, to a wide variety of learners can be an effective tool to increase ocean literacy.

Tucked away on beautiful Redondo Beach in the central Puget Sound, the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) is the marine biology and aquarium facility of Highline College. Dedicated to expanding knowledge about the Puget Sound, a central mission of the MaST Center is fostering a culture of marine stewardship by engaging the community through interactive learning, personal relations, and exploration. In order to accomplish this mission, our education team has developed program curriculum designed around ROVs and underwater technology. The result? – Students ranging from 3rd grade to college, summer campers and aquarium guests have hands-on experiences either building or utilizing the video capabilities of underwater robots.

Aquabotix Hydroview Remotely Operated Vehicle used at the MaST Center by volunteers and aquarium guests.

The planning of this curriculum was highly influenced by Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) organization. Their website is full of resources including curriculum about ROV basics and assemblage. They even have materials such as pre-assembled kits including motors and control boxes all available for purchase through their website marinetech.org. Another organization that offers similar materials is SeaPerch, which you can visit at seaperch.org. Both of these sites offer competitive rates under $200 per kit, including instruction materials. We have found that 3-4 students per kit seems to work best when designing frames and driving the vehicles, so plan for that while budgeting. Once you decide which company offers materials that match your program goals, you can outfit your classroom with a long-lasting and incredible resource to learn. At the MaST Center, we are fortunate enough to test the vehicles in the Puget Sound; but a close proximity to the ocean is not necessary. Your students will still gain valuable learning experience even simply testing their ROVs in a blowup pool. This programming is very flexible and is a valuable resource for teachers wishing to engage their students with topics involving ocean exploration, underwater technology, and engineering.

After designing and building his very own ROV, this 8th grade boy lowers the vehicle into the Puget Sound in hopes of retrieving a geological sample from the bottom of the seafloor.

At our facility, all of the curriculum is linked to Next Generation Science Standards and Ocean Literacy Principals, making it simple to integrate into teachers’ planned coursework. Students learning this material not only learn about ocean exploration, monitoring, and uses of underwater technology; they also gain experience becoming familiar with force diagrams, engineering methods, and problem solving skills. We aim to educate the public about underwater technology through facets other than coursework. One portion of our program that always seems to intrigue learners includes showing them the live footage from ROVs actively exploring the ocean. They are able to connect what they are learning to current, exciting expeditions beneath the surface. Any teacher can do this easily by visiting the live streams of the NOAA Okeanos Explorer or the Nautilus Live ROVs online. I’ve included the websites for these live streams here:

Okeanos Explorer:            https://oceanexplorer.noaa.gov/livestreams/welcome.html

Nautilus Live:                        https://www.nautiluslive.org/

These 5th grade Underwater Robotics team members put the final touches on the ROV which won 1st place at the Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) ROV competition.

Your students will surely gain plenty of valuable knowledge about underwater technology and ROVs by building and testing the frames, but there is always room to expand upon this type of program. At the MaST Center we took the programming a few steps further by doing some of the following activities. During the Summer of 2018, we will spotlight ROVs and underwater technology during our Sound Science Summer Camp. The theme of the camp will be “Science Beyond the Surface”. This theme will create an interconnection between ROVs not only through daily activities, but throughout the week in its entirety.

Another way in which we teach ROV education is through robotics clubs! Students of this generation are growing up in an era of rapid technological advance. This creates an opportunity to fuel these students’ fascination and impressive knowledge of technology into ocean research. We work with 5th grade students from Geiger Montessori Elementary School in Tacoma, WA to do just that. The club has been designing, engineering, and testing ROVs in preparation for the 2018 Marine Advanced Technology Education (MATE) ROV competition. Through the club, these young students have dove even deeper into the makings of these underwater robots, and even learned to wire the electronics and motors themselves. In addition to these engineering feats, they gained further experience by preparing technical reports, poster displays, and engineering presentations which were delivered to professionals working in the field. All of these skills will be useful as they prepare for technical careers in the future. We are proud to say that the team won 1st place in their class at the 2018 Marine Advanced Technology (MATE) ROV competition in May! I feel certain that this club has inspired many of the youngsters to stay involved in underwater robotics and the sciences in general.

