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A Florida Virtual School environmental science course is using real events to motivate students to take an active role in conservation efforts

This virtual science course uses real-life conservation examples to inspire students

A Florida Virtual School environmental science course is using real events to motivate students to take an active role in conservation efforts

According to a survey conducted by Amnesty International in 2019, Generation Z ranks climate change as the most vital issue facing the world today. With a generation that is so empowered, connected, empathetic, and with a drive to make a difference in the world, having real-life examples and tools to teach them about conservation and sustainability is crucial.

When our Florida Virtual School (FLVS) curriculum team and teachers began to develop our brand-new environmental science course, we knew we wanted to partner with the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, which conducts scientific research and hosts educational programs aimed at conserving the marine environment, as well as funds affiliated working researchers and educators to better understand our ocean ecosystem and help foster the next generation of marine conservationists. 

By partnering with the foundation, we can teach students about sustainability and conservation through real-life examples and activities so that they can build a connection with the environment around them. This is important for student success because we want them to engage with the lessons and master the content, while also feeling excited and passionate about the work they are doing.

In fact, almost every page of the course includes real-life examples and hands-on, call-to-action, and enrichment activities that immerse students in case studies of environmental issues and success stories around the world. Additionally, the course presents these examples through integrated content including audio, videos, quizzes, games, and more, so that students interact with the lessons and deepen their comprehension. Below, we have outlined some of these real-life examples included in the course and the importance in showing students how they can positively impact the environment.  

The ocean vs. plastic

One topic that is covered in the course is how the plastic we throw in the trash impacts the ocean. Students who grow up in coastal areas likely have a better understanding of the ocean and its inhabitants because they can experience sea-related activities first-hand. However, those who live further away from the ocean, may not be able to fully visualize what is happening to the marine environment. What’s exciting is that we can take students from anywhere in the world to the ocean through videos in the course supplied by our Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation scientists.

Through these videos, students can see what happens when we throw plastic in the trash rather than reusing or recycling. One video highlights the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and how single-use plastics that break down to microplastics negatively affect the aquatic ecosystem. For example, fish breathe microplastics through their gills, birds then eat those fish, and the bird then starves because it cannot pass the plastic. The visuals of this real-life example help students put into perspective the impact of plastics on the ocean. It also demonstrates how when we protect the ocean, we help its inhabitants live a healthy life. 

It’s imperative that we teach students how valuable healthy oceans and the preservation of endangered marine species are to all of us and to the environment in terms of economic impact and sustainability. Sharks, for example, have the reputation of being aggressive and dangerous, and that leads to fear. Instead, we should teach an appreciation of how important each ocean creature is and what we can learn from them.

Climate change

We’ve all heard that we need to stop polar ice from melting, but why? Climate change is such a massive issue that can be difficult to comprehend without seeing it first-hand. To show students what is happening to the polar ice caps, we partnered with scientists in Greenland to create videos that include experiments.

One video shows the Greenland scientists examining ice samples melting around the lake. As students see bubbles forming on the lake, one scientist makes an air pocket in the snow and lights it on fire. How? Methane gas. Showing this real-life example highlights how this greenhouse gas adds to the thermal blanket that is trapping heat and creating extreme weather conditions.

Videos throughout the course are also coupled with enrichment activities that bring the lessons to life. For example, the climate change enrichment activity allows students to use everyday household items such as plastic cups, water, vinegar, lemon juice, and more to test the effects of acidic chemical weathering on inorganic and organic substances. By the end of the activity, students can see that acid erodes both organic and inorganic materials and demonstrates how damaging acid rain is to the earth. 

The importance of mangroves and seagrass  

The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has taken a leadership role in providing the scientific information necessary to understand and protect the world’s fish resources and biodiversity from continued decline.

In one course lesson we have provided scientific information relating to the importance of mangroves and seagrass. We produced several videos that highlight the role of mangroves in absorbing carbon from shallow waters, how they filter water and control erosion, protect coastlines from storm surges, and more. These videos are a great resource for students who have never seen mangroves or seagrass before, as it highlights how we need them to have a stable aquatic ecosystem as well as to protect our human habitats.

The course also showcases dozens of STEM careers that students could pursue in the growing fields of environmental and marine science – showing how they can make a long-lasting difference in our planet’s ecosystem.

When students are exposed to what’s available to them in environmental and marine sciences and discover the world around us and its inhabitants, they’ll be excited to learn. When that happens, they become vested in the environment and conservation, and we will have succeeded in passing our stewardship on to the next generation. They may also decide this is the field of study they would like to pursue in the future. That’s a win for all of us–including our environment, ocean, and friends in the sea.

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