Paying Nobel Forward: Lesson Plans to Teach Oceans

This past spring of 2012, campus dean Dr. Martin Rudd requested that my colleague, Dr. Beth Johnson and I offer a course on ocean issues. The campus had received financial support from the Mielke Family Foundation for student attendance at the 48th Nobel Conference, that year focusing on ocean issues. In that four-student seminar, we required that students complete a capstone project, loosely defined. The students were moved by the severity of ocean-related concerns and decided to create lessons to help middle school-level students better engage with ocean issues.

The seminar course covered a variety reading and discussion of ocean contemporary issues, which the conference supplemented with high-caliber research presentations. The goal of the capstone project was to encourage students to deeper engage with the content presented.

The students decided to work in coordination with each other in designing lesson plans for a fully modular curriculum unit on ocean issues. The class decided on four specific ocean issues (carbon cycle, acidification, overfishing, loss of coral habitats) as most necessary to an overview of ocean issues, also noting the topics’ sequential nature in building the content base.

The lessons

Each student took one topic and designed a lesson that used hands-on demonstrations of the concept, while also giving the learner practice at basic scientific methods.

  • Carbon Cycle – Eric Balza


  • Ocean Acidification – Jonathan Steffen


  • Overfishing – Shawn Kargus


  • Coral Habitat Loss – Michelle Van Cuyk



The students constructed the lesson plans through the final third of the term, working closely with both Beth and myself to ensure that they were of high quality and hit educational standards. The students submitted these lesson plans to us, with the intention that they will be published online freely.

Author: Andrew Shears

Andrew Shears is an Assistant Professor of Geography at Mansfield University in Mansfield, Pennsylvania. His research interests lie at an intersection of the human-environmental nexus, and includes branches of mapping, technological, memorialization and urban geographies. He lives in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania with his wife Amy, a professional photographer.