#02 2024

Empowering educators: Promoting ocean literacy through Blue Schools workshop

By Caitlin Ransom, Environmental Science Education and Communications Officer, NRF-SAEON

In 2022, NRF-SAEON piloted the Blue Schools programme in South Africa. With its success, the programme has grown and now focuses on educators to try and reach more learners. In February this year, NRF-SAEON ran their first Blue Schools Educators workshop. Thirty-seven educators from schools around the area joined us at the Albertina Nontsikelelo Sisulu Science Centre in Cofimvaba, Eastern Cape to be part of this exciting programme. 

Blue Schools is a programme that integrates ocean learning into the curriculum, recognising the important role formal education plays in fostering an ocean-literate society. A Blue School promotes an interdisciplinary, inquiry-based and project-based approach to teaching and learning. The South African Blue Schools aim to get the learners to think about their connections to the ocean, to increase their ocean literacy and to encourage their curiosity and problem-solving skills in designing a research project.

The workshop focused on equipping teachers with the knowledge, skills and confidence to encourage their learners to be curious about the ocean and to drive ocean-related research projects in their classrooms. Over the two days, we discussed our connections to the ocean, the ocean literacy principles (how we influence the ocean, and the ocean influences us), how to develop a research question and some ideas on how to collect data to answer these questions. The idea is that educators drive Blue Schools at their schools (with support from NRF-SAEON) and that they need to guide their learners through completing the portfolio activities and developing their research projects.

Day 1 

On the first day of the workshop, the educators were introduced to the Blue Schools programme, and what would be expected of them. As this phase of Blue Schools is still in the early stages, we were fortunate to have educators who were willing to provide their feedback on the timelines, expectations and areas where they would need more support for this project.

By promoting ocean-related research projects, the Blue Schools programme hopes to complement existing initiatives with more opportunities, such as the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists. The NRF-SAEON team highlighted the success story of Alutha Botha, a Grade 11 learner from Nombulelo Secondary School in Makhanda, Eastern Cape. Alutha’s Blue Schools project was entered into the Eskom Expo for Young Scientists where he won a Bursary from Rhodes University and the opportunity to attend an international science fair in the United States of America.

Once everyone had acquired an understanding of the Blue Schools programme, we held engaging discussions focused on the ocean, ocean literacy and people’s connections to the ocean. Photographs were used to prompt discussions around the ocean. In groups, the educators discussed what they saw in the images, how they relate to them and how it makes them feel. These groups then discussed the Empatheatre video Lalela uLwandle, identifying what stood out to them and how the video made them feel. The video speaks to the history of forced removals and the impact of extractive oil, gas and minerals along our coastline while sparking conversations on ocean governance and connections in South Africa.

In the final session, each of the groups discussed one of the seven Ocean Literacy principles, many of which came out in our earlier discussions. These principles reinforce the key concepts that underpin what it means to be ocean literate, and to understand the ocean’s influence on you – and your influence on the ocean. The principles can also help guide potential projects, especially for those who are unable to visit to the ocean to collect data.

Day 2

The second day focused on developing research questions and research projects, and thinking about how citizen science can be used to collect data for the research questions. Educators were guided through what makes a good research question that is clear, focused, concise, complex, relevant and feasible. They were then guided through the scientific method, so they would be able to assist the learners in answering their research questions.

We ended the day in the open area with a stream next to the science centre, where the educators were introduced to miniSASS and the GLOBE programme. These are two citizen science programmes that can assist them in collecting data for the research projects. As the educators were all from inland schools, we focused on the idea that we are all connected to the ocean, with a focus on weather (GLOBE) and fresh water (miniSASS).

MiniSASS is a tool that uses aquatic macroinvertebrates to monitor the water quality and health of stream and river systems. It is based on the concept that different groups of organisms have different tolerances to pollution and disturbances. The educators had fun sampling the macroinvertebrates in the stream. They then spent time identifying what they had caught, added up the sensitivity scores and determined the average score to get a sense of the overall stream health. MiniSASS provided a tool to show some of the links between the land, rivers and our oceans.

The GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) Program is an international science and education initiative. GLOBE has a range of data-collection protocols which focus on different spheres (the atmosphere, biosphere, hydrosphere and pedosphere), many of which can be related to our oceans (either directly or indirectly). They have an easy-to-use app for data collection, many user-friendly materials and protocols, and access to a community and data which can be used to guide educators and learners through the data-collection parts of their research projects.

Having the learners develop their research projects is a key part of the Blue Schools programme, therefore we need to ensure that the educators are comfortable with these concepts, potential data collection protocol and data sets so that they can guide their learners. The feedback from this workshop will assist us in rolling out the Blue Schools programme and promoting ocean literacy across the country.

The inaugural Blue Schools Educators workshop marks a significant step towards fostering ocean literacy among educators and learners alike. By integrating ocean learning into the classroom and empowering teachers with the knowledge and skills to guide their learners in ocean-related research projects, the Blue Schools programme is poised to make a lasting impact on South Africa’s educational landscape. The enthusiastic participation and valuable feedback from educators during the workshop underscore the potential of this initiative to cultivate a generation of environmentally conscious citizens with a deep understanding of our interconnectedness with the ocean.

As we move forward, leveraging citizen science tools like MiniSASS and the GLOBE Program will further enrich the learning experience, highlighting the intricate links between land, rivers and oceans.

With continued collaboration and support, the Blue Schools programme is poised to expand its reach, inspiring curiosity, problem-solving and a profound sense of stewardship for our marine environments across the country.

Educators working in groups to discuss what they saw in their ocean-related photo.

Feedback from a group on the Lalela uLwandle video.

Summary of the group discussion on the Lalela uLwandle video.

Gaining hands-on experience in using macroinvertebrates to access river health, using miniSASS.