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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique 4 Overview and Critique of NOAA’s Education Programs The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) supports a wide array of education activities and products that serve K-12 and higher education students as well as the public. The agency’s activities and products range from hands-on learning experiences, to teacher training initiatives, to a spherical data visualization tool, to literacy frameworks. They are implemented in formal and informal learning environments and address the range of scientific and stewardship issues at the heart of the agency’s mission. NOAA has created these activities and products in partnership with other federal agencies, nonprofit organizations, industry, state, and local education agencies, and other groups. In this chapter we provide an overview of how the education programs are organized, describe and critique the education programs, and discuss cross-cutting issues, including addressing core science and engineering principles, the quality of NOAA education websites, and portfolio balance. Table 4.1 lists the education programs supported by five line offices and the Office of Education. Some programs are the result of the efforts of more than one office. Also, education programs are being carried out at multiple levels: that is, education is supported by line office managers, as well as by offices within the line offices, such as the National Sea Grant College Program Office and the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries. The majority of NOAA staff, offices, and sites are located in a coastal region (see Figure 4.1), and most education programs are supported or run by education staff at these offices and sites (a few programs are national in scope and not tied to a specific region). Thus, the majority of the education initiatives serve students, teachers, and the public residing in coastal regions.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique TABLE 4.1 Education Programs and Supporting Offices Education Program Supporting Office Ocean Exploration and Research’s Ocean Hall Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Climate Program Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Sea Grant Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Ocean Exploration and Research’s Ocean Explorer Oceanic and Atmospheric Research National Ocean Service Coral Reef Conservation Program Oceanic and Atmospheric Research National Marine Fisheries Service National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Services National Ocean Service Teacher at Sea National Marine Fisheries Service National Ocean Service’s National Marine Sanctuaries Storm/Tsunami Ready National Weather Service Cooperative Institutes Oceanic and Atmospheric Research National Marine Fisheries Service National Weather Service National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Services National Marine Sanctuaries National Ocean Service National Estuarine Research Reserve System National Ocean Service Environmental Literacy Grants Office of Education Bay-Watershed Education and Training Office of Education National Ocean Service’s National Marine Sanctuaries and National Estuarine Research Reserve System National Ocean Service’s Coastal Service Center Educational Partnership Program Office of Education Dr. Nancy Foster Scholarship Program Office of Education JASON Project Office of Education Ernest F. Hollings Scholarship Program Office of Education
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique FIGURE 4.1 NOAA offices and sites around the country NOTES: CRCP = Coral Reef Conservation Program; ELG = Environmental Literacy Grants; EPP = Educational Partnership Pro gram; NERRS = National Estuarine Research Reserve System; NESDIS = National Environmental Satellite, Data, and Information Service; NMFS = National Marine Fishery Service; NWS = National Weather Service. SOURCE: National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique Table 4.2 summarizes the education activities of each program, although there is some ambiguity in determining which programs conduct which type of activities. Some programs run many different initiatives, and others focus significant effort on just a few. There is large variation in the number of initiatives and amount of funding across programs. For example, both the National Sea Grant College Program and the National Marine Fisheries Service conduct various types of education activities and have multiple local sites. Yet the Sea Grant Program is very large and has produced large amounts of curricular materials, conducts several large fellowship initiatives,1 and supports many outreach initiatives. In contrast, the Fisheries Service has a very small education budget that supports one curriculum, one fellowship program, the Teacher at Sea Program, and several small outreach initiatives. Thus, the differences between these programs cannot be captured by a yes or no. It is likely that NOAA is having trouble categorizing the education activities under each line and program office. A clearer table that organizes education programs by focus, goals, and scope would be a useful piece of the implementation plan that is currently under development. The programs could be grouped in various ways, and we chose to group them into four main categories by focus: (1) place-based education that supports local education efforts, (2) place-based education that occurs at NOAA managed sites, (3) nationwide curricula and teacher professional development, and (4) higher education. COMMITTEE REVIEW Information was collected on each program through presentations to the committee, phone interviews and e-mails with the education staff, site visits, and review of online materials. Further details on most programs can be found at their websites (listed in Appendix C). Place-Based Education That Supports Local Education Efforts Bay-Watershed Education and Training The Bay-Watershed Education and Training (B-WET) Program is an environmental education effort promoting locally relevant, experiential learning for K-12 students and teachers. The program aims to develop a well-informed citizenry involved in decision making that positively impacts coastal, marine, and watershed ecosystems. B-WET is based on the idea that firsthand experience, in the context of one’s community and culture, 1 A complete list of fellowship, scholarship, and internship opportunities at NOAA is found at http://www.oesd.noaa.gov/noaa_student_opps.html [accessed May 2010].