After putting in many long hours, gaining a victory, and sharing their insights with their elementary school; the club was able to explore a WWII plane wreck in Lake Washington 150 feet below the surface using an advanced ROV. The youngsters were able to drive the underwater vehicle and record video of the sunken plane. This experience was not only exciting, but also educational because the students were able to apply the knowledge that they’ve gained, and apply it to a real life scenario. This was an opportunity of a lifetime.

We interact and educate the public about ROV technology in a number of ways including presenting aquarium volunteers and visitors with the opportunity to build ROV frames and test them off our dock. They may also explore the underwater habitats of Redondo Beach, WA with our $10,000 Aquabotix ROV, equipped with video streaming capabilities.

Our program impacts students and the community in a way that goes beyond the classroom. As I mentioned previously, teaching about underwater technology and ROVs is a very flexible and dynamic opportunity. It can be as simple as allowing the public to drive the vehicles, to the intricacy of a dedicated club wiring the entire system. It’s up to you to choose which option works best for your site’s desires and capabilities.

Moving forward, I ask you to join me. Help me inspire the next generation to explore the last unknown frontier! Imagine the possibility of discoveries, solutions, and history we may find in the ocean. Using the latest underwater technology, unveiling the oceans and turning a mystery into reality is right at our fingertips. As educators, we just need to dive right in.

Jessica Lotz is the Education and Outreach Coordinator at the Marine Science and Technology Center (MaST) Aquarium, a program of Highline College in Des Moines, Washington.

Ocean Plastic Pollution

Ocean Plastic Pollution

Mitigating Microplastics

Development and Evaluation of a Middle School Curriculum

by Marie Kowalski and Tracy Crews



Microplastics are plastic marine debris less than five millimeters across. Microplastics are a threat to the health of our ocean. One important way to reduce microplastics in our ocean is to educate people about the issue, particularly future decision-makers. A middle school curriculum was developed using current scientific data and evaluated using the Context, Input, Process, Product (CIPP) model. The curriculum includes lessons on sources, impacts, and solutions to microplastics. Students participating in the curriculum demonstrated detailed knowledge and awareness of microplastics as well as increased feelings of personal responsibility.


Microplastics, marine debris, curriculum, middle school, curriculum evaluation


Our ocean is a valuable resource that provides important services including fisheries, recreation, and habitat for many organisms. The global health of our ocean is threatened by marine debris or litter in the ocean. Most marine debris is plastic (Thiel et al. 2013) and can range in size from abandoned boats to microplastics less than five millimeters across (Law and Thompson 2014). Marine debris is everywhere, and it is largely preventable through changes in people’s behaviors. Reducing marine debris, however, is a complex problem.

While picking up litter is important, education and scientific research are also critical components of reducing marine debris (Thompson, Moore, vom Saal, and Swan 2009). Awareness of marine issues is associated with feeling concern for the environment (Gelcich et al. 2014). Inspiring and empowering young people to take action is an important part of reducing marine debris.

This article describes a three-part middle school curriculum incorporating current research on microplastics. An overview of the curriculum development and evaluation is discussed. An excerpt from the curriculum is included with access to the full curriculum available online. While the curriculum was designed and evaluated with a formal middle school classroom in mind, the lesson activities can also be adapted for use in informal settings.



Sources and Sinks

It was estimated that more than five trillion pieces of plastic are floating in the ocean and over 90% are microplastics (Eriksen et al. 2014). Most marine debris (estimated 80%) originates on land (Derraik 2002). Microplastics primarily enter the ocean when larger plastic marine debris fragments (and small plastics) are directly deposited in the ocean (Browne 2015). Small plastics in personal care products such as some face washes and toothpastes, as well as plastic fibers in laundry lint, go down household drains and are not removed by water treatment facilities (Fendall and Sewell 2009).

