By: Lucija Prelovec

Growing up in the Greater Toronto Area, I found that no one really understood the ocean. They seemed surprised to hear Canada is an ocean nation or that we have the largest coastline in the world. Not even just oceans, but Toronto is right on Lake Ontario – a lake that has been confused for a sea a few times too many!

Lake Ontario, pretty big but not the ocean! Photo Credit: Lucija Prelovec

I was lucky to have been born in Croatia and had the opportunity to spend most of my summers exploring the Adriatic Sea. It’s actually one of the reasons I went into marine biology, but that’s a story for another time.  The older I got, I figured that the reason no one knew about the ocean in Toronto was because there wasn’t one nearby. Clearly, those who lived by the ocean knew all about it. Right? Well, I quickly learned that wasn’t the case. In 2016, I celebrated World Oceans Day by helping the Discovery Centre in Halifax run a touch tank. I was shocked when visitors saw a sea urchin and asked “what’s that thing?” or peeked at a mussel and proclaimed “these are animals!?” in bewilderment. I couldn’t believe that folks living so close to the ocean weren’t aware of what can be found just off the shore! I realized that the lack of ocean literacy wasn’t an inland Toronto problem. Heck, it wasn’t even just a Canadian problem, it’s a worldwide epidemic! The billions of people living on this gorgeous blue planet have no clue what’s happening under the surface. (To be fair, scientists only know about 10% of what’s going on beneath the surface, but it is a start.)

A shameless excuse to post a gorgeous picture of Croatia. Photo Credit: Lucija Prelovec

So the big question is, how do we teach the world about the ocean? Maybe that’s too big of a question…so, with all of its coastline, let’s start with Canada. How do we teach Canada about the ocean? How do we get Canadians to care about the ocean, and, maybe, hopefully, try to protect it from wherever they live?

Enter Ocean School.  

On October 4th Ocean School is officially launching and it is FREE for ANYONE to use!

But what is Ocean School?

Ocean School isn’t a physical place you are invited to attend. An albatross (unfortunately) will not bring you your Ocean School letter. Ocean School is virtual.  It is a web-based learning platform that can be used on your tablet, your phone, or your computer. It uses film, 360° video, virtual reality, augmented reality, interactive activities, educational games, and other multi-media to connect youth with the ocean, strengthen their critical thinking skills, and educate them about ocean science and culture.  

Phew! That’s a lot! How do you fit all that in?

Dalhousie Professor with youth host, Anisha filming in the Bay of Fundy with the National Film Board film crew. Photo credit: Ocean School

Well, Ocean School is a collaboration between Dalhousie University, the Ocean Frontier Institute, Ingenium, and the National Film Board of Canada.  With all these incredible partners working together we are able to feature ocean experts from across all sectors, and the National Film Board then provides the educational technology, filming, and producing expertise.  Ocean School has been brewing for about two years now and has been consulting with teachers along the whole way. Right out of the gate, the teachers suggested we focus on inquiry-based learning, where the students are asking questions and looking for the answers within Ocean School.  

Students? I thought you said Ocean School was for ANYONE?

Even Andy Fillmore, the Member of Parliament for Halifax, enjoyed a dive with whales!
Photo Credit: Lucija Prelovec

We had to focus our content on an audience; this is science communication 101.  We chose to focus on curriculum topics for grades 6-9 across Canada. But that doesn’t mean you aren’t able to use it! Anyone (and I mean anyone, from the Prince of Monaco to our very own Speaker of the House) who has done our virtual reality dive with a North Atlantic whale was absolutely blown a-whale…away.  That’s because learning and exploring has no age limit! So go ahead sign up with Ocean School! And if you happen to know any teachers (or ocean enthusiasts or technology buffs of any age, anywhere) let them know about Ocean School, too. Teachers can pick and choose what lessons they would like to do in class and find a topic that matches with their lesson plan, since one module might take anywhere from 5-10 classroom hours to complete.  Also, let the teachers in your life know that Ocean School is both in French and English AND fully integrated with Google Classroom. This is a FIN-TASTIC teacher selling point.

Ok, so you launch October 4th and then what?

Dr Boris Worm and youth host, Sergio, diving in a submarine off of Cocos Island. Photo Credit: Ocean School

We are launching our North Atlantic unit.  This is broken down into 3 modules. Two of these modules will be launched on Oct. 4th.  They were filmed over the past two years in the Bay of Fundy and the Gulf of St. Lawrence.  The third module will be released by December 2018 and was filmed last fall in Newfoundland.  We are currently working on an Open Ocean unit filmed in Cocos Island, Costa Rica. This will also be the first unit to also be released in Spanish!  This past summer we filmed in the North Pacific for the start of our North Pacific Unit. In the future we hope to do units on the Arctic, Great Lakes/St. Lawrence, and Tropical Seas.  So October 4th isn’t the be all, end all for Ocean School. We will keep working and developing content for years to come.

Speaking of October 4th…

We will be streaming our launch live from the NFB Education Facebook account starting at 10:50am (ADT) and running for about 30 minutes.  See Ocean School in action as local students try it out and learn how teachers can develop lessons for their own classroom as well! Also, there will be a chance to win three Oculus Go VR headsets and a 360-degree camera, as well as an opportunity to create exciting 360-degree content with the Ocean School team!

Wow! So that’s Ocean School, eh?

Yup! In a pretty big nutshell, that is what Ocean School is.  We hope that being free, integrated with Google Classroom, and including great media pieces will draw teachers in to use in their classrooms.  In turn we hope to create the next generation of ocean leaders who will have fallen in love with the ocean and passionately work to protect it.  

Join us!

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