by Patrick Wells

The ocean is a significant part of Newfoundland and Labrador cultures. Ocean knowledge develops in school and through informal settings such as field trips, family stories, the fishery or beach combing. Most people know the Earth is 70% ocean and that the seas are a significant contributor to our economy. But did you know that less than 5% of the ocean has been explored and that people know more about outer space than the sea ( We need to become more ocean-literate. Why? The oceans are warming, becoming more acidic, expanding, and sea level is rising – yes Donald, global warming is a fact ( Teachers and students need to understand the changing ocean, as it is in our best interest as an ocean culture, to increase our Ocean Literacy.

Defined, Ocean Literacy (OL) is the ability to understand the ocean’s influence on you and your influence on the ocean ( One of the “7 Principles of Ocean Literacy” is that “Humans and the ocean are inextricably connected” (principle 6). Given our connections and the fact that the ocean is changing, it makes good sense to teach students OL principles so they can adapt to the future. To learn more about OL, I attended the National Marine Educators Association Conference (NMEA) in Charleston, South Carolina. Fans of the movie “The Notebook,” may be familiar with this iconic southern town. Charleston and the surrounding Lowlands are troubled by frequent flooding, a problem which was discussed in the conference plenary sessions. The conference also provided insights to our changing oceans and the progress of the development world wide Ocean Literacy. But why bother with OL if you are not a science teacher?

Ocean Literacy is found in many subject areas, not just science. Songs, stories, legends, and paintings are samples from subjects that promote OL (creative writing, art, and social studies). Subject diversity allows an authentic ocean lesson to align with many subjects and teaching outcomes. The great news is that teachers will find plenty of support in the local community. With connections to the sea, friends, nans, pops, uncles or anyone with a story to tell, can support ocean learning. Social connections facilitate the formation of strong student memories while preserving family and community heritage. Other groups like the Ocean’s Learning Partnership, Conservation Corps, and the Canadian Network for Ocean Education (CaNOE – are science organizations engaged in Ocean Literacy outreach in our region. CaNOE is dedicated to taking the 7 principles of Ocean Literacy and connecting these to the scope and sequence of K-12 education in Canada. So what makes a good ocean lesson?

Students and crew with a blue shark. This experience was part of an Industry, Trade and Rural Development research project that put students to sea, where they experienced the ocean learning context (Sponsored by the Government of Newfoundland and Labrador). The shark was tagged and then released as part of a population monitoring project.

A run on the bay in a boat, a field trip to the sea shore or telling fish stories are great for OL development; certainly better than glamourized television like “Shark Week” and “Cold Water Cowboys.” Teachers know that passively watching a screen is not quality education. When ever possible, I have taken my students to the ocean. Holy Spirit students have visited the wet lab at the Ocean Science Centre, combed the beaches of Conception Bay and have cruised on the MV Explorer with “Captain Jan”. The student activities addressed many of the 7 Principles of Ocean Literacy. However, not all lessons require this level of commitment to be equally effective. Using ocean materials in class or taking seashore hike also serves as top quality experiences that can form life-long memories. For a profession in the memory business, we would be wise to exploit this setting and the community connections to facilitate deliver our lessons.


Over the past five years science teachers at Holy Spirit High School have developed a number of ocean lessons. One of my goals as a researcher is to encourage the use these field-tested lessons to support teachers interested ocean activities. Mr. Jeff Locke and I are currently collaborating in a research project sponsored by the NLTA and NLESD Education Foundation. Our experience shows that ocean instruction that places students at the centre of their learning has the greatest potential for success. This type of instruction is challenging but as stated above, many forms of support exists for ocean loving teachers. Producing a dynamic student experience is easier than you think and certainly worth the effort. Think to your past, it is likely you vividly recall details of a field trip, an engaging class activity or group investigation. You can help the ocean to produce durable memories connected to teaching outcomes and our shared heritage. What could be better?

A student taking part in the trip to the Ocean Sciences Centre (Logy Bay, NL). This project is coordinated by Oceans Learning Partnership (OLP) and is an example of top quality ocean learning.

All the teachers of this province play an important role in helping students effectively connect with the ocean. OL and ocean connections are found in art, music, writing, math, technology, and science. Authentic student activities are the key to producing engagement and personal connections. If you are interested in similar outings/experiences with your students, and want support, I would be glad to help or will guide you to the experts you need. The ocean gives us so much, I think its time we gave back by making our students more ocean-literate.


Canadian Network for Ocean Education:

National Marine Educators Association:

Ocean Literacy:

Original Article: Wells, P. (2017). Ocean Literacy: What the Heck is That and How can I Teach It? The Bulletin: Newfoundland and Labrador Teachers Association. 61(1), 24-25.

Patrick Wells has worked on fish-farms, conducted research on fish and fish parasites, taught high school science for 25-years, and is currently on education leave to pursue a graduate program (Memorial University of Newfoundland). While teaching, Pat conducted teacher-research on activity-based learning within aquatic habitats. It is his personal goal to find and/or develop teacher resources that enable teachers to increase the ocean literacy of their students and grow a grassroots movement within teacher associations towards the 7 Principles of Ocean Literacy. Twitter: @science_wells Email:

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