PHOTO – Small plastic particles in personal care products called microbeads enter household drains and are not removed by water treatment facilities. Courtesy of Marie Kowalski.

Possible Impacts

Once in the ocean, the impacts of microplastics are largely unknown. Ongoing research has identified potential impacts such as the accumulation of toxins on the surface of microplastics (Mato et al. 2001) and organisms’ ingestion of plastics. Microbes have also been shown to colonize on the surface of microplastics, possibly being transported to new parts of the ocean or sinking plastic to deeper waters (Zettler, Mincer, and Amaral-Zettler 2013).

Organisms such as plankton (Cole et al. 2013) and filter feeders such as oysters (Van Cauwenberghe and Janssen 2014) have been reported to ingest microplastics along with several species of fish and seabirds (Codina-García, Militão, Moreno, and González-Solís 2013). The impacts of microplastics after consumption is unclear. Microplastics are found from the surface to the bottom of the ocean all over the world, making their impacts on the marine environment a global concern.



For an issue that has no one solution, effective methods to address marine debris will require creativity and collaboration among many groups. Three categories of solutions include legislation, education, and individual actions.

  • Legislation: The federal Microbead-Free Act of 2015 banned the manufacture and sale of personal care products with plastic microbeads.
  • Education: Educating people about marine debris has the potential to inspire reduction of marine debris at multiple scales.
  • Individual Actions: Individual actions such as recycling and avoiding plastic products can reduce our personal plastic contribution and inspire others to change, thereby having a larger impact.




The microplastics curriculum was created through the backwards planning design of Wiggins and McTighe (2005). Lessons were grounded in enduring understandings and learning objectives aligned with middle school Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS), Common Core State Standards (CCSS), and Ocean Literacy Principles (OLP). Lessons were developed using data provided by researchers working in the field.


The curriculum consists of three lessons designed for sixth through eighth grade students:

  1. “Bags, Bottles, and Beads: Sources of Microplastics”: Students investigate personal care products with microbeads, explore major sources of microplastics, and work with data on microplastics abundance in the Pacific Ocean.
  2. “Small Plastics, Big Problem”: Students simulate the fragmentation of plastic marine debris to determine how its surface area changes and then work with data from the Columbia River Estuary in Oregon to explore potential impacts of plastics in waterways.
  3. “Mitigating Microplastics”: Students work in groups to generate solutions to the problem of microplastics and implement their ideas. The curriculum available online contains a set of teacher lesson plans with aligned standards, materials, lesson outlines, extension and adaptation suggestions, and background content information. A presentation slide show is also available along with student handouts and an answer guide.



Evaluation Model

The evaluation of this curriculum was based on the Context, Input, Process, Product (CIPP) model (Stufflebeam and Coryn 2014). This model was chosen because of its flexibility and ability to be used as a model for both the formative and summative evaluation.

The goal of the formative evaluation was to get feedback on the initial curriculum from students and assess its usefulness to teachers. Data collected during the formative evaluation was used to revise the curriculum.

The goal of the summative evaluation was to evaluate the effectiveness of the final curriculum and document changes in participants. The summative evaluation was guided by two questions:

  1. To what extent do knowledge, attitudes, and beliefs change after participating in this microplastics curriculum?
  2. How does understanding and behavior change after participating in this microplastics curriculum?


Data Collection

Formative evaluation data was collected in two parts: pilot teaching and a teacher focus group. The pilot version of the curriculum was taught at two marine science summer camps with a total of 47 students between the ages of 12 and 15. Data on student questions and responses were collected via researcher fieldnotes and used to revise the curriculum. The revised curriculum was reviewed by agroup of four middle school teachers, a curriculum resource liaison, and a K-12 liaison at a marine education facility. A focus group was held to obtain feedback on the content, layout, usability, and likelihood that the curriculum would be used in the classroom. This feedback was also used to revise the curriculum.

