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Increasing youth's ocean literacy

Posted by Alana Milner on June 23, 2015 in News
Haley Guest is working with Dal researchers to increase youth's ocean literacy
Haley Guest is working with Dal researchers to increase youth's ocean literacy

How do you think you would do if you were asked to take a survey and quiz regarding your ocean literacy?

Haley Guest, an ocean education research associate with the CERC.OCEAN lab at Dal, teamed up with Doug Wallace, Canada Excellence Research Chair in Ocean Science and Technology and Heike Lotze, Canada Research Chair in Marine Renewable Resources to develop a survey and quiz aimed to understand youth’s level of ocean literacy, their interest in ocean topics, activities and careers, and the value they hold for the ocean.

“In November 2013, we distributed the quizzes and surveys to over 700 students ranging from ages 12-18 in 11 public schools across Nova Scotia,” explains Haley. “On average, students scored under 50 per cent.”

A low level of ocean literacy was expected. Guest, Lotze and Wallace all note that most science lessons and textbooks focus on terrestrial examples to help explain various scientific concepts and theories. A general terrestrial focus in curriculum, as well as that there is only one mandatory ocean science unit covered in grade eight, may help explain the low level of ocean literacy among the students quizzed in this study.

“Despite the low quiz scores, students do generally value the ocean and are very interested in learning more about the ocean,” says Haley. “There was an overwhelming interest in ocean animals, 75 per cent of the time ocean animals were chosen as a topic of interest.”

The results of Guest, Lotze and Wallace’s research, Youth and the sea: Ocean literacy in Nova Scotia, Canada, was recently published in Marine Policy. One of the key findings from the study showed strong links between students’ experience with the ocean, their knowledge of the ocean and, ultimately, their value of the ocean, as well as their interest in ocean-related jobs and careers. This suggests that personal experiential learning outside of the classroom may be increasing a student’s knowledge, but it also raises a flag that classroom curriculum is falling short.

To address the gap in ocean knowledge among youth, Guest is collaborating with Boris Worm, a marine biology researcher at Dal. Together, they are in the early stages of planning an online "Ocean School", which would bring ocean education to schools across the country.

“Studies have shown that many students tend to lose interest in sciences during middle school,” explains Boris. “This concept will target that age group and help teachers to relate core science curriculum content through an innovative ‘oceans lens’, building on the inherent fascination that students have shown for ocean life.”

Both Guest and Worm presented at Canada’s first national ocean literacy conference in Vancouver on June 17. Guest presented the findings of her study with Wallace and Lotze and Worm delivered the keynote address. The conference is sponsored by the Marine Environmental Observation, Prediction and Response Network (MEOPAR), which is hosted by Dalhousie University.

Read more about great work from these researchers on Dal News.

Test your ocean literacy

Here are two sample questions from the quiz developed by Guest, Lotze and Wallace. Click on the plus sign to see if your answer was correct.

Q) What is plankton? a) Floating wood debris from land. b) Very small plants and animals that drift with ocean currents. c) A messy, slimy substance produced by whales. d) A type of small fishing vessel.

A) Very small plants and animals that drift with ocean currents

Q) Where does the salt in seawater come from? a) Ships dumping salty wastewater into the sea. b) Photosynthesis of coral reefs and ocean plants. c) Decomposition of dead fish and other ocean animals. d) Erosion of rocks on land and sea. e) I don’t know.

A) Erosion of rocks on land and sea.