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique TABLE 4.2 Education Program Activities Program Grants for External Education NOAA On-Site Education Web-Based Education Locally- Based Curriculum Development Teacher Professional Development Fellowships for Higher Education Informal Education Outreach B-WET • • • • Coral Reef Conservation • • • • • • Storm/Tsunami Ready • • • Estuary Research Reserves • • • • • • • Fisheries Service • • • • • • • Marine Sanctuaries • • • • • • Environmental Literacy Grants • • • • JASON • • • • Ocean Explorer • • • • • Teacher at Sea/in Air • Cooperative Institutes • • • • • • Educational Partnerships • • • • Hollings • Foster • Sea Grant • • • • • • • Climate Change Program • • • • • Ocean Hall • • National Weather Service • • • National Ocean Service • • • NOTE: A circle in the box indicates that the program has at least one initiative in an area.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique B-WET Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Watershed ecosystems and conservation Audience—Primarily K-12 students and teachers Format—Grants primarily for education activities and professional development Education Budget—$4.2M in fiscal year (FY) 2007 Supporting Office—Office of Education is an important element in fostering environmental stewardship. B-WET is an Office of Education program that has been administered by regional program offices (e.g., the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries, the NOAA Chesapeake Bay Office, and the Pacific Services Center) since 2002. The program expanded to three additional regional offices in 2008 (Gulf Coast, New England, and Pacific Northwest). B-WET provides competitive funding ($4.2 million in 2007) from regional program offices to local grantees that promote what it calls Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences. Such an experience “integrates field experiences in a watershed with multidisciplinary classroom activities and instruction. Students then share their discoveries about the watershed with local schools and communities, both orally and in written form” (National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, 2009). To date 353 grants have been funded by B-WET for a total of $20 million. The grants typically provide partial funding for education activities, with matching or additional funding coming from other agencies or private-sector organizations. These grants have supported programs that reached about 18,000 teachers, 1,000 other adults, and 160,000 students. Grant recipients include K-12 public and independent schools and school systems, institutions of higher education, commercial and nonprofit organizations, community organizations, and state and local governments. B-WET is currently implementing a programwide evaluation plan that will provide a common framework for evaluation across regions. Impact: Evaluations of local B-WET activities, which included control groups, have shown the program to be successful in increasing teachers’ confidence in their ability and intentions to implement Meaningful Watershed Educational Experiences. Students gained knowledge about environmental stewardship and watershed and marine sanctuaries and seemed to enjoy learning about and protecting the ocean. Program-supported activities also increased student and teacher understanding about preventing pollution.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique Coral Reef Conservation Program The Coral Reef Conservation Program (CRCP), established by the 2000 Coral Reef Conservation Act, is a partnership between the National Ocean Service, the National Environmental Satellite Data and Information Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service, and the Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research. It brings together expertise from across NOAA for a multidisciplinary approach to understanding coral reef ecosystems and supporting education activities. The program facilitates and supports partnerships with scientific, private, government, and nongovernment groups at local, state, federal, and international levels. The education strategy seeks to deliver two messages. First, coral reefs are valuable resources. Second, the health of coral reef ecosystems is at serious risk from a variety of human activities. The goals of the education program are to raise public awareness and appreciation for coral reef ecosystems, incorporate coral reef issues in education programs, increase assessments and monitoring of coral reef habitats, and support local education initiatives through grants. The program has developed a suite of educational and professional development resources for teachers wanting to explore coral reef ecosystem science in their classrooms. These include online discovery kits, an educational resources CD, professional development workshops, and a coral reef and satellites curriculum. There have been several local CRCP outreach activities, including media outreach, environmental expos, and other communication efforts. CRCP Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Coral reef ecosystems and conservation Audience—General public, K-12 educators Format—Varied, grants for local initiatives, some curriculum development and teacher professional development Education Budget—$.9M in FY2007 Supporting Offices—Oceanic and Atmospheric Research, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Environmental Satellite, Data, & Information Services, National Ocean Service Impact: The committee did not have access to assessments of local CRCP education initiatives, and no national education products have been evaluated. It is therefore challenging to determine how effective