Summative evaluation data was collected using pre- and post-surveys before the first lesson in the curriculum and after the last lesson of the curriculum was taught by the researcher. The survey was used with 110 students and three teachers in a total of seven classes. The concepts addressed in the survey included awareness, attitudes, beliefs, understanding, and behaviors, which are considered by Allen et al. (2008) to be components of science education “impact.” Data on student knowledge was collected using questions embedded in student materials.


Data Analysis

Quantitative data (awareness, attitudes, beliefs, numberof behaviors, and knowledge) was coded and analyzed in SPSS using descriptive and nonparametric statistical tests. Qualitative data (understanding, behaviors, and some knowledge items) was coded in Dedoose, a web application for mixed methods analysis, using a combination of in vivo (bottom up) coding and axial (top down) coding (Berg and Lune 2012).


Evaluation Results

The evaluation results are from the summative evaluation of the curriculum. Of the seven classes and 110 students who participated in the evaluation, 24% were in fifth or sixth grade, and 76% were in eighth grade. More than half (53%) of the students had not heard of microplastics before participating in the lessons.

Overall, eighth grade students scored higher on knowledge questions (defining marine debris and microplastics, articulating the abundance of microplastics, and explaining how surface area changes when an object fragments), with the exception of identifying sources of microplastics.

Additionally, all students struggled with explaining how the total surface area changed as marine debris fragmented over time. The mean score for students on this objective was 65%. The challenge was possibly due to the fact that Common Core State Standards do not include calculating the surface area until seventh grade or may reflect students’ reliance on mathematical formulas (Zacharos 2006). This section of the curriculum is most appropriate for students who are already familiar with calculating surface area.

The shifts in student misconceptions and types of behaviors suggest that the curriculum did get students thinking about the issue in a more accurate way, correcting some misconceptions.

Generally, attitudes about the scope and severity of the microplastics issue and beliefs that students could influence the problem increased after participating in the curriculum.

Students were more worried about the issue, but concern is important when combined with knowledge of solutionoriented behaviors. Self-efficacy was generally high among students, which can be an opportunity to engage them in creating and implementing solutions in the classroom and beyond. Selected evaluation results are highlighted in Table 1 below.

Concept Results


Post lessons, students scored 80% or above on every objective, except in surface area students scored 65%.



After the lessons, students did list more behaviors to reduce microplastics in the ocean than listed previously. The mean number of behaviors listed per student increased from 3.52 to 3.83.

Pre-survey behaviors were focused on managing waste (recycling and not littering).

Post-survey behaviors were focused on managing consumption (buying non-plastic items or reducing their use of plastics).



After the lessons, students tended to include fewer misconceptions (the mean number of misconceptions per student decrease from 0.51 in the pre-survey to 0.35 in the post survey) and more detailed explanations in their responses. Some students showed misconceptions after the lessons that all plastic floats and microplastics kill all marine life.



Students tended to believe they could make a difference in the microplastics issue both before and after the lessons.



After the lessons, students tended to:

  • Be significantly more worried about the issue (p < .001, Z = 3.43)
  • Think microplastics are a more challenging problem
  • Be unsure about the impacts of microplastics on people


This middle school microplastics curriculum was developed and evaluated using formative and summative techniques. Because the curriculum was evaluated in a rural, coastal school district in Oregon, the results cannot be generalized to other communities.

In this context, however, the microplastics curriculum was effective in raising awareness, knowledge, and feelings of personal responsibility among students as well as developing more specific understanding of microplastics. The first lesson from this curriculum is outlined here, with images of the supporting student materials. The full curriculum is available online. A link is available in the resources section of this article.



Next Generation Science Standards

ESS3.C: Human Impacts on Earth Systems Human activities have significantly altered the biosphere, sometimes damaging or destroying natural habitats and causing the

extinction of other species. But changes to Earth’s environments can have different impacts (negative and positive) for different living things. (MS-ESS3-3)


Patterns Graphs, charts, and images can be used to identify patterns in data. (MS-ESS3-2)

Ocean Literacy

6.D Human activity contributes to changes in the ocean and atmosphere.

6.D.18 Pollutants move from the land into the ocean as water flows through watersheds via runoff and rivers.


