Conservation Education in Florida the Collaborative Production of a Lesson Plan Handbook with a Focus on Right Whales (Eubalena glacialis)
National Education Standards have been established by the Governing Board of the National Research Council, in consultation with the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Engineering, and the Institute of Medicine. The purpose of the Standards is to make acquisition of scientific knowledge, understanding, and abilities a central aspect of education, just as science has become a central aspect of our society. The Standards rest on the premise that science is an active process. "Learning science is something that students do, not something that is done to them. Students should a) experience the richness and excitement of knowing about and understanding the natural world b) use appropriate scientific processes and principles in making personal decisions c) engage intelligently in public discourse and debate about matters of scientific and technological concerns and d) increase their economic productivity through the use of the knowledge, understanding, and skills of the scientifically literate persons." The national standards, that have been established, are general. States have been left with the responsibility of establishing more detailed curricula with which to implement the general guidelines. The Standards specifically state that schools, districts, local communities, and states need to provide teachers with the necessary resources, including appropriate materials. Each school and district must translate the National Science Education Standards into a program that reflects local contexts and policies.
The State of Florida is currently ranked in the bottom five states in science education based on assessment and implementation of the standards. This was evidenced as we explored students' knowledgebase of Right whales in classes at the University of Florida. Right whales are the most endangered cetacean in the Atlantic Ocean and their only known calving ground is directly offshore of northeast Florida. Only 15% of students knew about the existence of Right whales in Florida waters and fewer knew that the only known calving ground was directly off their coast. We therefore began an initiative to increase and improve conservation education in Florida's elementary, middle, and high schools by implementing lesson plans using Right whales as a hook for student interest. Through the University of Florida's Center for Precollegiate Education and Training (UF CPET), we invited science teachers to a two day seminar as part of a series entitled Teachers As Scholars at University of Florida, funded by a Woodrow Wilson Foundation Award to UF CPET. Through this seminar, the mission of dissemination of scientific knowledge to precollegiate teachers and motivated students throughout Florida was accomplished. An exciting outcome of this seminar is the development of necessary materials including a lesson plan handbook focused on conservation of Right whales. This book is formatted for both national and Florida state education standards.
Finalized copies of Conservation Education: Right Whales should be available by summer 2007 and all educators are encouraged to obtain a copy of the handbook.
This project was funded by a grant from the proceeds collected by the "Protect Florida Whales" license plate fund, as authorized by Florida Statute 320.08056; administered by Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institution.