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique CRCP has been in reaching its educational goals. It is clear that program leveraged funds and partnerships to enhance local efforts in coral reef conservation outreach. A seven-member expert external panel review commissioned by NOAA to inform the 2009-2011 CRCP strategic plan made one recommendation related to education: the CRCP’s potential would be more likely to be fulfilled if it provided “better general education and outreach on the threats to coral reefs, the likely social and economic consequences of their loss, and the measures that can be taken to ensure their continued survival and productivity. NOAA’s role in this should be clearly defined and should include use of existing and development of new products, provision of expert information, and development of partnerships explicitly for communication” (Coral Reef Conservation Program, 2007, pp. 5-6). National Weather Service The National Weather Service (NWS) provides a variety of education resources to classrooms and the public, although it does not have a concerted education program. Most activities are informal, like the NOAA/American Meteorological Service WeatherFest, an interactive science festival for the public. The festival includes a teacher training workshop as well as hands-on activities run by teachers and scientists on weather and climate topics, drawing approximately 3,000 visitors per year. NWS has supported formal education activities, such as the creation of the Xtreme Weather CD. It was created by the Illinois Education Association and the NWS as one of several partners on the project. In addition, NWS field office staff make approximately 2,400 school visits each year. NWS Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Weather and meteorology Audience—K-12 students and teachers Format—classroom visits, informal activities, and online education materials Education Budget—$3.4M in FY2007 Line Office—National Weather Service Since 1999, the NWS has supported StormReady and TsunamiReady—nationwide community preparedness programs that use a grassroots approach to help communities develop plans to handle severe weather (e.g., thunderstorms, tornados, hurricanes) and tsunamis. StormReady and TsunamiReady help community leaders and emergency managers strengthen
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique their local hazardous weather operations, supplying them with targeted publications about severe weather safety, related statistics, relevant presentations, and brochures and requiring that community seminars are held to promote the importance of public readiness. Impact: Overall, NWS is responsive to requests for visits by schools and teachers and has carried out a large number of education activities in relation to the level of staff and budget available for education purposes. This results in sporadic use of resources. In the absence of specific evaluations, a first-principles approach suggests that such efforts would be more efficient in terms of human and financial resources if the staff at NWS field offices were better coordinated. As of February 2009, there were 1,411 StormReady sites in 50 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam and 63 TsunamiReady sites in 10 states, Puerto Rico, and Guam. TsunamiReady is a relatively new program with a more robust educational and outreach presence than StormReady. StormReady is focused on providing informational resources but does not provide many education activities for communities and does not seem to be reaching individuals who are not already interested in weather, especially those from underserved populations. The program could increase its reach by increasing its engagement with underserved communities. Place-Based Education That Occurs Primarily at NOAA Sites National Estuarine Research Reserve System The National Estuarine Research Reserve System (NERRS) is a network of 27 protected areas in the National Ocean Service, established by the 1972 Coastal Zone Management Act to promote long-term research, education, and stewardship. This program requires partnerships between NOAA and the coastal states where the estuaries exist. NOAA provides partial funding (70 percent from NOAA, 30 percent from state agencies), national guidance, and technical assistance. Each reserve is managed on a NERRS Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Estuary ecosystems and conservation Audience—Primarily K-12 students and teachers Format—Varied, many informal programs plus some curriculum, professional development, and graduate fellowships Education Budget—$1.1M in FY2007 Line Office—National Ocean Service
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique daily basis by a lead state agency, nonprofit organization, or university with input from local partners. The reserves take a local approach to national priorities. Land use and population growth, water quality degradation, habitat loss and alteration, and changes in biological communities are the core topics for science education and training. The goals of NERRS education activities are to enhance public awareness and understanding of estuarine areas and provide suitable opportunities for public education and interpretation. With the support of NOAA, state agencies, and other partners, the reserves run approximately 3,000 K-12 programs. Approximately 3,500 teachers have participated in reserve professional development, and 700,000 people have watched an EstuaryLive program (the NERRS online education tool, which includes teacher professional development resources, an estuary curriculum, and classroom activities). Graduate students are served by the Graduate Research Fellowship Program, which awards stipends to 54 master’s and doctoral students per year. Other initiatives are locally based and include professional teacher training programs, K-12 student programs, and community outreach and educational programs. Impact: A 2003 review of NERRS education found that there had been little formal evaluation of the K-12 and teacher professional development programs and that local reserves have focused their evaluations on the number of people participating rather than changes in their knowledge, intentions, or actions (Pandion Systems, 2003). Since 2003, NERRS has improved its evaluation strategy and now implements performance measurements and more frequently implements pre-post participant surveys, site-based evaluations, evaluations of national programs (i.e., EstuaryLive), and program reviews (the most recent education program review report was released in 2003). Through these mechanisms NERRS