Enduring Understandings

Everyone’s actions have an impact (both positive and negative) on the environment.



  • Students will define marine debris and microplastics
  • Students will explain sources of microplastics


  • One 90-minute lesson


  • Two sealing jars for each group/pair
  • Water (enough to fill each jar about half full)
  • Liquid soap or face wash with microbeads
  • Liquid soap or face wash with natural exfoliators
  • Student notebook: “Bags, Bottles, and Beads”
  • Sink
  • Coffee filters
  • Jar/bucket for microbead disposal


  • Divide students into groups of 2-3
  • With two jars for each group, label half the jars “A” and the other half “B”
  • Place about a tablespoon of soap in each jar
  • Soap with microbeads in jar “A”
  • Soap with natural exfoliators in jar “B”
  • Have a disposal jar/bucket for microbead soap when the activity is over




Say: Look around the room and silently find as many plastic objects as you can in 10 seconds…go! Time students for 10 seconds, then have students share some of the objects they identified.


Ask: Raise your hand if you agree that there is a lot of plastic in this classroom? If you agree that we use a lot of plastic in our daily lives?

Say: We use plastic every day, and many of the plastics are single-use. They are designed to be thrown away after being used once. We might not realize which products have plastic, and we don’t always know what happens to them after they are thrown away.


Explore—”Soap, Suds, and…Plastic?”

Say: Some products with plastics might surprise you. First, we will talk a little about plastic itself, and then you will have a chance to investigate for yourself. Students complete guided notes in their notebooks.


Presentation: Slides include the text from the notebook with the blanks filled in.

Say: Polyethylene is the plastic most microbeads are made of, and you can identify products with microbeads by looking at the ingredients for polyethylene. Repeat after me, “polyethylene.”

Handout: an “A” and “B” jar to each student group, don’t tell them which soap is which.


Students compare the size, shape, color, and any additional properties of the two soaps to determine which one contains plastic.

Courtesy of Marie Kowalski



As an alternative to the first activity “Soap Suds and… Plastic,” consider completing the challenge using just face wash with natural exfoliators. Have students observe and draw the particles, and then explain that some soaps used to have plastic instead of the natural material. Ask students to imagine that those particles are plastic to get an idea of the number of microbeads that might enter the ocean from one product. Emphasize that there are other sources of microplastics that enter waterways, including plastic fibers from clothing.

Students read and follow the directions in their notebooks.

Presentation: Slides also have activity directions for reference.

  • Students first make observations of the two jars (color, texture, size and shape of particles, etc.).
  • Students fill jars halfway with water, close it tightly, and shake the jars to dissolve the soap (there shouldn’t be any soap stuck to the bottom).
  • Students write down what they observe and draw pictures in their notebooks of how the particles behave inside the soaps. Students answer the questions in their notebooks.

Ask: What did you notice that was different between the two jars? How did the particles in the soaps behave? Which one do you think has plastic in it? What evidence do you have? Reveal the answer, that “A” has microplastics in it!

Misconception Alert! Plastic microbeads will float in the water, but not all microplastics float! Microplastics can be found at many depths, including the ocean floor. Before moving on to the next part of the lesson, clarify that while the plastic microbeads in the investigation floated, not all microplastics float in the ocean.

  • Students read the “newspaper clipping” from their notebook and answer the question.

Discuss: Why is the problem of microplastics not solved? Do you think this is a helpful law? Why or why not?

Debrief: “How do microplastics make it to the ocean?”

Say: One of the reasons the microplastics problem is not solved by this law is that there are many other ways microplastics get into the ocean.

Presentation: Slides show “main sources of microplastics.” See student example for notes. Students complete guided notes from their notebooks.

Say: There are two main ways that microplastics enter the ocean. One is directly as small pieces (show microplastics definition and have a student read it aloud). Plastics in toothpaste, face wash, and laundry lint can go directly into the ocean. Most microplastics are from larger plastic marine debris items that are fragmented once they get to the ocean (show marine debris definition and have a student read it aloud). Nurdles are small plastic pieces used in factories to make plastic products.

