Environmental Literacy

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Capitalizing on digital tools to expand environmental literacy around coastal resources

Annette Schloss, Earth Systems Research Center, UNH (603-862-0348); Erik Froburg, Climate Change Research Center, UNH (603-862-0297); and Alyson Eberhardt, N.H. Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension (603-862-6709)

Coastal resources such as salt marshes are significant topic areas for science education and important resources for society. However, many teachers cannot take their students to the coast, or if they can, it may be for a single field trip. This limits the ability for educators to take advantage of the richness of coastal ecosystems in their classrooms, which in turn limits the number of citizens who feel a connection to these unique and critical resources – resources that are increasingly threatened by development pressures and predicted sea level rise. Schloss and her collaborators will examine virtual place-based methods to bring coastal salt marshes into more classrooms. The researchers will design and assess the effectiveness of engaging learners in salt marsh studies using virtual techniques and collaboration with volunteers by developing and assessing Next Generation Science Standards-based technology-enhanced field and classroom activities. The researchers will design and test field-based and virtual methods for collecting, analyzing, and sharing data for monitoring the health of the salt marsh to be carried out by students, coastal volunteers and UNH Marine Docents. Techniques will be assessed for their usefulness in characterizing the salt marsh and for their ability to engage people who cannot visit the site in person. The program will be carried out in four middle school classrooms, two each with and without the ability to take students to the salt marsh. Classrooms will be paired and student engagement in authentic research and in coastal resource awareness will be evaluated in each instance. Expected outcomes of the project are that local schools and volunteers will become project partners that provide standards-based authentic research, education and stewardship opportunities to their students and their communities; data collected will add to ongoing research that evaluates the health of coastal salt marshes in the Northeast in terms of ecosystem function and will inform the prioritization of restoration projects based on ecosystem function and services; and lessons learned from the program will serve as a model for using digital and virtual technologies for environmental literacy programs and building community connections.