has become better at measuring participants’ knowledge, intentions, and actions. It is important that NERRS continue with this enhanced evaluation strategy for its various information reporting requirements and needs. EstuaryLive has been evaluated and shown to be effective at holding student interest and increasing their estuary content knowledge (Pandion Systems, 2005, 2006). Surveys did not attempt to measure excitement for science, intentions, or behavioral changes, which might have better captured the stewardship potential of the program. With the assistance of a nonprofit educational research and development firm, NERRS developed the Estuaries 101 curriculum based on the needs of teachers and schools, and aligned it with big ideas in science and ocean and climate literacy (Hammerman, 2007). Organizationally, NERRS is extremely decentralized, but staff from each site meet yearly. Overall, the program has made changes to improve evaluation practices, and positive impacts of the program have been documented.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique Office of National Marine Sanctuaries The Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act established the Office of National Marine Sanctuaries (ONMS) Program in 1972. The sanctuaries are responsible for promoting public understanding of national marine sanctuaries, national marine heritage, and the marine environment. The National Marine Sanctuaries Act explicitly mandates that the sanctuaries support education and outreach activities. Today, 13 marine sanctuaries and the Papahānaumokuākea Marine National Monument promote public understanding of marine sanctuaries and the marine environment. Each site has outreach and education functions related to common themes, which are generally handled by one or more education coordinators or specialists. The national office also supports large- and small-scale national education activities, including OceansLive and Data in the Classroom. Educational materials for students and teachers are provided online, and hands-on education experiences are available at each sanctuary. A wide range of formal and informal education and outreach activities are supported, including naturalist volunteer programs, adult education, museum exhibits, community college courses, teacher professional development, summer camps, ocean literacy partnerships, student field days, art contests, and curriculum. In addition, each site has either a visitor center or multiple permanent sanctuary exhibits displayed at partner facilities. An internal mini-grants program, led by the national education coordinator, encourages local sanctuaries to collaborate with each other and develop new educational and outreach programs. This coordinator also leads an Education Executive Council, comprised of a site representative from each of the four regions, which works on systemwide education policy issues. Impact: ONMS has been proactive in increasing the quality of its education evaluations. It is encouraging that it is working to identify objectives and student outcomes for all of its education initiatives. It is especially important that the office is studying how current evaluations, which fall short of measuring these outcomes, can be improved. While this work is ongoing, a complete program evaluation is not available. Existing evaluations, however, are very positive. Several teacher professional development ONMS Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Marine sanctuary ecology and conservation Audience—K-12 students and teachers, general public Format—Varied, informal and formal Education Budget—$2M in FY2007 Line Office—National Ocean Service
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique CCEP Quick Facts Scientific Focus—Climate science Audience—K-12 students and educators and general public Format—Varied, literacy principles, curricular materials, web resources Education Budget—$4.6M in FY2007 for climate mission goal Line Office—Office of Oceanic and Atmospheric Research Impact: Most CCEP initiatives and products are still in the development phase, so it is too early to evaluate their effectiveness. The climate literacy principles provide an important framework for future curriculum development and formal education efforts. Interagency Collaborations NOAA is a sponsor of several interagency education initiatives. It contributes partial support to the National Science Foundation’s (NSF’s) Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence (COSEE) network. This network was developed to promote a better understanding of the key role the ocean plays in global environmental cycles and processes. The network is comprised of 12 thematic and regional centers and a central coordinating office. The centers strive to foster the integration of ocean research into educational materials, enable ocean researchers to gain a better understanding of educational organizations and pedagogy, enhance educators’ capacity to teach ocean science, and promote deeper understanding of the ocean and its influence on quality of life and national prosperity. NOAA is one of eight sponsors and partners of the JASON Project. A nonprofit subsidiary of the National Geographic Society, the JASON Project uses the research of NOAA and the National Aeronautics and Space Administration to create science curricula on such topics as ecosystems and extreme weather. JASON attempts to use educational telepresence to create a “being there” experience for students to work side by side with scientists and researchers on real-world missions. A multiyear evaluation (Center for Children and Technology, 2003) found that JASON has had a positive impact on students’ and teachers’ understanding of science concepts and that it positively influenced students’ perceptions of scientists and of becoming scientists. NOAA is also a cochair of the Interagency Working Group on Ocean Education, established by the Interagency Committee on Ocean Science