Practice: “Real Researcher: Angel White”

Say: Now that we know about microplastics and where they come from, we are going to learn about a researcher who studies microplastics.

This diagram describes the flow of the curriculum evaluation, beginning with the needs assessment and ending with the dissemination of the curriculum. Courtesy of Marie Kowalski


Students will read “Real Researcher: Angel White” from their student notebook as an introduction to her data. Students will answer the questions about Angel’s data. See student example for correct responses. Answers are based on the data table and reading.

Ask: Why do you think scientists study microplastics in the ocean? What should scientists like Angel do with their results?

Clean Up

To keep microbeads from going down the sink drain, you can use a coffee filter to remove the microbeads from the soap. You can dry them and put them in a container to show the amount of plastic in the product!




Mitigating Microplastics: http://seagrant.oregonstate.edu/sgpubs/mitigating-microplastics-teacher-lesson-planscurriculum

Marine Debris

NOAA Marine Debris Program: http://marinedebris.noaa. gov/info/plastic.html

Study on the abundance of plastic marine debris: http:// journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0111913

Article on plastic fibers in laundry: http://www.sciencemag.org/news/2011/10/laundry-lint-pollutes-worlds-oceans


National Science Foundation Report: www.nsf.gov/od/broadeningparticipation /framework-evaluating-impactsbroadening-participation-projects_1101.pdf



Allen, S., P.B. Campbell, L.D. Dierking, B.N. Flagg, C. Garibay, R. Korn, D.A. Ucko. (2008). Framework for Evaluating Impacts of Informal Science Education Projects. (A. J. Friedman, Ed.). National Science Foundation. Retrieved from http://informalscience.org/documents/Eval_Framework.pdf

Berg, B.L., and H. Lune. (2012). Qualitative Research Methods for the Social Sciences (8th ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Pearson Education.

Browne, M.A. (2015). Sources and pathways of microplastics to habitats. In Marine Anthropogenic Litter. M. Bergmann, L. Gutow, and M. Klages (Eds.). Cham, Switzerland: Springer International Publishing.

Codina-García, M., T. Militão, J. Moreno, and J. González-Solís. (2013). Plastic debris in Mediterranean seabirds. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 77(1-2): 220-226. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.10.002

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Glatthorn, A.A., F. Boschee, B.M. Whitehead, and B.F. Boschee. (2015). Curriculum Leadership: Strategies for Development and Implementation (4th ed.). New York, NY: SAGE Publications, Inc.

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Mato, Y., T. Isobe, H. Takada, H. Kanehiro, C. Ohtake, and T. Kaminuma. (2001). Plastic resin pellets as a transport medium for toxic chemicals in the marine environment.  Environmental Science & Technology, 35(2): 318-324. http://doi.org/10.1021/es0010498

Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015, 21 U.S.C. § 301.

Thiel, M., I.A. Hinojosa, L. Miranda, J.F. Pantoja, M.M. Rivadeneira, and N. Vásquez. (2013). Anthropogenic marine debris in the coastal environment: A multi-year comparison between coastal waters and local shores. Marine Pollution Bulletin, 71(1–2):307-316. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.marpolbul.2013.01.005

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Van Cauwenberghe, L., and C.R. Janssen. (2014). Microplastics in bivalves cultured for human consumption. Environmental Pollution, 193: 65-70. http://doi.org/10.1016/j.envpol.2014.06.010

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MARIE KOWALSKI is a recent graduate of the Marine Resource Management program at Oregon State University. Her research interests include incorporating authentic science in classroom settings and communicating marine science.

TRACY CREWS oversees Oregon Sea Grant’s marine education programs at Hatfield Marine Science Center. Tracy holds a bachelor of science degree in marine biology, a master of science degree in marine science, and has worked in fisheries research, resource management, and education for over 25 years.


This article originally appeared in Currents, the journal of the National Marine Educators Association. Reprinted with permission.