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Bringing ocean's lessons inside classrooms - January 19, 2012

Approximately 71 percent of our Earth, sometimes referred to as the "water planet," is covered by oceans. While many people worldwide have never seen an ocean, living on Delmarva affords us easy access to one.

According to Save the Seas, a nonprofit organization dedicated to ocean education and conservation, "the oceans provide 99 percent of the Earth's living space -- the largest space in our universe known to be inhabited by living organisms," supporting a tremendous diversity of species. And we are dependent on many of those species.

Our sense of wonder is also captivated by the ocean and all that lives or occurs within it.

In recent weeks, a humpback whale has been seen feeding very close to our shores. In the past few years, the coastal bays and our seashores have provided wintering grounds for numerous seals, too. Dolphins can be seen year-round. And during warmer months, sea turtles inhabit our waters.

In addition to the variety of fascinating animals and plants in the ocean, there are geologic features, tides, and wave actions which impact our lives. Ocean transport is still the primary means for trading goods across the world.

The sheer vastness of the ocean inspires us and fuels our imagination, too.

Born in 1851 in Berlin, the Rev. Charles Albert Tindley, the son of a free mother and a father who was a slave, eventually led one of the largest Methodist congregations in the United States. The Rev. Tindley penned several hymns still included in Methodist hymnals today.

One, "I'll Overcome Someday," is credited as the basis for "We Shall Overcome," the anthem associated with the Civil Rights movement. Many of his other hymns, such as "Stand By Me," and "We'll Understand It Better By and By," include lyrics which reference the sea. And Tindley's earliest experiences with the ocean were right here, along our coasts.

The ocean provides meaningful content for classrooms. Using the ocean as a topic, subjects including reading and language arts, math, science, history, music, and art can be taught in a relevant, exciting way. Local educators recognize that.

Last week, over 50 Worcester County pre-kindergarten and kindergarten teachers participated in a full-day professional development course designed to assist with implementing environmental education in their classrooms.

During the training, teachers received a new curriculum, "Growing Up WILD," published by the Council for Environmental Education, a national organization. Aligned with national teaching standards, the curriculum provides background information and lesson plans that can be easily implemented in classrooms immediately.

The training was facilitated by the Delmarva City Partners, a collaboration between the Maryland Coastal Bays Program, Assateague State Park, and Salisbury University's Ward Museum of Wildfowl Art, and hosted in partnership with Assateague Island National Seashore.

Grant funding received by the Ward Museum from PNC Foundation's Grow Up Great offers teachers access to additional resources including well-stocked educational kits that can be checked out for use in classrooms, at no charge.

The Maryland Coastal Bays Program, along with its partners in education, is committed to providing high-quality teacher professional development opportunities and resources for local teachers and students. Providing meaningful outdoor experiences and the chance for young children to form positive relationships with nature is critical to their cognitive, emotional, and social development.

Educating the next generation to better understand and care about our environment will help to ensure the protection of our precious natural resources, including our vast oceans, which helps to sustain life on our planet.

If you're interested in finding out more about local environmental education opportunities and resources for teachers and students, email csamis@mdcoastal

Samis is the education coordinator for the Maryland Coastal Bays Program.

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