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique and Resource Management Integration. The working group is tasked to implement recommendations of the U.S. Ocean Action Plan to collaborate across federal agencies in order to increase ocean literacy and build a future workforce. Formally established in 2006, the working group has been meeting regularly to compare agency-funded programs and identify common priorities. The group is particularly focused on coordinating formal and informal education programs, developing a coordinated ocean message, promoting the use of ocean observation data in education, and attracting a future workforce to marine science, technology, and management. NOAA has worked collaboratively with the National Geographic Society, the Centers for Ocean Science Education Excellence, and the National Marine Educators Association to create Ocean Literacy Principles, a document that defines ocean literacy. It is a resource developed to redress the lack of ocean-related content in state and national science education standards, instructional materials, and assessments. NOAA also co-funded a similar framework with NSF on atmospheric science literacy. In addition, NOAA collaborated with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the North American Association of Environmental Education on the National Environmental Literacy Assessment Project to create a national measure of environmental literacy. The Sant Ocean Hall, a collaborative effort of NOAA and the Smithsonian Institution, combines 674 marine specimens and models, high-definition video experiences, exhibits, and new technology, enabling visitors to explore the ocean’s past, present, and future. NOAA invested $12 million in FY2006. The museum expected 7 million visitors in its first year. The hall contains 10 galleries, with exhibits on marine diversity, ocean exploration, ocean conservation, salmon and people, global ocean systems, and ocean evolution. There is also a Science on a Sphere exhibit and an Ocean Today kiosk, an interactive exhibit developed by NOAA specifically for the Sant Ocean Hall. CROSS-CUTTING ISSUES The program descriptions above illustrate that NOAA’s education activities are as varied as the offices that implement them. The impact of the majority of programs is unknown due to the lack of reliable evaluation data. For programs for which reliable evaluation data of specific projects exist—such as the Educational Partnership Program, the National Estuarine Research Reserve System, B-WET, Environmental Literacy Grants, and the National Sea Grant Program—the results have been positive. Although it is impossible to simply summarize whether the combined efforts of the projects within any program have been successful or whether the combined
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique efforts of the all programs are effectively reaching the agency’s education goals, some general observations can be made about the education portfolio. Below we summarize our observations in discussing three cross-cutting issues: core ideas, web-based resources, and portfolio balance. Core Ideas The instructional activities in the NOAA education programs are generally focused on smaller scale concepts (i.e., the impact of harmful algae blooms) or environmental stewardship principles. Rarely did the instructional activities reviewed connect to big ideas in science or engineering or essential principles described in the oceanic, earth, climate, or atmospheric science literacy documents. For example, the Ocean Explorer instructional activity The Sea with No Shores is focused on the Sargasso Sea and has the following stated learning objectives: Students will be able to infer why the brown alga, Sargassum, is likely to be home to many marine organisms. Students can infer that the populations of organisms in the Sargassum are dependent on each other for survival (Ocean Explorer, 2002). This activity for grades five and six could be aligned to larger scale science learning objectives, such as systems, diversity, or adaptation. Learning activities that have objectives that are clearly focused on big ideas in science provide the tools for student to apply these concepts across many other applications. For example, the systems concept could be applied by students to better understand economic, political, or social systems. The concepts of diversity and adaptation are the beginning of a scaffold for students to later understand concepts of evolution. A number of the big ideas in science and engineering that are referred to in the National Science Education Standards (National Research Council, 1996) and the Benchmarks for Science Literacy (American Association for the Advancement of Science, 1993) are related to NOAA’s mission. Concepts such as systems (e.g., the Earth as a system, atmospheric systems, oceanic systems, ecosystems), change (e.g., tides, weather, shoreline erosion), structure and function (the webbed feet of frogs living in estuaries, the long legs of wading birds, the bills of plovers), and matter and energy (e.g., carbon cycles and the ocean, El Niño) are just a few examples of big ideas in science. The Earth, oceanic, climate, and atmospheric science literacy documents also describe a set of important concepts in disciplines related to NOAA’s mission. The literacy documents are useful tools; however, most teachers are not familiar with them, nor have they been widely adopted by school districts. The literacy documents define
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique essential principles in specific areas of scientific literacy, rather than a set of core principles or ideas that are central across scientific disciplines. Thus, the literacy documents may be useful in informing decisions on what oceanic, earth, climate, or atmospheric science should be included in state science standards. Connecting science education activities to core scientific concepts is key because that allows for instructional sequences that build students’ understanding in a progressively complex fashion, enabling creative links to be made between disciplines (National Research Council, 1999, 2007). Thus, learning activities with instructional objectives that are clearly focused on big ideas in science or engineering can give students the ability to apply these concepts across many other applications, such as understanding desert, forest, or estuary ecosystems. Connecting to big ideas is a critical step in creating coherence across NOAA’s educational materials, which cover a broad range of scientific areas. The agency’s contributions to the oceanic, climate, and atmospheric science literacy documents are a promising first step in developing coherence. Developing materials that align with core ideas is not easily accomplished. NOAA will need to seriously consider what steps can be taken to achieve this goal from a wide range of options, including creating new materials, adapting existing materials or providing professional development for teachers to better understand how to link existing materials to core ideas. Decisions on core ideas should be driven by the intersection of the agency’s internal priorities and the educational needs of the nation. They should be guided by existing documents that describe core principles, such as the National Science Education Standards, the Benchmarks for Science Literacy, and the earth, oceanic, climate, and atmospheric literacy frameworks. Web-Based Resources An in-depth analysis of the agency’s use of web-based technology was not possible given the vast array of project websites and electronic resources and paucity of information about their impact. It was apparent that many NOAA offices post educational materials on the web. For example, the Office of Education website includes links for students, teachers, and the public.5 The links lead to websites with educational content on such topics as climate change, oceans and coasts, weather, and satellites and space. Almost all of the line offices include similar links to NOAA and other materials. In addition to outside links, the National Ocean Service has developed its own suite of online educational resources for students and teachers in partnership with the 5 See http://www.education.noaa.gov/students.html [accessed May 2010].
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique National Science Teachers Association. Offerings focus on different aspects of oceans, corals, estuaries, and other marine topics and include tutorials, games, lesson plans, and teacher professional development. Some programs have developed more sophisticated websites and online materials that allow students and teachers to engage with NOAA datasets and scientists in the field. Data on the impact of these sites were not available. However, the potential impact of these types of resources is great, because they have the potential to engage students and teachers in scientific explorations in meaningful and engaging ways. In addition, the development of well-designed web-based resources can expand the reach of NOAA education efforts. The potential impacts of these resources are more likely to be achieved if they are developed and implemented in connection with experts on these technologies and if research findings on effective use of these resources are implemented. It seems that NOAA has taken steps to connect with appropriate experts in some cases, but these connections do not seem to be consistent across programs. The educational web presence of the agency can be improved. Website design is inconsistent across offices, many sites are low-tech, resources are difficult to locate, and some are redundant across offices. A well-designed suite of sites would allow for more effective browsing by activity and should include a robust search function (across NOAA offices) for easy navigation. The National Ocean Service website has the most materials and is also the easiest to navigate. Seeking guidance from website development experts inside and outside NOAA could greatly improve the accessibility and appeal of the agency’s education websites. Partnerships NOAA education programs engage in a variety of partnerships. The two most common approaches observed were direct service partnerships and grants-based partnerships. Direct service partnerships typically occur when a unit of NOAA is responsible for organizing and presenting an education program. The term partners in this context refers to other education service providers (which might be other NOAA education programs, regional and local nonprofits, or education organizations) that may be called on to assist in the delivery of the program and the schools and organizations that send students (K-12 or adult) to participate in the education program. Grant-based partnerships were observed when a unit of NOAA solicits proposals from outside organizations that conform to the goals of the education program. The recipients of these grants and the participants in the resulting sponsored activity were also referred to as partners. Many of NOAA’s education programs seem to pursue a mixed portfolio of direct service and grant-based partnerships.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique NOAA has recognized the importance of partnerships as a means for achieving its strategic goals. This is an outgrowth of two factors: (1) the key role that the agency plays in the advancement and dissemination of NOAA-related sciences, and (2) the relatively small size of NOAA education programs compared with the needs for science education in the nation. Partnerships have been an important implementation strategy discussed in both the 2004 and the 2008 strategic plan. However, NOAA has not yet developed criteria for guiding individual education programs in considering the types of partnerships that are likely to be effective for pursuing key strategic goals. Such decisions seem difficult to reach given the current organizational structure of its education programs, wherein each program operates relatively independently and has unique managerial structures, goals, and designs. Nor have the programs developed guidance for the common challenges associated with implementing policy through partnerships. Partnerships often encounter a myriad of difficulties in practice that are often unanticipated by those who provide sponsorship, resources, and administration to the collaboration as well as by the collaborating agencies themselves (Bardach and Lesser, 1996; Hassett and Austin, 1997) especially when sponsors, administrators, and participants do not clearly understand the motivations and interests of participants (Hill and Lynn, 2003). Thus, as NOAA increases the level of coordination between its line offices and its internal and external partnerships, it needs to clearly define the goals and objectives of these partnerships. When creating partnerships, NOAA should also follow practices for effective strategies for organizing partnerships, including identifying shared goals, designing experiences around issues of local relevance, supporting participants’ patterns of participation (e.g., family structure, modes of discourse), and designing experiences that satisfy the values and norms and reflect the practices of all partners (National Research Council, 2009). Portfolio Balance As a federal agency with a mission that is not primarily related to education, NOAA cannot comprehensively address the nation’s educational needs in areas related to its mission. Instead, the agency needs to balance how it makes use of assets to address national needs as well as its own. Thus, a balanced portfolio is not necessarily one that gives equal attention to all the critical factors listed below, but rather reflects intentional decisions on what critical factors to focus on. To make these decisions, NOAA will need to consider the needs of the audiences, its resources to address these needs, and the efforts of other agencies and organizations.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique FIGURE 4.2 Portfolio balance. The current portfolio balance is depicted in Figure 4.2. Three aspects of portfolio programs are displayed in two concentric circles. The inner circle represents programs that NOAA conducts internally. The relative amount of funding for each program is reflected in the size of its icon. The figure shows that the majority of NOAA programs focus on environmental literacy. Only a few programs focus on workforce development. Also, more programs focus on oceanic than on atmospheric science. The number of internal programs is about equal to the number of external programs. However, programs vary greatly in budget and constituents served, so that the number of programs in a given area is not a reliable metric of balance, because it does not account for scope. For example, workforce development programs have large budgets compared with literacy programs. NOAA provides partial funding to many of the external programs it supports, and many of these programs also receive support
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique from nonprofit organizations, foundations, and other federal agencies. NOAA is developing a system to collect more detailed information on its education portfolio that will make it possible to better understand its balance. However, the current portfolio does not seem to reflect any strategic portfolio-wide decisions regarding balance. In thinking about portfolio balance, the context of supporting directives for education as well as the history of education at the agency must be considered. It should also be noted that many individual NOAA programs have their own educational mandates or are funded through congressional appropriations. These factors place constraints on how much NOAA can control the balance of programs in its portfolio. In developing a balanced education portfolio, NOAA must make decisions regarding the focus placed on six critical criteria, described below. Balancing Environmental Literacy and Workforce Development Although there are more programs that address environmental literacy, the budget for workforce development programs tends to be larger. The workforce goal is being tackled by a few large programs, whereas the literacy goal is being tackled by many smaller programs. This makes some sense, as the workforce goal is focused on a smaller, more focused audience of science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) undergraduates, graduates, and those in the pipeline to become undergraduates. However, without better information about the workforce needs of NOAA and the nation, it is impossible to judge whether NOAA is providing enough support for workforce programs, especially since it is likely now and in the future, as it has been in the past, that NOAA’s workforce needs will span the broad range of STEM disciplines, not just oceanic, atmospheric, and climate sciences. Balancing Oceanic, Atmospheric, and Climate Topics As Figure 4.2 shows, there is currently a fairly large focus on ocean topics compared with atmospheric and climate topics. This is partly a consequence of the historical roots of NOAA education, with ocean-based programs, such as Sea Grant, NERRS, and the National Marine Sanctuaries, having clear mandates to engage in educational activities from their inception. The fact that NOAA’s physical educational assets, like the national estuaries and marine sanctuaries, are ocean-based also contributes to this focus. However, there is no true dichotomy between oceanic science and atmospheric and climate science. There are clear connections between the ocean, the atmosphere, and climate, and education initiatives can be
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique developed that integrate teaching about them. For example, ocean acidification can be used as an educational tool to make the connection between increases in CO2 emissions in the atmosphere and the impact on the ocean. Such programs would more accurately reflect the true nature of the sciences related to these concepts, making it possible for NOAA to develop initiatives that address all three areas with its limited budget. In addition, climate education is now a key priority for NOAA and the Obama administration, and funding for climate education in federal agencies is increasing. It is important that expertise be shared across the ocean, climate, and atmospheric disciplines so that new climate programming can benefit from lessons learned from the programs focused on ocean science, reflecting the integrated nature of these sciences. Support for External Programs Versus Internal Programs As mentioned earlier, NOAA can fulfill its role in education by using the educational assets it possesses and through collaborations with other agencies, organizations, and institutions. NOAA cannot be expected to house all of the necessary educational expertise to meet its educational objectives, just as it does not house all the nation’s oceanic, atmospheric, and climate science and technology expertise. Even programs that are developed internally and led by NOAA can be aided by partnerships and collaborations with other agencies and organizations that have additional or complementary resources and assets. NOAA must be strategic in how and when to develop its education programs using intra-agency expertise versus supporting outside education programs whose developers may have more expertise in education and program design. Encouraging Stewardship and Teaching Scientific Concepts The environmental literacy goal in NOAA’s strategic education plan contains a tension that is not explicitly addressed. NOAA defines environmental literacy as a fundamental understanding of the sciences and phenomena related to its mission and the use of that knowledge to make decisions about environmental issues. However, knowledge, behaviors, and decision making are not always linked. As mentioned earlier, behavior change and environmental decision making also encompass a number of psychological factors, including the belief that a person’s decisions or actions can lead to change. Thus, behavior change will not flow solely from increased knowledge. To reach this goal, NOAA’s education programs can use the effective practices in behavior change outlined in Chapter 3.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique NOAA’s focus on environmental literacy and stewardship also implies that education programs will have the goal of improving understanding of relevant STEM concepts, creating behavior change, or both. This presents some challenges. NOAA has not traditionally included behavioral change in evaluations of its programs and may not be well organized to analyze the behavior change of participants. And there is no shared, agencywide understanding of what it means to influence action. Influencing action can range from acknowledged and lauded attempts to influence behavior to enhance public safety (e.g., increasing hurricane preparedness) to advocacy on issues that might be regarded by some as controversial, like climate change. Formal and Informal Learning Environments Increasing environmental literacy and developing a STEM workforce both require a mix of programming targeted at the formal school system and informal experiences of young children, K-12 students, and the public. A recent NRC report (2009) highlighted the importance of informal education to inspire scientific interest and increase scientific competence in students, which can then translate into increased success in school settings. In addition, NOAA manages and protects place-based assets, such as the estuary reserves and the marine sanctuaries, which can be used for effective informal programming. Informal education does not mean that schools are ignored. Field trips and teacher professional development programs that occur in informal settings have clear connections to formal education institutions, educators, and students. As discussed in Chapter 2, the formal education landscape is highly complex. NOAA should think strategically about how it can have a meaningful, positive impact in such a large system. NOAA can positively impact the education system by meaningfully aligning their instructional materials with the education standards of the states in which the programs are delivered. These materials should be supported with professional development that focuses teachers on important concepts from the national, state, and local environmental and science standards. One interesting model for affecting the formal school system is in the Chesapeake Bay region, where the B-WET program supports informal education providers, yet requires all grantees to connect to a school system to ensure that the informal programs have a broad audience. This requirement is combined with policy work by the B-WET staff to win greater support for requiring outdoor education experiences for all school children among state and local governments. NOAA has a role to play in both the formal and informal sectors, and these sectors should be seen as complementary and intertwined.
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NOAA’s Education Program: Review and Critique Targeted Audiences Versus Self-Selected Participants Many NOAA programs use self-selected participants. Data suggest that most programs are well received by these self-selected audiences. However, thought must be given to how to attract participation from traditionally underserved groups. To truly expand participation, interest, and understanding, the needs of multicultural audiences must be met across all education programs. Some efforts in this area, such as the Multicultural Education for Resource Issues Threatening Oceans program of the National Marine Sanctuaries, are promising, but too often broadening participation is not a key concern of the programs because of the self-selected nature of their audience. The vast majority of programs serve individuals who are already interested in the science related to NOAA’s mission or schools that have the resources to support travel to NOAA education activities. Breadth and Depth An additional challenge for the education programs is to achieve a balance between projects that achieve a broad reach and those that foster deep engagement with the science and engineering content of the agency. The committee thinks that NOAA has an important role to play in both sorts of activities, which will require very different designs and deployment of resources. The agency’s projects are therefore faced with striking a difficult balance between trying to make a broad impact while still providing meaningful engagement on a smaller scale. This balance can be partially mediated through modern technology, such as the Internet, which can be used as a distribution tool, and through strategic partnering with other federal science agencies and education organizations.